The six facets of brand identity

In order to become ‘passion brands’, or ‘love marks’, brands must not be hollow, but have deep inner inspiration. They must also have character, their own beliefs, and as a result help consumers in their life, and also in discovering their own identity.

What is brand identity made of? Many ad hoc lists have been proposed in the brand literature, with varying items. One of the sources of this diversity is their lack of theoretical basis. By being too analytical, some of these tools get their users into a muddle.

In fact, leaving the classical stimulus–response paradigm, modern brand communication theory reminds us that when one communicates, one builds representations of who speaks (source re-presentation), of who is the addressee (recipient re-presentation), and what specific relationship the communication builds between them. This is the constructivist school of the rising about communications.

Since brands speak about the product, and are perceived as sources of products, services and satisfactions, communication theory is directly relevant. As such it reminds us that brand identity has six facets. We call this the ‘brand identity prism’.

The identity prism

Brand identity should be represented by hexagonal prism (see Figure below):

  1. A brand, first of all, has physical specifications qualities – its ‘physique’. It is made of a combination of either salient objective features (which immediately come to mind when the brand is quote din a survey) or emerging ones.

    Physique is both the brand’s backbone and its tangible added value. If the brandies a flower, its physique is the stem. Without the stem, the flower dies: it is the flower’s objective and tangible basis. This is how branding traditionally works:focusing on know-how and classic positioning, relying on certain key product and brand attributes and benefits.

    Sub-brand and master brand positioning

  2. Physical appearance is important but it is not all. Nevertheless, the first step in developing brand is to define its physical aspect: What is it concretely? What does it do? What does it look like? The physical facet also comprises the brand’s prototype: the flagship product that is representative of the brand’s qualities.

    That is why the small round bottle is so important each time Or angina is launched in a new country. The bottle used today is the same as it has always been. From the beginning, it has served to position Orangina, thanks to its unique shape and to the orange pulp that we can actually see. Only later was it marketed in standard family-size PET bottles and incans.

    In this respect, it is also quite significant that there used to be a picture of the famous Coca-Cola bottle on all Coke cans.It is true that modern packaging tends tostandardise brands, making them all clones of one another. Thus, in using the image of its traditional bottle, Coca-Cola aims to remind us of its roots.

    There are several delicate issues regarding Coke’s physical facet. For example, is the dark co lour part of its identity? It is certainly a key contributor to the mystery of the brand. If it belongs to the brand’s kernel, key identity traits, then there could never be any such thin gas colorless Crystal Coke, even though there is such a thing as Crystal Pepsi. Likewise, would grapefruit Orangina in the classic round bottle be possible?

    Many brands have problems with their physical facet because their functional added value is weak. Even an image-based brand must deliver material benefits. Brands are two-legged value-adding systems.

  3. A brand has a personality. By communicating, it gradually builds up character.

    The way in which it speaks of its products or services shows what kind of person it would be if it were human.

    ‘Brand personality’ has been the main focus of brand advertising since 1970.

    Brand identity prism

    Numerous American agencies have made it a prerequisite for any type of communication.Ted Bates had to come up with anew USP (now, the unique selling personality), while Grey had to define brand personality. This explains why the idea of having a famous character represent the brand has become so widespread. The easiest way of creating instant personality is to give the brand a spokesperson or figurehead, whether real or symbolic.Pepi-Cola often uses this method, as do all perfume or ready-to-wear brands.
  4. In the prism, brand identity is the personality facet of the source. It should not be confused with the customer reflected image, which is a portrayal of the ideal receiver.

    Thus, brand personality is described and measured by those human personality traits that are relevant for brands. Since 1996, academic research has focused on brand personality, after Asker’s (1995) creation of a so-called ‘brand personality scale’.

    However, despite its wide diffusion among scholars, this scale does not measure brand personality in the strict sense, but a number of intangible and tangible dimensions that are more or less related to it, and that correspond in fact toothier facets of a brand’s identity (Azoulayand Kapferer, 2003). Recent empirical research (Romaniuk and Ehrenberg, 2003)has corroborated this.

    For instance, computers or electronic equipment were the categories most associated with the‘up to date’ trait, as ice creams were associated with the ‘sensuous’ trait, and energizer drinks with ‘energizing’. These data demonstrate that this scale is not measuring personality: a lot of its traits instead measure a physical facet of the brand, while some others relate to the cultural facet of the identity prism, thus creating conceptual confusion in the field.

    This is because Asker’conceptualization of brand personality is inherited from the old habit of advertising agencies of describing as ‘brand personality’ in their creative briefing and copy strategy everything that was not related to the product’tangible benefits.

  5. A brand is a culture. There is no cult brand without a brand culture. A brand should have its own culture, from which every product derives. The product is not only concrete representation of this culture, but also a means of communication. Here culture means the set of values feeding the brand’s inspiration. It is the source of the brand’s aspirational power.

    The cultural facet refers to the basic principles governing the brand in its outward signs(products and communication). This essential aspect is at the core of the brand. Apple was the product of Californian culture in the sense that this state will forever symbolize the new frontier. Apple was not interested in expanding geographically but in changing society, unlike the brands of Boston and the East Coast. Even in the absence of Apple’sounders, everything carried on as if Apple still had some revolutionary plan to offer to companies and to humankind. This is source of inspiration for Apple’s original products and services.

    Major brands are certainly driven by culture but, in turn, they also convey this culture (beg Benton, Coca-Cola, IBM, etc).The cultural facet is the key to understanding the difference between Adidas, Nike and Reebok or between American Express and Visa. In focusing too heavily on brand personality, research and advertising have neglected this essential facet(we will also notice this with retailers: the leading ones are those who not only have personality, but also a culture).

    Mercedes embodies German values: order prevails.Even at 260 km/oh, a Mercedes has perfect handling. Even though the surrounding landscape may be whizzing by, the Mercedes remains stable and unperturbed .Symmetry governs this brand: the horsebox is a strong physical characteristic of Mercedes. The brand symbol se tat the nose-tip of every Mercedes further this spirit of order.

    Countries of origin are also great cultural reservoirs for brands: Coca-Cola stands for America, as does IBM, Nike or Levi’s. In other cases, however, they are ignored: thus, Mars is a worldwide brand like Shell. Canon and Technical deny their Japanese origin whereas Mitsubishi, Toyota and Nissan emphasis it.

    One of the bonuses for Evan exports is that tactually represents a part of French culture. However, this is not the only factor adding to their value. When Americans buy Evan, they are not just paying for the cultural facet but for all six aspects of these brands, starting with the basic consumer benefit: Evan quenches thirst and promotes health. American style food is Mc Cain’s cultural and symbolic reference; for Jack Daniel’s, it is the authentic untamed America.

    Culture is what links the brand to the firm, especially when the two bear the same name. Because of its culture, Nestle not succeeded in conveying the image of a fun and enjoyable food brand. Indeed, its image cannot be fully dissociated from that of the corporation, which is overall perceived as austere and puritan. The degree of freedom of a brandies often reduced by the corporate culture, of which it becomes the most visible outward sign.

    Brand culture plays an essential role in differentiating brands. It indicates the ethos whose values are embodied in the products and services of the brand. Ralph Lauren is WASP; Calvin Klein’s minimalism expresses a different set of values.

    This facet is the one that helps differentiate luxury brands the most because it refers to their sources, to their fundamental ideals and to their sets of values .Culture is also the basis for most bank brands: choosing a bank means choosing the kind of relationship with money one wishes to have. Even though their services are identical (physical facet), the Visa Premier and the American Express Gold cards do not belong to the same cultural system. The American Express Gold aeroembolisms dynamic, triumphant capitalism.

    Money is shown, or even flashed about. Visa Premier, on the contrary, represents another type of capitalism, such as the German kind, making steady, quiet progress. Money is handled discreetly yet efficiently, neither gingerly nor flamboyantly.

  6. A brand is a relationship. Indeed, brands are often at the crux of transactions and exchanges between people. This is particularly true of brands in the service sector and also of retailers.The Yves Saint Laurent brand functions with charm: the underlying idea of a love affair permeates both its products and its advertising (even when no man is shown). Dir’s symbolizes another type of relationship: one that is grandiose and ostentatious (not in the negative sense), flaunting the desire to shine like gold.

    Nike bears a Greek name that relates it to specific cultural values, to the Olympic Games and to the glorification of the human body. Nike suggests also a peculiar relationship, based on provocation: it encourages us to let loose (‘just do it’). Immobilizes orderliness, whereas Apple conveys friendliness. Moline defines itself as ‘the friend of women’.

    The Laughing Cow is at the heart of a mother–child relationship. The relationship aspect is crucial for banks, banking brands and services in general. Service is by definition relationship. This facet defines the mode of conduct that most identifies the brand.This has a number of implications for the way the brand acts, delivers services, relates to its customers.

  7. A brand is a customer reflection. When asked for their views on certain car brands, people immediately answer interns of the brand’s perceived client type:that’s a brand for young people! Forefathers! for show-offs! for old folks! Because its communication and its most striking products build up over time, ab rand will always tend to build reflection or an image of the buyer or user which it seems to be addressing

    Reflection and target often get mixed up. The target describes the brand’potential purchasers or users. Reflecting the customer is not describing the target;rather, the customer should be reflected ashen/she wishes to be seen as a result of using a brand. It provides a model with which to identify. Coca-Cola, for instance, has a much wider clientele than suggested by the narrow segment it reflects (15- to 18-year-olds).

    How can such a paradox be explained? For the younger segment (8- to 13-year-olds), the Coca-Cola protagonists embody their dream, what they want to become and idolater on when they get older (and thus freed from the strong parental relationship), die an independent life full of fun, sports and friends will then become true.

    Youth identifies with those heroes.As for adults, they perceive them as representatives of a certain way of life and of certain values rather than of a narrowly defined age group. Thus, the brand also succeeds in bringing 30- or 40-year-oldconsumers to identify with this special way of life. Many dairy brands positioned on lightness or fitness and based on low fat products project a sporty young female customer reflection: yet they are actually purchased in the main by older people.

    The confusion between reflection and target is quite frequent and causes problems. So many managers continue to require advertising to show the targeted buyers as they really are, ignoring the fact that they do not want to be portrayed as such, but rather as they wish to be – as result of purchasing a given brand (or shopping at a given retailer’s). Consumers indeed use brands to build their own identity. In the ready-to-wear industry, the obsession to look younger should concern the brands’ reflection, not necessarily their target.

    All brands must control their customer reflection. By constantly reiterating that Porsche is made for show-offs, the brand has weakened.

  8. Finally, a brand speaks to our self-image. If reflection is the target’s outward mirror(they are …), self-image is the target’s own internal mirror (I feel, I am …). Through our attitude towards certain brands, we indeed develop a certain type of inner relationship with ourselves.

    In buying a Porsche, for example, many Porsche owners simply want to prove to themselves that have the ability to buy such a car. In fact, this purchase might be premature in terms of career prospect sand to some extent a gamble on terrestrials.

    In this sense, Porsche is constantly forcing to push beyond one’slim its (hence its slogan: ‘Try racing against yourself, it’s the only race that will never have an end’). As we can see, Porsche’s reflection is different from its consumers’ self-image: having let the brand develop such a negative reflection is a major problem.

    Even if they do not practice any sports, Accosted clients inwardly picture themselves(so the studies show) as members of an elegant sports club – an open club with no race, sex or age discrimination, but which endows its members with distinction. This works because sport is universal.

    One of the characteristics of people who eat Gaylord health and diet products is that they picture themselves not just as consumers, but as proselytes. When two Gaylord fans meet, they can strike up conversation immediately as if they were of the same religious obedience. In promoting brand, one pledges allegiance, demonstrating both a community of thought and of self-image, which facilitates or even stimulates communication.

    These are the six facets which define the identity of a brand as well as the boundaries within which it is free to change or to develop.The brand identity prism demonstrates that these facets are all interrelated and form aw ell-structured entity. The content of one facet echoes that of another.

    The identity prism derives from one basic concept – that brands have the gift of speech. Brands can only exist if they communicate. As a matter of fact, they grow obsolete if they remain silent or unused for too long. Since a brand is speech in itself (as it speaks of the products it creates and endorses the products which epitomize it), it can thus be analyses like any other speech or form of communication.

    Gemologists have taught us that behind any type of communication there is a sender, either real or made up. Even when dealing with products or retailers, communication builds an image of its speaker or sender and conveys it touts. It is truly a building process in the sense that brands have no real, concrete senders (unlike corporate communication).

    Nevertheless, customers, when asked through projective techniques, do not hesitate to describe the brand’s sender, die the person bearing the brand name. Both the physique and personality help define the sender thus built for that purpose.

Every form of communication also builds recipient: when we speak, everything seems as if we were addressing a certain type of person or audience. Both the reflection and sealing help define this recipient, who, thus built, also belongs to the brand’s identity.

The last two facets, relationship and culture, bridge the gap between sender and recipient.The brand identity prism also includes vertical division (see Figure below). The facets to the left – physique, relationship and reflection– are the social facets which give the brand its outward expression. All three are visible facets. The facets to the right – personality, culture and self-image – are those incorporated within the brand itself, within its spirit.

This prism helps us to understand the essence of both brand and retailer identities (Virgin, K-Mart, Talbot’s).

Clues for strong identity prisms

Identity reflects the different facets of brand long-term singularity and attractiveness. As such it must be concise, sharp and interesting. Let us remember that brand charters are management tools: they are necessary for decentralized decision making. They must help all the people working on the brand to understand how the brand is special, in all its dimensions. They must also stimulate creative ideas: they are a springboard for brand activation. Finally, they must help us to decide when an action falls within the brand territory and when it does not.

As a consequence, a good identity prism irreconcilable by the following formal characteristics:

  • There are few words to each facet.
  • The words are not the same on different facets.
  • All words have strength and are not lukewarm: identity is what makes a bandstand out.Too often, in our consulting activity, we notice just the opposite:
  • Facets are filled up with image traits that derive from the last usage and attitude study. Let us remember that identity is not the same as image. The question is, which of these very many image items does the brand want to identify with?
  • There is a lot of redundancy between facets, the same words being used many times.
  • This should not be possible. Although related, each facet addresses a different dimension of brand uniqueness.
  • Most of the words are looking for consensus, instead of looking for sharpness.
  • Consumers do not see the strategies, nor do they see the brand platforms. They do experience the brand by its creations, or at contact, or in its places. To produce ideas, creative people need flesh: an identity with soul, body, forms, a real profile, not an average excellent profile, where nothing really stands out.

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