Thought Leadership

Six Steps to a Powerful Brand Identity

March 16, 2021
Author: Linda York
The Power of Brand Identity Research

Every impression counts when promoting and maintaining a successful business, and managing your brand identity is a major factor in that success. Whether it’s your logo, your website, your email signature or social media profile, your customers build an impression of your company through every interaction they have with it. Each touchpoint adds up to create your brand image. But in today’s dynamic digital market, customers have more ways than ever to engage with brands.

New and evolving technologies demand that businesses account for the myriad of platforms that can promote as well as demote their brand. Brand research across a diverse range of markets has shown that your customers’ opinions, needs and expectations can turn on a dime, particularly in the court of social media. As a result, the challenge for businesses is to navigate these platforms to ensure they don’t get lost in the crowd, or worse, stand out for all of the wrong reasons.

What Is the Difference between Brand Identity and Brand Image?

Brand identity is the way a business defines itself to their target audience. Every element that helps define your brand, from name and logo to color scheme and even the language you use to communicate with your audience come together to create your overall brand identity.

On the other hand, your brand image is the perception that customers have of your brand. It is the aggregate of every experience, interaction and association that people have with your organization.

When customers buy something from your business, they are doing more than just buying a product or service—they are buying into your brand and what it stands for. That’s why it’s vital to ensure that your brand identity consistently says the right thing to each customer. This builds a strong brand image, credibility and loyalty, and, ultimately, provides a strong foundation to help the brand navigate future challenges.

Take a look at a few of the world’s biggest brands and you can see the importance of brand image in action. For example, you may not own an Apple product or like the taste of Coca-Cola, but these brands are ubiquitous within today’s culture. Their recognition goes beyond logo or product design to extend to the value of the brands themselves, whether that’s the fun-loving nature of the world’s most popular soda or the user-friendly experience served up by one of the largest technology companies. The history of these companies is not without missteps, but the brands the companies have built and actively maintained allow them to continue to move forward and dominate their markets.

The Benefit of a Strong Brand Image

Technology is changing everything, from something as simple as reading a book to more complex tasks like driving (or not driving) a car. Likewise, modern marketing techniques are affecting the way businesses approach their brand image and perception, and their identity as a whole. The brands that are winning in this ever-changing digital landscape aren’t doing so by accident. Instead, they are using technology to ensure that every interaction their customers have with their brands creates a clear, consistent and coordinated impression.

A perfect example of how to do this well can be seen in Nike’s controversial marketing campaign featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick that the company launched in 2018. Phil Knight, co-founder and chairman emeritus of Nike, Inc., told Fast Company in an interview, “It doesn’t matter how many people hate your brand as long as enough people love it. And as long as you have that attitude, you can’t be afraid of offending people. You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked.”

To Knight’s point, the campaign generated a polarizing response that most brands avoid. It inspired many people to buy Nike shoes, while others burned them. Indeed, there was staunch criticism of the company’s campaign, with viral videos showing customers destroying Nike products and a Maine Republican calling on the electorate to forego the company for one of its competitors. And yet, despite the negative publicity, sales increased by 31% after the campaign went live. This proves that Nike not only understands its brand image, but how it can actively manage its image to authentically live its brand mission, connect with consumers and boost its business.

Fast forward to 2021, not only did the brand’s sales increase, but it has seen its reputation with the general public consistently improve over the past couple of years. Leadership attributes the strength of the brand in large part to the Kaepernick campaign and its long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion in the communities it serves. Nike has continued to take bold action as seen with the 2020 “For Once, Don’t Do It” campaign it launched in response to the widespread protests following the murder of George Floyd. While this campaign may not have made as big of a splash, it shows a strength and consistency in message that we can see is resonating with consumers.

How to Manage Your Brand Identity & Brand Image

Successfully managing your brand identity requires continuously measuring and evaluating your business’ brand health to ensure that you stay in front of your competitor’s with a positive brand image in the eyes of your current customers and potential audience.

There are six key elements to implementing effective brand management, each of which requires you to answer specific questions about your company, your customers and the market you operate in:

  1. Your brand value proposition. What does your brand bring to the market?
  2. Triggers and behavior. What motivates your customers or prospects to use your product or service?
  3. Awareness and consideration. How well-known and -liked is your brand? And how strong are your competitors’ brands?
  4. Perception of your brand. You can’t do everything, so what is it that matters to your most receptive customers?
  5. Engagement and experience. How frequently are your customers engaging with your brand and does their experience match what your brand promises?
  6. Loyalty and retention. What motivates loyal customers? These insights can be harnessed to create advocates that spread your brand image for you.

Managing these six elements will arm you with the insight you need to set up an effective brand management strategy. But insight alone isn’t enough to make your brand a success in today’s marketing landscape. You need to turn insight into action and use data to make educated decisions about your brand that will help you withstand the negative and capitalize on the positive. To find out more about how you can create clarity out of the chaos and gain a better understanding of your brand identity in the eyes of your audience, download our white paper “How to Inspire Mad Love for Your Brand.”

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Originally published January 25, 2019. Last updated March 16, 2021.

Linda York
Linda York
Senior Vice President, Cogent Syndicated

Linda York is a senior vice president in the Cogent Syndicated division where she leads the Wealth Management Syndicated Research & Consulting practice. She has over 20 years of experience in financial services spanning responsibilities in finance, marketing and business strategy. Before joining Escalent, Linda was the practice director of Syndicated Research at Cogent Research, where she managed the product development and execution process for syndicated research projects and consulted with dozens of clients in the retail and institutional wealth management space. She earned an MBA in marketing from the University of Connecticut and a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Mount Holyoke College. Linda is an avid equestrian and a two-time finisher of the Boston Marathon.