Brand Identity

A person’s identity serves to provide direction, purpose, and meaning for that person. Consider how important the following questions are: What are my core values? What do I stand for? How I want to be perceived? What personality traits do I want to project? What are the important relationships in my life?

A brand identity similarly provides direction, purpose and meaning for the brand. It is central to a brand’s strategic vision and the driver of one of the four principal dimensions of brand equity associations, which are the heart and soul of the brand. Nestle uses the term brand constitution to reflect the importance and reverence with which a brand identity should be held. So, what exactly is brand identity?

Brand identity is a unique set of brand associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain. These associations represent what the brand stands for and imply a promise to customers from the organization members.

Brand identity should help establish a relationship between the brand and the customer by generating a value proposition involving functional, emotional or self-expressive benefits.

Brand identity consists of twelve dimensions organized around four perspectives—the brand-as-product (product scope, product attributes, quality/value, uses, users, country of origin), brand-as-organization (organizational attributes, local versus global), brand-as-person (brand personality, brand-customer relationships), and brand-as-symbol (visual imagery/metaphors and brand heritage).

Brand Identity Structure

Brand identity structure includes a core and extended identity. The core identity—the central, timeless essence of the brand—is most likely to remain constant as the brand travels to new markets and products. The extended identity includes brand identity elements, organized into cohesive and meaningful groupings, that provide texture and completeness.

Brand Identity Structure

The Core Identity

The core identity represents the timeless essence of the brand. It is the center that remains after you peel away the layers of an onion or the leaves of an artichoke.

The core identity, which is central to both the meaning and success of the brand, contains the associations that are most likely to remain constant as the brand travels to new markets and products. For example, when Black Velvet expands to new countries, it is super-premium brand, and it always delivers the “soft and smooth” product and message.

The core identity for a strong brand should be more resistant to change than elements of the extended identity. Ivory’s “99/100% pure” and “it floats” slogans reflect an identity that has lasted for more than one hundred years. The brand position and thus the communication strategies may change, and so might the extended identity, but the core identity is more timeless.

One brand strategist observed that if you get the values and culture of the organization right, the brand identity takes care of itself. For many brands, there should be a close correspondence between the values of the organization and the core identity. The core identity should include elements that make the brand both unique and valuable. Thus the core identity should usually contribute to the value proposition and to the brand’s basis for credibility.

Sometimes a slogan can capture at least part of the core identity:

  • “We’re number two; we try harder” suggests that Avis is committed to delivering the best customer service.
  • “The relentless pursuit of perfection” suggests that Lexus cars are built to the highest quality standards with respect to workmanship, handling, comfort, and features.

Even the core identity, however, is usually too multifaceted for a single slogan. The Saturn identity, for example, had a quality component (a world-class car) and a relationship component (treating customers with respect and as a friend). The slogan “A different kind of company, a different kind of car” provided an umbrella under which these two core elements of the identity could be sheltered. However, by no means did the slogan alone capture the Saturn core identity.

The Extended Identity

The extended brand identity includes elements that provide texture and completeness. It fills in the picture, adding details that help portray what the brand stands for. Important elements of the brand’s marketing program that have become or should become visible associations can be included. In the case of Saturn, the extended identity includes the product itself, the no-pressure feel of the retail experience, the no-haggle pricing, the “different company” slogan, and the brand personality. Each has a role to play as a driver of the brand identity, but none is as basic a foundation as the core identity.

The core identity usually does not possess enough detail to perform all of the functions of a brand identity. In particular, a brand identity should help a company decide which program or communication is effective and which might be damaging or off target. Even a well-thought-out and on-target core identity may ultimately be too ambiguous or incomplete for this task.

For example, the core identity of an insurance company—delivering “peace of mind”—resonated with the target segment and represented what the firm was and could provide. When developing communication objectives and executions, however, the company realized that any of three communication strategies could depict peace of mind—strength (which could describe either Prudential or Fortis), planning ahead for retirement or emergencies (Fireman’s Fund), and personal caring and concern (Allstate, State Farm). An analysis of competitor profiles, the target market’s needs, and the firm’s heritage all led to the latter strategy, but only after the addition of a personality element—a concerned friend rather than a rugged protector or a successful planner—to the brand’s extended identity helped crystallize the direction of the brand.

A brand personality does not often become a part of the core identity. However, it can be exactly the right vehicle to add needed texture and completeness by being part of the extended identity. The extended identity provides the strategist with the permission to add useful detail to complete the picture.

A reasonable hypothesis is that within a product class, a larger extended identity means a stronger brand—one that is more memorable, interesting, and connected to your life. A person whom you find uninteresting and bland and who plays only a small role in your life can be described in a few words. An interesting person with whom you are involved personally or professionally would usually require a much more complex description. The number of relevant brand identity elements will depend on the product class, of course. For instance, a strong candy or spirits brand will likely be less complex than that of a service company such as Bank of America, because the former is likely to have a simpler product attribute set and probably will not involve organizational attributes


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