Building a brand: The brand identity prism

Building a brand is more than giving your products or company a name.  It is more than picking a logo.  You have to give your brand an identity.

Research has shown that consumers buy brands which match their needs, aspiration and personality.  Therefore, if you want to create a successful brand which attracts your target customer base, the brand must conform with your target customers expectations.

One way of doing this is the concept of the Brand Identity Prism.

The prism is a hexagon and each facet of the hexagon relates to a brand characteristic.

The characteristics are split into four categories:

  1. The picture of the sender, i.e. the characteristics the brand owner wants to project about the brand.
  2. The picture of the recipient, i.e. the image the brand gives of the target consumer
  3. Internalisation, i.e. the ‘culture’ the brand wishes to develop
  4. Externalisation i.e. the image the brand wants to communicate to the market at large

There are two prism facets which make up the picture of the sender:

  1.  The ‘Physique’ of the brand; and
  2.  The ‘personality’ of the brand.

A brand’s ‘physique’ is its backbone, its physical characteristics which provide tangible added value.  A good example is the small round bottle used by the French soft drink, Orangina.  This distinctive bottle shape has been in existence since the brand’s creation.  It gives the brand physical distinctiveness.  Even when you cannot read the bottle label, you can clearly identify the brand.  In recent years, Orangina has also been sold in cans but the round bottle is still at the centre of the firm’s advertising.

Similarly, Coca Cola’s glass bottle shape is a registered trademark and every can of coke has on it a picture of the coke bottle.

Brands also should have a personality and through the communication of that personality a character can be created.  Since the 1970’s brand personality has been the main focus of commercial advertising.  This personality is often expressed through the use of a spokesperson or brand figurehead.  For example, Nespresso want to appear cool, attractive and sophisticated and their coffee machine promotions are therefore fronted by George Clooney.  Virgin Group reflects the personality of its founder Richard Branson in that it is unconventional, fun and laid back.  Tag Heuer watches want to appear sporty and technically excellent so they use brand advocates such as Lewis Hamilton and Tiger Woods.

Personalities can be applied to brand categories.  Companies selling IT equipment want to create a personality which is up-to-date.  Sports drinks want to appear energising.  Ice cream products want to appear sensuous.

brand personalities allow consumers to identify with the brand and to project themselves onto it.  It is the psychological factor of a brand.

The internalisation facet of the prism is a brand’s culture.  A strong brand creates a culture, a vision of the world, an ideology.  Nike’s culture is one of solo willpower with a dose of optimism reflected in the slogan ‘Just do it!’.  Johnnie Walker whisky is a about entrepreneurial spirit and upward mobility expressed through ‘Keep walking’.  American Express sells its credit and financial products by selling the American dream; using the dollar sign as its logo.  Innocent smoothies are about purity and offer a critique on the food industry.  A brand’s culture defines its capital.

A brand is a relationship between its owner and the target customer base.  This relationship is the crux of transactions between people.  Yves St Laurent functions on a culture of charm; a love affair which is sensuous and ostentatious (in a good way): It calls on its target customers to ‘shine like gold’ activating their desire.

Nike use the name of a Greek god to imply specific cultural values; the Olympic spirit combined with human effort.

The Image of the Recipient comprises the final two facets of the prism:

  1.  The reflected image of the consumer; and
  2. The consumer’s self-image.

The reflected image is best expressed by how the general public view users of a particular brand.  The car industry is a good example of reflected image.  People describe cars by the type of person they see driving them.  BMW’s are driven by smart professionals.  Hondas are driven by older people.  Land Rovers are driven by farmers.  Consumers buy brands partly to build their own identity and in doing so they create brand value.

A consumer’s self-image is their internal mirror. It is how they see themselves.  People who buy Lacoste products see themselves as representatives of an exclusive sports clubs.

If you are creating or trying to build a brand, thinking in terms of the Brand Identity Prism can give it a strong and powerful influence in the market.