Brand identity or brand image: the truth behind the difference

Long Read

Exploring brand identity


The terminology can be a little confusing if you’re unfamiliar with designers’ or branding agencies’ vocabulary. In this article, we explore the differences between brand image vs brand identity. We cover the fundamentals of building a strong brand identity, and the impact that has on creating a successful brand image.

Short on time? If you want a short synopsis, scroll down to the last section; it’s called – Brand image vs brand identity: Decoding the key distinctions.



Defining brand identity: What does it really mean?


Brand identity is a term used to describe the collection of all elements that a company creates to portray the right image to its customers. This includes the strategic positioning, visual and verbal elements that make up your brand – think logo, colour palette, typefaces, the use of illustration or photography, what your messages are and how you say them (often referred to as ‘tone of voice’). When these elements are uniquely yours, this creates a strong standout from your competitors and high recall for your target audience, customers or clients.



Building your brand identity: A strategic approach


To create a powerful brand identity, first a business needs to set its strategy and design the brand from that. It’s been proven that people make buying decisions based on emotional needs first, and functional needs second. So before you do anything, identify your audience’s emotional needs and build the strategy from there. A brand strategy is intrinsically linked to your business strategy. And it is a long-term plan to ensure your brand is positioned correctly to support your wider business objectives. It’s the story you want to tell to your audience, it’s the experience you want to give, it’s the perception you want them to have of you. A strong brand strategy will be a blend of your audience’s needs and your company’s unique strengths.

There are a number of elements that make up a brand strategy, covered very briefly below.


Brand vision


A vision statement focuses on the future. It sets a target for the next 5-10 years to empower your workforce. It should be a source of inspiration and motivation. Often it describes not just the company’s future but the industry or society in which they hope to affect change.


Mission statement


A mission statement describes how a company will achieve their vision and for whom. It defines primary objectives related to your customer needs and brand purpose.


Brand values or behaviours


Your values or behaviours align your business and its employees helping them to make decisions based on values that represent your brand and help you to achieve your vision. Whether you choose to have values or behaviours is personal to the organisation. For some, behaviours can feel more tangible for individuals and support recruitment and HR purposes. For others, values work better as they are more generalised and can be applied to wider applications.


Your unique positioning


You’ll also need to define how you differentiate yourself from the competition.

For example, when Netflix identified what the customer wanted, they concluded that they should champion convenience. They would be different by not having any adverts and offering streaming at home. Their customers would not have to leave their homes for the video store. Therefore, their USP is to “Deliver the best selection of TV shows and movies possible in the most convenient way possible.”


Your brand voice


Also called your ‘tone of voice’, it ensures you are clear on what you sound like. For example, are you serious or jokey? A good place to start here is to ask yourself if your brand was a person, how would it communicate?


The complete strategy


These elements, when combined, make up your brand strategy. Your brand strategy will guide you to steer your visual identity in the right direction and ensure you are positioned to achieve your business objectives.


Translating the strategy into the visual brand identity


Once you’ve signed off who you are as a brand, it’s time to build the visual identity that will bring your brand to life and show who you are to the people who matter most: your customers. It’s key that a unique brand identity is created that reflects both the target audiences’ needs and the strategy.

The visual elements (such as logo, colour palette, typography, and imagery), are the key components that will determine how your brand is perceived and shown. They will define how your brand looks across your website, your social media accounts, your sales decks and any event collateral you create.

In other words, creating a strong, unique visual identity = having a strong brand identity = building a successful brand that accurately represents who you are as a business.

The result is that your brand becomes more effective, your customers and audience understand you more, buying decisions are made easier, and loyalty grows.



The power of a robust brand identity


The beauty about a brand identity is that the business fully controls it. As the branding is created and curated by the brand owner and often by expert agencies, you will market with what you want to say, and it will have an impact.


When done correctly, this strengthens reach and recall and aids in loyalty and positive associations, often translating into an uptick in sales.


Sounds easy right? The challenge is although we can control what we send out into the world (our brand identity), we can’t control the perception our customer target audience has of us. This is called the brand image.



Diving into brand image


If brand identity is what the business controls, brand image is what it can’t control – the customers’ perceived value and quality of the brand. Guided and informed by the brand identity, the marketing outputs and the product or service the customer has experienced. They might base it on a first-hand experience they’ve had as a client or customer. It is possible to form an opinion of a brand without making a purchase at all. It could be based on something that someone else said, be that a good or bad experience, whether that’s online, via a media outlet, an influencer review, or simply a friend’s opinion.

One of the main purchasing drivers is trust. It’s why we often purchase the same brands again and again. Or if it’s a new brand we are buying we seek reviews, recommendations or opinions of others to reassure us that we can trust our choices to buy. Trust is gained by first building the right brand identity, and then using that to shape our brand image.



Understanding brand image: More than just perception


It can be particularly challenging for marketeers of larger organisations that need multiple people to be creating outputs such as social media content, online or printed marketing materials and website updates to maintain the right brand image. With many people delivering, often across multiple regions, it can be hard to stay aligned. As the right brand identity is such a key part in protecting a business’ brand image, ensuring everyone understands the importance of the brand identity and sticks to it is key, as a consistent brand identity builds that all-important trust.

Poorly designed communications, such as bad or unoriginal brand identity or poor application of the brand onto your website, for example, can be spotted a mile off and be seen as “unprofessional” within the minds of your target audience. Being consistent with your brand is vital in pretty much every industry.


If the content is not aligned and consistent, the result is that customers lose faith in the brand, and therefore, the perception of the brand image can decline.



Crafting a Consistent Brand Image: Our Methodology


To ensure a strong brand image and a positive perception, we’d recommend you follow these key steps;


1. Focus on your target audience


You can’t be everything to everyone. Make sure you understand your audience and consistently create messaging for them. Ensuring you are talking to your target audience means that you are aligning closely to the strategy you created – a strategy that really represents what your business is and what it stands for.



2. Be consistent with how you use your core messaging


All your content needs to have a consistent tone across your different communication channels – this is called ‘tone of voice’. It ensures that the content on your website, social media posts, and advertising have a consistent tone. For instance, does the brand want to use humour or does it want to appeal to a serious audience? Revisit your Brand Strategy that will detail your tone of voice if you feel that you have lost your way.



3. Be willing to evolve over time


This might seem contradictory to advising consistency but it’s important that your short-term goals are consistency and your longer-term goals are to be flexible with how you evolve your brand in the modern world. Your brand identity should evolve over time. Businesses that have been around for, say, 100 years don’t have the same brand identity they had initially. Evolution is a positive thing as long as you are ensuring you align it with the right brand strategy and making sure you are genuinely listening to your audience and customers, who will change over time.



4. Ensure you have the right product and customer service in place


Negative feedback when dealt with quickly can often turn into positive reviews. Your brand identity works hard at creating a strong brand image, but it can’t be blamed for a bad product or service that isn’t corrected with good communication.



The advantages of cultivating a strong brand image


The benefits of nurturing a brand’s image is that it builds positive associations and boosts brand recognition by establishing a solid reputation. The brand stands out from the competition, and therefore gives you a larger market share.



Brand image vs brand identity: Decoding the key distinctions


In summary. The term brand image describes the entire external perception, which is the image that consumers and society have of a brand.

The brand image encompasses all ideas, opinions, associations, and emotions a person can have about a brand; this can often be described as its personality. This is informed heavily by the brand identity and its use across marketing outputs such as websites, brochures, social media, packaging and advertising.


It’s impossible to have a strong brand image without the investment in a good brand identity. One that is grounded in strategic thought and echoes the customer’s needs.


If you need any support in making sure you have the right brand identity in place to build your brand image, drop us a line and we can discuss how we can guide you to develop a strong brand identity and brand image.