Knowing the Difference Between Identity and Image

In the past, we’ve taken a look at why marketers should adopt consumer-first marketing strategies, focusing on the idea that our marketing strategies and tactics are at the mercy of consumer interpretation. At its core, brand development and management follow this same idea, echoing back to that timeless saying, “the customer is always right.”

Marketers need to understand the differences between the identities that we strive to create for our brands and the images that our brands that actually live in the minds of our consumers. This week, we’ll take a look at that distinction and how we can help our brands’ identities and images overlap.

Identity vs. Image

Whether you’re developing a brand from scratch or managing a well-established legacy brand, it’s essential to understand that your brand identity (the tone, look, and feel of your brand that you define) exists separately from your brand image (what consumers actually feel and see when they think of your brand). Brand managers cannot take their consumers’ perspectives for granted and must consider what kind of image their brands have in the minds of consumers as they develop strategies for their brands.

Ultimately, consumers are the decision makers. While we can develop thorough, innovative, and unique brand identities, these identities essentially live in a vacuum until they’re exposed to consumers. At that point, the brands’ images are subject to any number of variables that impact the ways consumers interpret the brands and the key to succeeding with our branding strategies is to drive overlap between the identity we create and the image the brand actually has.

How We Can Drive Overlap

We can drive overlap between brand identity and brand image by looking internally at our products and services, externally at our competitors, and out to our market.

  • Looking Internally: Beyond marketing campaigns, ultimately, our products or services are the biggest touchpoint for our consumers. Therefore, we must ensure that our products or services deliver on our brand promises in order to make sure we align our brand identity and image as closely as possible.
  • Looking Externally: We need to also look beyond our internal strategies and outward to identify where we stand amongst our competitors. Consumers will oftentimes evaluate brands in comparison to other competitors and in the context of entire industries.
  • Looking Beyond: Lastly, we must also identify where our brand stands in the larger societal context. Even effectively crafted brand identities can fail to translate to positive brand images if we fail to account for societal variable.

Bringing It All Together

Effective branding strategies succeed when marketers are able to translate their messaging to consumers. Just like we do when we develop marketing campaigns, we need to account for how different circumstances outside of our control can impact the way our consumers interpret our brand identities. Ultimately, we can account for these extenuating circumstances and drive overlap between our brand identities and images by making sure our products deliver on our brand promise, understanding where we stand in our industry’s landscape, and accounting for what’s going on in the world around us.

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