Brand Image vs. Brand Identity? 11 Differences and Examples
Brand identity and brand image are two concepts that are often used interchangeably and confused for one another, but not understanding the distinctions between them and how they work independently, and together, can end up hurting your brand.
Brand identity represents a brand’s best effort in showcasing the core of what it represents and the way it wants to be perceived by its customers. Brand image, on the other hand, is the result of those efforts and represents the way in which the brand is actually perceived by its customers.
Now the fun part where we dive into the nitty-gritty of these concepts and see how they influence your brand and how you can use them to your advantage to strengthen your brand and grow your business.
What is a Brand Identity?
“Branding is what people say about you when you are not in the room.” – Jeff Bezos
A brand identity is a set of elements that all work together to convey a brand’s core values and mission to the market, primarily through its visual identity which includes things like logo, colors, typography, tagline, imagery, etc.
Brand identity is also:
- Perception. Your brand is the reputation and perception that others have of you when you are not around.
- Emotions. A brand identity not only consists of visual and physical elements but also the ability to invoke powerful emotions in your customers.
- Impression. A brand identity creates a long-lasting impression on customers and should always be controlled and steered to be in line with the overall vision and strategy of a brand.
Why is your Brand Identity Important?
Here are a few reasons a brand identity is very important for a brand:
- Creates Brand Recognition. Your logo and other visual elements are what your customers interact with, and is essentially the “face” of your company. Think of Apple or Coca Cola and how instantly recognizable their visual identities are.
- Creates Brand Trust. Branding can create trust in a brand when customers are considering engaging with a brand for the first time. A professional, coherent, and well-designed brand identity will reflect your brand to potential customers in the same way, as professional, coherent, and well organized. Customers will have more trust in engaging with your brand, even if it is their first time.
- Creates Brand Loyalty. Having customers loyal to your brand is a very powerful thing and it all starts, in part, by having a brand identity that really connects with your customers in a powerful way.
- Supports Brand Communication. Your identity represents who you are as a brand and will determine how you communicate with your customers. Having great, cohesive branding will help you to create effective designs and messages to communicate with.
- Inspires Employees. Your employees are a great opportunity to become your greatest marketers through their passionate advocacy of the brand. Inspire your employees and they will inspire each other, and your customers alike. But that all starts by giving them something powerful to believe in.
What Makes a Brand Identity?
The various elements that make up a brand’s identity include:
- Brand Positioning
- Mission Statement
- Tagline (slogan)
- Brand Architecture
Your brand’s visual identity is one of the most important components of the overall brand identity because it is the visual representation of your brand and the one thing that’ll be seen by everyone in the marketplace. A brand’s visual identity includes:
- Logo (symbol)
- Design Element (Secondary Brand Mark)
- Imagery Style
What is a Brand Image?
Brand image is the perception of a brand in the mind of its customers. These perceptions are made up of the impressions, ideas, and beliefs that customers have about the brand.
Brand image is also:
- Character. It is essentially the character of a brand as seen through the eyes of its customers and the individual characteristics they associate with a brand.
- Connection. The connection that customers have with your brand and its personality.
- Emotional value. The emotional value customers derive from your brand that drives their motivations for buying your products or services and want to be associated with your brand.
Brand image goes beyond customers just buying your products or services. They also choose to buy into and associate themselves with the image that comes with that product or service.
It’s essential to keep all your brand elements, marketing, and messaging consistent because different people could perceive your brand differently.
A brand image is made up of specific or conceptual attributes that drive the reasons why customers choose to engage with your brand and buy your products or services.
The three types of benefits to these associated attributes are:
- Functional benefits – what you do better (than your competitors)
- Emotional benefits – how you make them feel better (than your competitors)
- Rational benefits/support – why they believe you (more than your competitors)
Examples of Brand Image
- Coca-cola is original with a unique taste and it’s associated with times of happiness, joy, and good experiences, shared with friends.
- Volvo is all about safety.
- Rolls-Royce is an ultra-luxury, exclusive brand enjoyed only by the wealthy and elite.
Why is Your Brand Image Important?
A strong, positive brand image can make or break a brand. Here are some benefits of having a good brand image and how it can positively impact your brand.
- Increases brand trust.
- Increases brand loyalty
- Inspires employees
- Attracts new customers
- Easily introduce new products or services.
- Provides valuable feedback
- Increases brand value
That being said, the flip side is also true in that having a bad brand image can negatively impact your brand and make it very difficult to perform well in the marketplace.
What Makes a Brand Image?
Brand image is essentially the end result of all of your branding and marketing efforts paying off once customers react to your products and services, and your brand, by engaging with your business.
There is most often a disconnect between a brand’s identity and its image, and it’s marketing efforts and messaging need to continuously recalibrated and realigned towards achieving this goal.
Similar to people and the impressions you have when first meeting them, customers’ first impression of your brand is very important for establishing a connection early on and leaving them with a positive image of your brand.
Brand Identity vs Brand Image
Now that we’ve covered most of what these two concepts are, the reasons why they are important to a brand, and some examples, it’s time to dive into their differences.
The way the brand wants to be perceived vs the way brand is actually perceived
Brand identity represents a brand’s best effort in showcasing what it represents and the way it wants to be perceived by its customers. Brand image, on the other hand, is the result of those efforts and represents the way in which the brand is actually perceived by its customers.
Active vs passive
Brand identity is active in nature as it is something that can be actively changed, influence, or directed in order to achieve the desired end result. Brand image is passive from a brand’s perspective as it doesn’t have any direct influence over it due to its reactionary nature.
A brand’s image is the result of their branding as it is perceived and experienced by its customers and if brands, therefore, want to change their image, they can only actively work on their branding and realigned their identity and messaging in the hopes that it will have the desired outcome when its customers engage with the brand again.
Visual elements of the brand vs. visual elements and brand associations
Brand identity consists of a collection of various visual elements that make up and represents a brand’s identity, whereas brand image consists of the same visual elements, but through the eyes of the consumer, along with the associations that those consumers have with those visual elements.
Indicates a company’s reality vs customer perceptions
Brand identity points to a company’s reality while brand image points to consumers’ perceptions of that reality.
Depends on how the company presents itself vs how the customers experience the brand
Brand identity depends on how a company presents and communicates that identity to consumers with its messaging through various media and marketing campaigns.
Brand image is how consumers experience that communication, the brand, and its products or services.
Customer experience plays a big role in a brand’s image. Red bull is a great example of a company that invests heavily in brand experience through experiential marketing like its extreme sporting events. They’ve narrowed down their brand identity to that feeling of excitement and energy that people get when they attend the events and experience the brand in that way.
Experiential marketing is a very powerful tool and if you want to learn more about how brands can use this to grow their brand image and businesses, check out my article on Why Experiential Marketing is So Powerful For Businesses?
Outward vs inward
Brand identity is something that is projected outward from a brand into the marketplace to reach its potential customers, over which the brand has complete control, to a certain degree.
Brand image is something that is reflected inward through the reactions and feedback from the market and the consumers who engaged with the brand in some way or another. In contrast to brand identity, a brand has almost no control over the reactions and feedback that’s reflected inward from the market.
Substance oriented or strategic vs is appearance oriented or tactical
Brand identity is strategic, and a lot of time and effort goes into getting every aspect of an identity right and in line with the over vision and values of a brand.
Brand image is tactical and requires more experiential-based strategies and tactics to enhance a brand’s image over time.
For a more in-depth look into the process of creating a brand identity, check out my complete guide to creating a brand identity here, or get my free ebook on creating a brand identity here by signing up for our weekly newsletter.
Represents the company’s aspirations vs the views of the brand by others
Brand identity represents a company’s vision, values, aspirations, and what they want to become, whereas brand image represents the current views and opinions others have of the brand.
Enduring vs superficial
Brand identity is enduring and rarely changes unless a company decides to rebrand due to one of many reasons. Brand image is superficial as it represents different opinions, experiences, and biases in people, but equally, if not more important nonetheless.
Rebranding is a great way if there is too much of a disconnect between what the company represents, the enduring elements of the brand, and the opinions and views of consumers. If no other tactical strategies seem to be working, rebranding can revitalize the brand image by presenting the brand in a new way.
If you want to learn more about why, when, and how to rebrand your business, check out my article on rebranding here.
Brand promise vs brand experience
Brand identity represents the brand’s promise to its customers whereas brand image represents the actual customer experiences with the brand. Needless to say, but brands should aim to have both of these elements in line otherwise a disconnect can lead to the brand image being disconnected from the brand identity and the brand’s promise.
If you’re promising customers the highest quality products, you should produce and deliver the highest quality products, even to the point where you exceed all customer expectations.
Represents the future vs the past
As mentioned before, brand identity represents a company’s vision and values, and aspirations for the future and what they want to become. Brand image represents the past interactions and experiences consumers had with a brand and it’s products or services.
This is a challenge for newer brands as it takes time, and a lot of effort, to line up the brand’s future aspirations with consumers’ past views of the brand. Another reason why consistency in every aspect of a brand’s identity and communication is key to a brand and its success.
How to Improve Your Brand Identity
Having a well defined and designed brand identity is vitally instrumental in the success of any brand. In the case where the company’s brand image doesn’t line up with the company’s identity, the remedies are almost always related to tactical strategies to improve the brand image over time. That being said, there are ways to improve your brand identity as well to ensure that you are representing your brand’s vision and values in the best, and most effective, possible way.
Here are some ways you can improve your brand identity:
In a world filled with infomercials, over-promising, spam, and scams, the best way to assure customers of your brand and gain their trust is by being authentic and true. Your brand identity should reflect that authenticity and enhance your brand promise to your customers.
Authenticity is also a great way to future proof your brand and to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
Authenticity is especially important when it comes to personal brands because you are engaging with your audience in a more personal, one-on-one manner.
One thing that can never be overstated when it comes to creating a good brand identity is consistency.
Your brand has to be consistent in its overall strategy, messaging, visual identity, marketing strategies, etc, and this all comes together and presented to the market through your brand identity.
Creating value for your customers is a powerful way of improving your brand identity.
Study the market, find areas within your space where there’s a gap in the market, and fulfill those consumer needs by providing value to them.
Your brand story
Stories are a powerful way of connecting with potential customers and improving a company’s brand identity.
If your brand has a great story to tell, craft it into something that’s in line with your over identity and messaging and use it to connect with your customers. If your brand doesn’t have an interesting story, then tell your story in the most interesting way possible as an extension of your brand personality.
Your brand story is also a great way to highlight and enhance your brand’s authenticity, and to connect with people with similar preferences, beliefs, and values.
Now it’s probably not possible for all brands to be as inspiring as Nike for example, but using your brand to inspire your customers is another powerful way of improving your brand identity.
In the challenging times we are living in at the moment, people seem to be longing for positivity, hope, and inspiration. Brands have a great opportunity here to provide that inspiration in a way that is in line with what they do, what they believe, and the difference they can make in people’s lives.
Don’t try to fake it thought, your customers will see right through your efforts and can end up hurting your brand image. But find what is true to your brand, true to your customers, and inspire away.
How to Improve Your Brand Image
Unlike a brand identity, a brand image is a little bit more tricky to improve, and also takes a bit longer.
A brand image is in a sense a reactionary measure on your brand identity once customers engage with your brand and its products or services. Because of the delay in these “reactions”, it takes a bit longer to improve and also to figure out where the exact areas of improvement are.
One of the key components that can help to improve your brand image is accurate, up-to-date feedback from your customers and others in the marketplace.
It is important for brands to invest time, energy, and money into feedback or data collection methods and tools. Customer surveys, focus groups, social media engagements, etc are all examples of these.
Getting real-time data on how customers feel about your brand and its products and services is instrumental in determining where and how your brand image is lagging, and where it can be improved.
Once you have sufficient data and a clear idea of where the disconnect lies between your brand identity and brand image, a very effective way of improving your brand image is through your messaging.
You can essentially address any kind of misinterpretation of your brand identity through targeted messaging to realign your communication efforts and change the misrepresented narratives over time.
Messaging can be particularly effective in addressing negative comments or reviews, complaints, or concerns as soon as they arise. Swift responses are key in this as leaving these things to fester and evolve among your customers can severely damage your brand image over time.
Another reason why constant feedback is so important to understand the “pulse” of your brand in the hearts and minds of your customers.
Before we into how experiences can improve your brand image, if you haven’t done so yet, you can check out my article on why experiential marketing is so powerful for businesses here, which will provide you with great insight into how you can incorporate it into your brand’s marketing mix.
Experiences are powerful ways of immersing consumers into your brand experience and what your brand and its products or services are all about. Many studies have shown that people respond better to the experience of a brand than any other traditional form of advertising, which increases their likelihood of buying your products or services.
The majority of people who have been immersed in a brand experience through a brand’s marketing efforts, have positively increased or positively changed their perception of that brand.
Those findings strongly support the direct correlation between a positive brand experience leading to positive brand perceptions and positively impacting and improving your brand image.
There are also many ways in which you can indirectly get involved in the lives of your customers that can improve your brand image.
Getting involved in community outreach programs, charity events, sponsorships, etc are all great examples of how you can improve your brand image through involvement. Another great way is by setting up your own charity and supporting causes that are in line with your brand values.
And finally, you can also improve your brand image by creating a good environment and internal culture within your organization or business.
Your employees have the potential to become powerful ambassadors of your brand if they believe in it and are inspired by the brand’s vision and what it represents.
Take care of your employees and they will take care of your customers. Value your employees and they will value your customers. Inspire your employees and they will inspire your customers.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article and just to recap: brand identity and brand image are two concepts that are often used interchangeably and confused for one another, but not understanding the distinctions between them and how they work independently, and together, can end up hurting your brand.
Now that I’ve covered both of these concepts in detail and showed how they are different, how they are similar, how they work together, and how they can be improved to strengthen your brand and business, you can now start implementing the necessary steps to apply it to your brand.