Not to mention, innovative billboard ads or even 'buzz-worthy' social media posts that go viral overnight.
While it’s true that those activities help with building up a brand, all of that however, is only made possible because of this one fundamental asset - brand identity.
What is 'Brand Identity'?
According to Investopedia, brand identity is defined as the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, to help consumers instantly identify and distinguish the business whenever and wherever possible.
To emphasize, brand identity is all about the ‘intent’, or more specifically, how a company chooses to visually portray itself in their customers’ minds through:
- Company name
- Brand logo
- Colors, shapes and other graphics used in the marketing materials
- Brand tone & language, and much more.
If you think back to the products (or services) you use in your daily life, there’s bound to be at least one or two brands you’d instantly remember.
More specifically, the image or perception portrayed by the company that captured your interest into trying out what they’re selling.
Why Is Brand Identity Important?
As briefly mentioned at the start, brand identity helps businesses ‘set the stage’ for how it will execute all its marketing activities going forward.
For instance, how do you present a coffee brand in a manner that attracts customers with a preference for ‘premium’ goods?
One of the solutions is to have a well-designed logo and other visually appealing marketing deliverables as part of their overall marketing plan to portray the company in a particular manner.
Here’s an example of what a modern and premium brand identity would like for that coffee brand.
Doing so helps the company resonate and speak specifically to what the target customers value - good looking (the aesthetics) and high-quality, premium goods (the function).
But the benefits of brand identity aren’t just limited to only attracting the customers’ eyes. It extends beyond other aspects, to which we will explore in the sections below.
1) Company Differentiation
Firstly, a well-designed brand identity helps a company differentiate itself from its competitors.
When done right, it helps the business stand out by capturing the attention and interests of customers towards its offerings.
Put simply, the brand identity is responsible for presenting a ‘visual’ summary of what customers can expect about your brand the moment they lay eyes on your products and services.
It is the image you wish to present in order to influence their perception and expectations about your offerings before price and quality come into play.
However, this point should not be confused with brand image, as brand identity is what the company aims to portray itself to be, while the latter is a result of the successful (or unsuccessful) implementation of that brand identity.
Facebook’s brand identity aims to communicate the goal of helping people and businesses connect, share, build community and grow their audiences.
The reality however (as of the time of this writing), is much different due to its recent PR crises:
As such, the importance of developing a creative yet professional looking visual identity cannot be overlooked, because failing to do so will only risk having the company drown in a sea of ‘same-ness’ from the ever competitive market of new entrants, participants & industry giants.
Hence, getting a unique brand identity helps the company differentiate itself by standing out from its peers and thus, better communicate the features of its offerings more clearly to capture the interests and attention of consumers.
2) Product & Service Positioning
Building upon the previous point, having a well-designed brand identity is crucial to a company’s ability to position itself, especially on its products and services.
When done right, it helps the business successfully present itself the way it wants it to.
i) Mr.DIY - ‘Affordability’
ii) Apple - ‘Innovative’
iii) Tesla - ‘Disruptive’
Whether it’s being an affordable alternative or the ‘first-class’ choice, having a brand identity allows a company to solidify its market position in the industry vertical it’s operating in.
Moreover, a defined position helps pinpoint the ideal customer a company should target. For instance, narrowing down the customer base to demographic factors such as age and gender.
Take Lego as an example:
Their ideal customers are children, instead of parents or adults (who are often the buyers rather than the product users).
If we compare that to 'Cards Against Humanity', the brand mainly caters to adults instead of children, not only because of how their game is played, but in how their overall brand identity is portrayed as well.
As you can see, Lego ensures their brand identity is presented in a ‘colorful’ way to appeal to children’s natural curiosity towards bright colors due to the early childhood development of their eyes in distinguishing objects from one another as noted in this article.
The latter brand however, prefers using neutral colors (black and white) for a more simplistic look to appeal to adults that have a preference for puns, crude humour, surreal comedy etc.
When placed side-by-side, you can easily predict which customer would go for the corresponding products based on the visual appeal of the brand identity alone.
In short, a unique visual identity helps companies position their offerings and their business the way they want to, while developing a better understanding of who their ideal customers are in order to execute their marketing strategies more effectively.
3) Brand Consistency
When it comes to branding, consistency is key for both internal and external aspects of the company.
In the context of a brand identity, having one informs internal stakeholders within the business about how the company functions.
For instance, the marketing department:
When creating marketing-related materials, employees need a ‘central depository’ (or a reference point) to inform them on the types of marketing campaigns to create.
- Campaign theme
- Voice, tone & so much more
For instance, Stabilo’s 2020 Social Media Marketing Campaign:
Without a brand identity that clearly explains the ‘what’, ‘why’, and ‘how’, it causes internal confusion for the entire company as each employee is left to their own approach of presenting the business the way they see fit.
While some degree of creativity and flexibility is always welcomed, having too much ambiguity about what can or cannot be done (according to the company’s brand identity) can instead harm the company’s branding in the grand scheme of things.
With regards to the aspect above, when a brand does not have its internal functions aligned (internal confusion), the external output it creates will most likely reflect that situation.
For instance, Dove’s 2017 ad:
The brand faced public backlash when its ad evoked the long-running racist-trope in soap advertising - a ‘dirty’ black person cleansed into whiteness (or ‘good-ness’).
It claimed that its original intention was to celebrate diversity by conveying its products were made for every woman (regardless of race) it their ad.
The message however was interpreted as a reinforcement that everything associated with 'white' was good, and everything ‘non-white’ was unacceptable.
However, compared to its 2015 ad above, it did a much better job at conveying the values of its brand identity, particularly its vision statement - ‘Helping women and girls everywhere to see beauty as a source of confidence, not anxiety.’
Thus, this shows the critical importance, or rather why businesses need a brand identity to succeed.
The core idea is to develop a brand identity that properly informs and empowers internal stakeholders within the company on it’s vision, mission, and values, so they are aligned with the main goals and objectives of the business.
Doing so helps them create a consistent message across all marketing materials, while transforming them into walking ambassadors of the brand with the right know-how to manage, grow, and protect the brand from any reputational damage.
When successfully implemented, it leads to a cohesive brand experience (both internally and externally) that proudly represents what the company stands for, while meeting consumer demand on a larger scale.
4) Brand Awareness
Next, when a brand identity is successfully implemented over the long term, it results in stronger brand awareness amongst stakeholders from various aspects:
Doing so helps stakeholders keep the brand at the top of their minds by instantly recognizing and remembering their offerings and the values it stands for.
But why should anyone care about being at the forefront (or ‘top-of-the-mind’) in the first place?
To demonstrate its importance, we’ll explore that idea by focusing on the first stakeholder (consumers) through a visualization known as the ‘buyer journey’:
Put simply, it is the various phases customers usually go through when making a purchase from a company.
Stage 1: Awareness
The individual becomes aware that they require a particular product or service to fulfill a need or solve a problem. Hence, they begin researching for a solution.
Stage 2: Consideration
Next, they start evaluating which company is able to meet their needs. This is the stage where individuals start becoming familiar with the company’s product and service.
In addition, it is also one of the most influential stages as the brand needs to effectively communicate the benefits of its offerings or they will risk losing them.
Stage 3: Intent
After that, they begin actively engaging with the selected company by going through their profiles, reviews and past customer testimonials to identify if others have had similar success with fulfilling (or solving) that particular need (or problem).
Stage 4: Purchase
Finally, the individual makes the decision to purchase from the company, which they then officially become its customer.
Stage 5: Loyalty & Advocacy
Just like stage 2 (consideration), the last stage is an influential phase that greatly influences the success of a brand.
To emphasize, here are two reasons why using coca-cola as an example:
a) Easier introduction of new products & services
Past customers become easier to engage when they continuously purchase from the brand as they will start reducing (or completely eliminating) the amount of stages they have to go through before buying from the same company.
In coca-cola’s case, when it’s drinks consistently meet their customers’ expectations, introducing new categories or variations become easier as there are fewer ‘buyer objections’.
b) Constant & recurring branding
Next, repeat purchases constantly keeps the brand within the customer’s mind. This creates recurring brand awareness that consistently places the company as the first choice whenever they think about buying a particular product or service, instead of its industry peers.
As shown, before a customer decides to purchase from a brand (stage 4), they will go through several stages beforehand, which involves being aware that the brand exists in the first place (stage 1).
Put simply, having a good brand identity that is consistently applied throughout all the stages of the buyer journey ensures potential buyers and customers are familiar with what the brand can offer them.
Thus, influencing their decision to purchase and repeat those actions.
Moreover, this system can be adapted to appeal to other stakeholders as well (with difference in the funnel’s approaches of course), in order to drive brand familiarity, recognition, and loyalty (or advocacy) on behalf of the brand.
In doing so, this results in ‘spillover’ benefits, such as:
i) Employees - Attracting top talents globally & improving retention rates.
ii) Investors - Sustaining ongoing investments within the company.
iii) Suppliers - Better bargaining power & flexibility in production prices.
iv) Communities - Developing a strong & positive public reputation for the company.
v) Governments - Higher chances of winning governmental contracts due to established reputation.
To summarize, a company’s brand identity helps them successfully create brand awareness.
When done properly, it results in various positive impact (both financially and non-financially) that ultimately drive business success in aspects of social, organizational, financial, and governance.
5) Positive Brand Perception
Brand perception is essentially what consumers think & feel about a company. This can range from the quality of its products up to the very culture within the company itself.
But why is brand perception important?
In an era where customers are increasingly influenced by public opinions (i.e. reviews and testimonials) to decide who to purchase from, having a positive perception of a brand is incredibly important in convincing them to buy from your company.
Not to mention, once a certain perception is created within their minds (positive, negative or neutral), it becomes hard to change the consumers' beliefs. Hence, the importance of establishing a good perception early on.
So how does a company’s brand identity tie into all of this?
The key idea here is once again, being intentional about what the brand wants to convey and how it chooses to do so in the design of it’s brand identity.
For instance, the ‘Know Your V’ advertising campaign by Libresse Malaysia:
The objective was to create awareness and educate women on their V-Zone through various touchpoints (print ads, commercials, packaging design etc).
Being an international feminine care brand, their brand identity was focused on that goal by communicating that idea (both visually and non-visually).
In Malaysia however, they had to pull their campaign due to public backlash from local government officials because it was misinterpreted as an ‘offence’ to the country’s culture and religion.
But the situation had a silver lining at the end. When such news went viral, the public (especially social media users) rallied behind the brand and supported their decision in running the campaign in the first place
This was due to the public’s critical understanding on the importance of sexual education, alongside the multiple benefits it brings for women across the country.
Hence, resulting in a positive brand perception for the company amongst the mass audience, which also significantly improved its brand awareness as well.
In short, a company needs to be intentional about what needs to be communicated from their brand identity, alongside the ‘how’ in order to create a positive brand perception.
6) Consumer Trust & Brand Loyalty
Last but not least, having a brand identity builds trust with customers, and eventually - brand loyalty.
Similarly, when the brand identity is consistently applied across every one of the company’s touchpoints (ex: marketing materials, product packaging design, website collaterals etc.), it creates familiarity for customers.
This helps them establish and reinforce certain expectations about what the company can offer them.
Example: Presenting your company's products with a modern-looking website.
This helps consumers perceive that the brand is offering a premium product, which might attract them to make a purchase as they are able to offer them high-quality goods for the right price.
But, if they received the product and feels that the value & quality fails to live up to its expectation, then the trust towards the brand is broken.
On the other hand, if consumers feel that the value they got from the product has accurately reflected their expectations, then a relationship is built, and thus - creating the valuable trust consumers have towards the brand.
Prolonged over a period of time, that trust eventually develops into long-term loyalty only if the company has put in effort to ensure that its products had embodied the values of its brand identity.
In essence, it is about nurturing the perceptions consumers have by consistently delivering what the company visually communicates about its brand through the visual identity it carries.
If successful, they become loyal customers who cultivate a strong brand loyalty towards the company.
This then evolves them into ‘brand ambassadors’ who vouches for the effectiveness of the products and services, while creating the potential for the brand to acquire more customers from the personal networks of their ambassadors.
The main point - A brand identity that is successfully implemented builds consumer trust and brand loyalty.
To recap, here are the reasons why every business needs a brand identity to succeed:
1) Company Differentiation
A unique brand identity helps the company stand out from its competition.
2) Product & Service Positioning
It helps them position their offerings the way they want to, while accurately defining their ideal customers.
3) Brand Consistency
It aligns all internal business functions to the company's main goal so they can create a cohesive brand experience for its customers.
4) Brand Awareness
When successfully implemented, it creates brand awareness that lets consumers know the company exists.
This then results in product and service purchase when they have a ‘need’ to be met.
5) Positive Brand Perception
It creates a positive brand image, which results in creating even more brand awareness to reach new customer segments.
6) Consumer Trust & Brand Loyalty
By accurately representing the values of the brand identity in its product & service, the brand is able to nurture and build consumer trust, leading to brand loyalty over the long term.
To put it simply, companies that invest in their own branding (especially their brand identity) perform better because of all the financial and non-financial benefits they can reap.
As such, many often look to or will consult a branding agency as a starting point to help them achieve that, especially on designing its brand identity.
This is largely due to their accumulated industry experience over the years, which makes these professionals the right specialists to help companies find their own direction to create a unique visual identity that helps them stand out and achieve their most important business objectives.