Brand image and identity – it’s not what you think!

Posted in Marketing by John Sutton

Most of the time, problems and conflicts we encounter in life are down to miscommunication. You said one thing, the person you were talking to interpreted it in a different way to what you intended.

This effect is exacerbated by the way we communicate today. We’re less likely to interact face-to-face, and engage more online; either through social media or written messages. Who has never misinterpreted an instant message, or been on the receiving end of a misinterpretation? It’s embarrassing, or worse, can cause the breakdown of a good relationship, either personal or business.

Now, imagine this happening with your brand. Newsflash: it probably is. Your brand is a collection of perceptions, and you need to know the difference between brand identity (what you want your brand to embody) and brand image (how your target customer perceives your brand) and how to narrow the gap between these so what you say, and what your target hears, are as closely aligned as possible.

I work in branding, we have this problem ourselves! Out networking, here’s a not untypical exchange:

New person: “And what do you do?”

Me: “I work for Brandigo, we’re a brand strategy agency that…”

New person: “Oh, you make logos, great!”

Me: “Well, not quite, actually…”

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And so it goes on. People associate branding with logos and taglines and colour pantones. This is right, up to a point, but clever brands have an identity beyond these things. They build an association and an emotional connection with their target audience and encompass what the whole company is about.

If people are regularly misinterpreting what you do, especially if it’s something niche and B2B or you find yourself regularly talking to the wrong people (ie, not those who are making purchasing decisions about your goods/services), then it’s time to take a look at your brand image and brand identity.

At Brandigo, we use a research approach and talk to both internal and external stakeholders in order to determine how people perceive your brand. External is key. A lot of organizations say ‘well, we know what our brand identity is’ but fail to appreciate how this is lost in translation in their communications with potential customers.

Blinkers Branding is another problem. In horse racing, the horses wear blinkers to stop them being distracted by competitors and keep them moving forward. All good in the 3.30 at Aintree, but for your brand a disaster. You need to look at what competitors are doing and saying. What are their messages? How can your differentiate your brand and craft an identity that gives you a space and the potential for a narrative all of your own in the marketplace.

Finally, Breakout the Brand! Your brand is a business asset. It belongs to the whole organization, and isn’t just something the marketing department takes ownership and control of.

Here’s a simple and entirely unscientific test: Go to a random employee in any department, and ask them what is your company’s brand identity. Then go to three more and ask the same thing. You’ll probably get four different answers.

Every employee, whether they are day-to-day customer facing or not, has the potential to be a brand ambassador. Successful organizations share a clear message with their employees about what exactly they are trying to achieve. This is part of your brand identity, and another crucial step in closing this gap between identity and image.

Your brand isn’t what you think. It is shaped by the perceptions and the impressions of those who come into contact with it, and in today’s digital social sphere, more delicate and prone to being misread than ever. Having a strong and clear message internally that everyone understands can be the first step to clearer and more fruitful communication with your target audience.

About John Sutton

John Sutton is a Brand Strategist and UK Director at Brandigo, and loves developing a close working relationship with clients to deliver original, high quality work. Outside the office, he can be found biking round the Cheshire countryside or elegantly falling from a surfboard on the coast of North Wales.
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