It is important to distinguish between corporate identity, brand identity, and brand image. Corporate identity is concerned with the visual aspects of a company's presence. When companies undertake corporate identity exercises, they are usually modernizing their visual image in terms of logo, design, and collaterals. Such efforts do not normally entail a change in brand values so that the heart of the brand remains the same - what it stands for, or its personality.
Unfortunately, many companies do not realize this fallacy, as they are sometimes led to believe by agencies and consultancy companies that the visual changes will change the brand image. But changes to logos, signage, and even outlet design do not always change consumer perceptions of quality, service, and the intangible associations that come to the fore when the brand name is seen or heard.
The best that such changes can do is to reassure consumers that the company is concerned about how it looks. Brands do have to maintain a modern look, and the visual identity needs to change over time. But the key to successfully affecting a new look is evolution, not revolution. Totally changing the brand visuals can give rise to consumer concerns about changes of ownership, or possible changes in brand values, or even unjustified extravagance. If there is a strong brand personality to which consumers are attracted, then substantial changes may destroy emotional attachments to the brand. People do not expect or like wild swings in the personality behavior of other people, and they are just as concerned when the brands to which they have grown used exhibit similar “schizophrenic" changes.
On the other hand, if the intention is to substantially improve the standing of the brand, then corporate identity changes can be accompanied by widespread changes to organizational culture, quality, and service standards. If done well, and if consumers experience a great new or improved experience, then the changes will, over the longer term, have a corresponding positive effect on brand image. If you are spending a vast amount of money on corporate identity, it is as well to remember this. Brand identity is the total proposition that a company makes to consumers - the promise it makes. It may consist of features and attributes, benefits, performance, quality, service support, and the values that the brand possesses.
The brand can be viewed as a product, a personality, a set of values, and a position it occupies in people's minds. Brand identity is everything the company wants the brand to be seen as.
Brand image, on the other hand, is the totality of consumer perceptions about the brand, or how they see it, which may not coincide with the brand identity. Companies have to work hard on the consumer experience to make sure that what customers see and think is what they want them to.
Scott White is President of Brand Identity Guru a leading Corporate Branding and Branding Research firm in Boston, MA.
Brand Identity Guru specializes in creating corporate and product brands that increase sales, market share, customer loyalty, and brand valuation.
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Over the course of his 15-year branding career, Scott White has worked in a wide variety of industries: high-tech, manufacturing, computer hardware and software, telecommunications, banking, restaurants, fashion, healthcare, Internet, retail, and service businesses, as well as numerous non-profit organizations.
Brand Identity Guru clients include: Sun Life Financial, Coca Cola, HP, Sun, Nordstrom, American Federal Mortgage, Franklin Sports and many others, including numerous emerging growth companies.