Brand Identity- What it is, How to Fashion it, and Why it’s Important
Brand identity is how a business presents itself to — and wants to be perceived by — its consumers. Brand identity is distinct from brand image. The former corresponds to the intent behind the branding: the way a company chooses its name; designs its logo; uses colors, shapes and other visual elements in its products and promotions; crafts the language in its advertisements; and trains employees to interact with customers – all with the goal of cultivating a certain image in consumers’ minds. Brand image is the actual result of these efforts, successful or unsuccessful.
Breaking Down ‘Brand Identity’
Apple Inc. consistently tops surveys of the most effective and beloved brands because it has successfully created the impression that its products are sleek, innovative, top-of-the-line status symbols – and yet eminently useful at the same time. Apple’s brand identity and brand image are closely aligned. See how it ties directly into Apple’s Positioning Statement: “Apple computers offers the best personal computing and communication experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings. If you are creative, free-thinking radical and love living on the edge, you are APPLE!”
At the same time, it is possible to craft a positive brand identity that fails to translate into a positive brand image. Some pitfalls are well-known: attempts by legacy brands to appeal to a new generation or demographic is especially treacherous. An infamous example is a 2017 ad by PepsiCo Inc., which depicted a non-specific protest that appeared to allude to Black Lives Matter, a movement protesting police violence against people of color. The brand identity it wished to project, as a spokesperson subsequently described it, was “a global message of unity, peace, and understanding.”
Instead, the ad was widely disparaged for “trivializing” Black Lives Matter, as the New York Times put it. The moment in the ad when a white actress hands a Pepsi to a police officer and seems to instantly resolve all of the fictional protesters’ grievances came in for heavy criticism. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter Bernice King tweeted, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” accompanied by a picture of King being pushed by a police officer in Mississippi. Pepsi pulled the ad and apologized.
Pepsi’s sales do not appear to have been directly affected by this gaffe, but in some cases, a negative gap between brand identity and brand image can affect financial results. The teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch suffered a severe downturn when its once-popular brand became associated with garish logos, poor quality, oversexed advertising and plain meanness. The company refused to sell women’s XL sizes or larger, for example, because, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” the CEO said. “A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.”
By the same token, building a positive brand image can bring in consistent sales and make product roll-outs more successful. An example of the benefits of brand loyalty could be seen in the introduction of two new subscription-based music streaming services in 2015. Tidal and Apple Music had to make very different choices in the marketing and rollout of