Defining a brand identity is a crucial step in a brand’s strategy. But what does brand identity mean, and what key elements make a brand unique?
This article answers these questions and summarizes everything you need to know about brand identity: what it means, why it matters, and the essential components that make a brand genuinely one-of-a-kind.
What is brand identity?
Brand identity is a vital aspect of a brand strategy.
It refers to the unique characteristics that influence a brand’s perceived personality, appearance, and behavior. A brand’s identity encompasses tangible and intangible elements, including its history, name, personality, and visual identity.
To understand brand identity, it helps to think about what comprises a person’s identity. Individuals are a combination of elements such as their name, origins, personality, values, beliefs, story, and physique. Brand identity works similarly.
The difference between brand identity and brand image
It’s easy to confuse brand identity with brand image, but they’re two very different things.
- Brand image is how an audience perceives and interprets signals coming from a brand through different touch points. In other words, brand image comes from the audience.
- Brand identity makes a brand unique. It’s determined by how the people behind a brand want the public to perceive it. Brand identity comes from the brand itself.
Why is it important to define a clear brand identity?
Companies often overlook the importance of creating a well-defined brand identity as part of their overall marketing strategy, but it’s a crucial step.
Constructing a brand identity is an opportunity to personify a brand, bring it to life, and establish strong emotional connections with its audience.
By creating a unique and distinguishable identity, a brand can differentiate itself from its competitors and build a lasting reputation.
A clearly defined brand identity brings several benefits, such as:
- Uniqueness: A deep understanding of a brand’s unique qualities and how it sets itself apart from competitors.
- Personification and emotional connection: An opportunity to build an emotional connection with target audiences.
- Consistency: Consistent communication and marketing efforts can lead to better brand recognition.
- Clarity: A distinction between core, unchanging brand elements and ones that can evolve.
As we’ve already mentioned, brand identity is how a brand wants to be perceived by consumers. It differs from brand image, which is how the brand is actually perceived.
Many brands base their identity on what their competitors do (imitation) or short-term market trends, which makes them vulnerable to becoming generic, indistinguishable, and lacking clear and meaningful audience connection. Basing a brand identity on imitation or trends also fails to establish a solid foundation for long-term growth and success.
Brand identity is crucial because it gives entrepreneurs and brand strategists the power to choose and construct an authentic identity. Brands with strong identities are self-assured – they know who they are and how to convey that to connect with their audience. In short, a clearly defined brand identity gives brands an edge and an increased chance of long-term success.
Seven key elements of a brand’s identity
Brand identity isn’t always unanimous within a brand’s management literature, which can lead to different interpretations. This section introduces the key aspects that should be part of any brand identity definition.
- A brand story is a unique and compelling narrative that defines a brand’s origins.
- It can create a solid emotional connection with customers and make a brand memorable.
A great brand story can include the following:
- Why, when, where, and how the brand started
- A concise profile of the founders
- Key events and turning points in the brand’s lifespan
- Cultural and/or historic aspects
- Entertaining and inspiring events that have occurred over the years
- A brand’s name is often the first thing customers hear or see. Therefore, it should be memorable and easy to spell and say.
- It can be a combination of words, letters, or even numbers, chosen for memorability and uniqueness.
- A great brand name can help establish brand recognition and evoke emotions.
- Providing a brand with specific character traits makes it more human. A clearly defined brand personality generates attachment among its audience. Consumers feel concerned by its behavior and values, just like they would with a person.
- A brand’s personality corresponds to “its way of being” and forms the basis for building its visual and verbal identity and behaviors.
- According to branding expert Jean-Noël Kapferer: “brand personality fulfills a psychological function. It allows consumers to either identify with it, or to project themselves into it.” (1)
Communication style and tone of voice
- A brand’s communication style and tone of voice define how it communicates with different audiences. It includes the type of vocabulary used, how the brand expresses its messages, interacts with others, and the emotions it conveys.
- Communication style refers to how a brand interacts with its audience through speech (factual/analytical/questioning or opinionated); dynamism (calm or energetic); feelings (depth of feelings vs. being detached and undemonstrative); protagonism (storyteller vs. good listener); and communication channels.
- Tone of voice can be divided into four main styles: funny/serious; formal/casual; respectful/irreverent; and enthusiastic/matter of fact.
The brand as a product or service
- Consumers can quickly judge a brand based on its products or services (e.g., uniqueness, perceived quality and functionality, added value, feelings conveyed, product production, and social and environmental impact).
- A brand’s products or services are part of its identity. They represent the brand and embody the different facets of its identity.
- It is essential to create products and services that are exclusive to the brand and aligned with its overall identity.
A brand’s visual identity is the combination of graphic elements that identify the brand.
Elements of visual identity include:
- Color palette
- Typefaces and fonts
- Imagery and photography style
- Graphic design layouts
- Product and packaging design
- Being consistent in visual branding improves brand recognition and inspires trust.
- Sensory identity includes scent, touch, and sounds associated with a brand.
- Sensory elements can enhance a brand experience and create a lasting impression on customers, transporting people to experience unique sensations and emotions and creating new associations with a brand (2).
- Defining the sensory identity of a brand is an optional step within a brand strategy. However, depending on a brand’s industry, smells, sounds, flavors, and touch may be relevant.
A strong brand identity is an essential step of a branding strategy. It makes a brand unique and clarifies how it should be, look, and act.
By considering a brand’s cultural, geographical, and historical roots, choosing an appropriate name, establishing a distinct personality, offering products and services that embody the brand, and creating a consistent visual and sensory identity, you can create a powerful brand that appeals to its target audience.