When building a business, it’s critical to have a keen focus on branding. After all, the brand is what will resonate with clients or customers and eventually define your business more than anything else.
Entrepreneurs have likely heard the terms “brand identity” and “brand image” and used them interchangeably when thinking about launching their brands. However, there is a difference between these two ideas, and understanding that difference can help entrepreneurs build their brands successfully and engage with their target audience through experiential marketing approaches.
Knowing the difference between these two ideas can also help businesses avoid branding and reputation pitfalls that could destroy their businesses before they even get a chance to make an impact.
What Is Brand Identity?
Brand identity refers to the visual and verbal elements that a brand uses to represent itself. The Nike swoosh, IKEA’s blue and yellow color palette, and the (in)famous Disney script all fall under the heading of brand identity. Brand identity includes logos, colors, typography, taglines, and other design elements that create a consistent and recognizable look and feel for the brand.
Brand identity is the strategic representation of a brand’s essence and values. When one thinks of the sleek, minimalist design of Apple products and their simple Apple logo, they get an idea of what the brand stands for and what they can expect from the brand — simply designed but cutting-edge tech products.
Brand identity seeks to help brands differentiate themselves from their competitors. When we think of the brands with the most effective brand identities — McDonald’s, Lego, or Coca-Cola for example — there is no way we will confuse them with another brand. That instant recognition is the ultimate goal when developing a brand identity. Companies have direct control over their brand identity, as they create and manage the visual and verbal aspects to ensure consistency and alignment with their brand’s personality and message.
Businesses can implement brand identity through a number of channels like packaging, advertising, web presence, social media, and marketing materials. By implementing brand marketing across all of these channels, the business creates consistency. Customers come to expect a certain identity and the level of service and product quality that goes with it.
What Is Brand Image?
Unlike brand identity, brand image has more to do with how a brand is viewed by the general public. The perception of the brand and its reputation is its “image.” This image represents the collective thoughts, feelings, and experiences associated with that brand, formed through interactions, word-of-mouth, and media exposure.
For example, the lifestyle brand Patagonia has one of the best brand images in the world. Their earth-friendly initiatives and quality products have earned them a loyal following and plenty of accolades. On the other hand, brands that have experienced image problems as of late — such as X (formerly Twitter), since its takeover by Elon Musk — show that it doesn’t take much to bring a brand image down.
The brand image is formed by customers’ experiences, reviews, recommendations, and how the brand interacts with its audience. With everything good, bad, or ugly publicized almost immediately on social media, a brand with a negative interaction with a customer can have that interaction quickly go viral — adversely affecting their brand image.
On the other hand, a positive brand image can lead to increased sales and brand loyalty, customer trust, and advocacy.
The Two Sides of the Coin
A company’s brand identity is what they present to the world, while a brand image is how the world perceives the company. Brand identity may influence brand image, but it’s not the lone influence. Brand identity and brand image are interconnected, but distinct aspects of successful branding.
The brand identity is internally crafted by the business itself. Companies, for better or worse, have complete control over their brand identities. If a brand doesn’t have a good handle on its target audience, brand identity could go awry.
One example of this is the Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner, which attempted to capitalize on the uptick in civil rights protests in the summer of 2020. It went horribly wrong when people widely panned the ad for being tone-deaf and disrespectful to the seriousness of the 2020 civil rights movement. This attempt to brand Pepsi as an altruistic, socially responsible brand backfired — harming its brand image for a significant period of time.
Successful branding requires a strong alignment between brand identity and brand image. Companies must not only craft a compelling identity that resonates with their target audience, but must also ensure that their actions and customer experiences align with the intended brand perception.
By placing attention and emphasis on both brand identity and brand image, businesses can build a marketing platform that perfectly encapsulates who they are as a company, and resonates with the people that matter the most: their customers.