What is Brand Identity and How Do You Build a Brand?


By Emmanuel Obeta

According to Kapferer, brand Identity can be looked upon as an Identity card – a personal non – transferable document that tells in a few words who we are, what our name is and what distinguishable features we have that can be instantly recognized. While this encompasses the logo, graphics and other corporate function materials it definitely goes beyond it. For example the logo alone does not tell the customers who the brand is or what it stands for or the various factors that differentiates the brand from other competing brands within the same category. Some other things beyond the company logo tell the customers what the brand stands for.

For example, as differentiating as the logo of UNN and UI is, it is not the logo alone that tells the teeming Nigerians about the ideological and philosophical differences that defines or determines the differences in approach both in teaching, admissions, areas of emphasis or research between the two universities. Certain approaches, admissible or acceptable to one university, though right, may not be acceptable by the other university. Regardless of these, the logo and company graphics is a good place to commence the real identity creation process for the brand. In doing that you do well to ask or go beyond the logo aesthetics, beauty or harmony to what differentiating characteristics in terms of the brands core does the logo communicate to the customers?

Brand Identity also refers to an Identity of opinion, an identical point of view or the common element that sends a single message amidst the variety of its products, actions and communications. This is similar to a unique voice or shade of opinion that is peculiar and attributable to the brand or its products. If you are a car or vehicle, what is your opinion about cars? Eg Microsoft operated and built a multi billion industry based on the simple principle of democratizing computer technology. They believed that computers should be made available to everyone hence the deviation from the workstations and big computers of their time. Apple also built their brand on the principle of producing an easy to use computer. Dell computers also. Your perspective, view, opinion or point of view about the industry that you are operating in is what determines the identity of your brand; your raison d’ etre for being.

Your understanding of your need, essence or niche in the market, which you want to operate or what created the need of your business in the first instance, is the basic ingredient for the building of your brand identity. If you do not have a clear sense of your need or space in the market then you are virtually an also ran business and cannot have a distinguishing sense of identity on which to build the brand.

Brand Identity refers to the features of the brand, which despite the various changes in physical appearance or civil status still remains the same and unchanged like the fingerprints. Brand Identity encapsulates how time will or can change the unique and permanent quality of the sender, brand or retailer without detracting from its very essence or core values or personae. This is why a 1990 Ferrari though radically different from the present design of Ferrari, bears the indelible signature and essence of the brand that is completely unmistakable to any car customer. The same applies to the various design changes of Mercedes 230 over the years. Despite the changes in the design, the unmistakable signature and imprint or identity of Mercedes remains very obvious and clear in all the brands.

For some brands, the design changes are not only inconsistent but also incongruent with the previous designs thereby creating a huge confusion in the minds of their customers in their bid to carry over the brand affiliations and sentiments from design changes or modifications to another.

Another brand that has maintained this consistency in all their brand designs is Coca Cola, which has successfully replicated the curvature design in all their designs both for the bottle and for the plastics also.

In summary, embedded in the concept of the brand identity according Kapferer is the brand’s particular vision and aim; what makes it different; the need being fulfilled by the brand; the brand’s permanent nature; it’s values or value, it’s field of competence or legitimacy and the signs that makes it recognizable. These issues, when comprehensively incorporated in the brand identity, forms the brand charter, which will form the basis of managing the brand in the medium and long term. This charter then forms the basis of managing the brand both in terms of the form and content of the present and future communication as well as extension issues.

One can justifiably seek to know or find out the importance of this painstaking process in defining or building the brand’s identity. The concept of brand identity allows a closer connection with reality especially with the increased complexity of today’s marketing problems. By the time you would have gone through the rigor of developing an identity for your brand, you would have succeeded in laying the ground work for a foundation that will not only help you build your brand but also act as a check for all your creative and communication people to avoid deviation from the brand essence in your creative developments and communication. Without a very clear brand identity you would have surrendered the brand development to the vagaries of intuition and creative bursts that will vary from one creative director or communication person to another thereby leading to conflicts and confusion among your customers.

Brand competition and the intense pressure to keep up with brand innovations within the industry is also another important reason why a clear brand identity is essential. The development of the ABS in cars is one example. In adopting this technological device in a car, a car driven by safety as an essential ingredient in its brand identity like Volvo cannot use it in the same way as a car like Mercedes or BMW that prides itself in powerful performance. The same applies to the current aerodynamic style of car building in the different kinds of car. A car without a clear brand identity in trying to adopt all these developments will get muddled up and lose every sense of its identity or uniqueness in the market place. With a loss of this identity or differentiation in the market place the brand loses its attractiveness and consequently market share, as customers will not patronize a brand that does not have anything to offer it in terms of enhancing their own individuality or personality.

Without a clear brand identity it will also be impossible to position the brand in the minds of the consumers since positioning refers to the process of emphasizing and highlighting the distinctive characteristics of the brand that makes it different from its competitors which are appealing to the public.

*Emmanuel Obeta is a Brands & Marketing Consultant with directorate level experience across FMCG, Banking & Public Service