Brand Identity: What It Is and How To Build One

Brand Identity

Investopedia / Zoe Hansen

What Is Brand Identity?

Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers' minds. Brand identity is distinct from brand image. The former corresponds to the intent behind the branding and the way a company does the following—all to cultivate a certain image in consumers' minds:

  • Chooses its name
  • Designs its logo
  • Uses colors, shapes, and other visual elements in its products and promotions
  • Crafts the language in its advertisements
  • Trains employees to interact with customers

Brand image is the actual result of these efforts, successful or unsuccessful. 

Key Takeaways

  • Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers' minds.
  • Consistent marketing and messaging lead to consistent brand identity and, therefore, consistent sales.
  • Building a positive brand image can bring in consistent sales and make product roll-outs more successful.
  • Building a positive, cohesive brand image requires analyzing the company and its market, and determining the company's goals, customers, and message.
  • Social media is a powerful driver of brand awareness.

Brand Identity

Understanding Brand Identity

Brand identity in many ways is the visual (symbol or illustration) aspect of a brand. Think of the Nike 'swoosh' or Apple's apple—those are two instances where the identity of a brand is connected with a symbol or visual aspect. Building brand identity must have a strong visual image to link the brand. A brand identity is compiled of various branding elements. When you put them together, the identity in many ways is the mascot of your brand. It is how a company expresses and describes itself from the images on its marketing materials, the colors that represent the brand, and how a company markets itself on social media. A strong brand identity strengthens a company's popularity and presence in a competitive market.

Beyond saving the company money on promotion, a successful brand can be one of the company's most valuable assets. Brand value is intangible, making it difficult to quantify. Still, common approaches take into account the cost it would take to build a similar brand, the cost of royalties to use the brand name, and the cash flow of comparative unbranded businesses.

Nike, Inc., for example, owns one of the world's most instantly recognizable logos, the "swoosh." According to Forbes' "The 2020 World's Most Powerful Brands" report, the Nike brand ranked 13 with an estimated brand value of $39.1 billion, even though, in a world devoid of brand perception, taking the swoosh off of Nike's shoes and apparel would change nothing about their comfort or performance. The top brand on the 2020 list was Apple, with an estimated brand value of $241.2 billion.

Building Brand Identity

The steps a company should take to build a strong, cohesive, and consistent brand identity will vary, but a few points apply broadly to most:

  1. Analyze the company and the market. A complete SWOT analysis that includes the entire firm—a look at the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats—is a proven way to help managers understand their situation to determine better their goals and the steps required to achieve them.
  2. Determine key business goals. The brand identity should help fulfill these goals. For example, if an automaker is pursuing a niche luxury market, its ads should be crafted to appeal to that market. They should appear on channels and sites where potential customers are likely to see them.
  3. Identify its customers. Conducting surveys, convening focus groups, and holding one-on-one interviews can help a company identify its consumer group.
  4. Determine the personality and message it wants to communicate. A company needs to create a consistent perception rather than trying to combine every conceivable positive trait: utility, affordability, quality, nostalgia, modernity, luxury, flash, taste, and class. All brand elements, including copy, imagery, cultural allusions, and color schemes, should align and deliver a coherent message.

Building a brand identity is a multi-disciplinary strategic effort, and every element needs to support the overall message and business goals.

History of Brand Identity

National, religious, guild, and heraldic symbols, which we might see as analogous to modern branding, go back millennia. The modern practice dates to the industrial revolution; however, when household goods began to be produced in factories, manufacturers needed a way to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Thus, these efforts evolved from simple visual branding to advertisements that included mascots, jingles, and other sales and marketing techniques. Many companies claim to have the oldest trademarked brands: Twinings Tea, Stella Artois, and Levi Strauss.

Special Considerations

Building a brand identity is a multi-disciplinary strategic effort, and every element needs to support the overall message and business goals. It can include a company's name, logo, and design; its style and the tone of its copy; the look and composition of its products; and, of course, its social media presence.

Apple founder Steve Jobs famously obsessed over details as small as the shade of gray on bathroom signs in Apple stores. While that level of focus may not be necessary, the anecdote shows that Apple's successful branding results from the intense effort, not just luck. But building brand identity isn't just for the big leagues. All companies, both small and mid-sized businesses, should build a strong brand identity.

Why Does Brand Identity Matter?

Brand identity matters because without it, customers are not able to recognize a brand easily. A strong brand may helps sell a company to consumers.

What Makes a Good Brand?

A good brand has a clear focus, strong visuals, is familiar with its target audience (family versus mature audience, for example) and is easily recognizable in a sea of similar brands.

What Are Famous Brands?

Nike, Mcdonald's, Apple, Google, Disney, and Amazon have some of the most recognizable and valuable brands.

Article Sources
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  1. Forbes. "The 2020 World's Most Valuable Brands."

  2. Animation Visarts. "Five Oldest Company Logo Designs."

  3. Forbes. "The 2020 World's Most Valuable Brands."

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