If you have had the opportunity to study marketing or branding theory you are most probably familiar with the name Jean-Noël Kapferer. His vast contribution to the field cannot be overstated, with his books being used for tutoring students and guiding brand managers around the world. Perhaps the most iconic piece of his legacy is also his most elegant; the famous Brand Identity Prism.
This ingenious yet simple model is so powerful that it still serves as one of the main tools for working with brand identities despite first being conceptualized by Kapferer almost three decades ago. Developing a strong brand identity without having analyzed it through Kapferer’s prism would surely be possible, but the process would no doubt be longer and more costly, and the results would likely be far inferior. For these reasons anyone who owns, manages or is looking to develop a brand should spend some time getting familiar with the model.
Dissecting the essential elements of brand identity
As you can see the Brand Identity Prism consists of a hexagon where each side represents an essential element of the brand identity as identified by Kapferer. The top two elements constitute the picture of the sender, i.e. the brand, while the bottom two represent the picture of the recipient, that is the customer that observes or interacts with the brand. Though the line between the external and internal elements of a brand identity can be rather vague, broadly speaking the left side contains the external elements while the right side holds the internal ones.
Let’s begin by examining the six elements.
Physique | Within physique you will find everything that physically embodies the brand. The design of the products, the logo, the quality of the materials and so on. It is here that the brand or company values can be expressed in a tangible way. A sports car will, for instance, be shaped in a way that immediately tells the observer that this car is built for speed, while the shape of your average soccer mom van will project spaciousness and perhaps safety. Of course these examples are rather obvious but there are far more subtle ways in which to induce your brand’s physical manifestations with the values you wish to express.
Personality | Think of any brand that you are familiar with. Now imagine that this brand would be a human being. What kind of person would it be? Young or old? Funny or serious? Reserved or passionate? The answers to this thought experiment show you what personality the brand has, and it is not by chance that you have a certain idea of a specific brand’s characteristics. A lot of work goes into developing a personality for a brand, and to that end the words and images associated with it are essential. If a brand is targeting doctors in their 40s or 50s then the language used, as well as the imagery, must be entirely different from from that of a brand targeting young adult surfers. It goes without saying that communication to a specific target audience needs to be carefully thought out, otherwise the effects might have a negative impact, and that is not what you want your marketing budget to achieve.
Relationship | One must also remember to consider how the relationship between the brand and its followers is viewed and managed. For a young and vibrant brand this can mean being the friend who is always available on all social media, no matter how big or small question the at hand might be, while a highly professional brand might focus more on simply delivering requested services on time and not bothering with social media at all. The kinds of interactions that occur between a brand and its customers say a lot about the brand’s identity but also about its target audience. Meeting the customer where they expect you to be is essential to build and maintain the right kind of brand identity.
Culture | The cultural values that dominate a company and the country or region it operates in have a large influence on the brand identity. For example a luxury brand originated in the Nordics will often times have a rather inconspicuous approach to displaying its more deluxe aspects while one in South America will likely have a more opulent style. While this generally comes naturally when one develops a brand in the same environment they themselves were raised in, it can cause a great deal of confusion when a company looks to go international and assumes that the same attributes which projected a certain brand identity in one culture will work in another.
Self-image | The self-image is all about how consuming a certain brand makes the customer feel, and a skilled brand manager will know to tap into these emotional values to further enhance the brand identity and build on the customer experience. People want to feel sexy when wearing a sexy lingerie brand, or cool when they use a cool styling product. The dynamics between consumer and brand can become so intertwined when it comes to the self-image that it can at times be hard to distinguish who is driving the development, but the brand manager has to have an idea for what kind of feeling the brand is supposed to provide its consumers. Though sometimes it may prove smarter to abandon that idea and adjust your marketing strategy if a large part of the consumer base finds an alternative self-image in the brand.
Reflection | While the self-image focuses on feelings, the reflection rather portrays who the typical consumer of the brand is. This stereotypical generalization of the customer is quite necessary to be able to build effective marketing campaigns which resonate with the target audience. Is the typical customer male or female? Within a certain age span? Of a certain educational background? The better you can pinpoint your average customer, the better you will be able to shape your brand identity to appeal to them.
In some versions of the model a Rallying Cry is located in the center of the prism, representing the words or phrase which encompasses all the other elements into a slogan. It is important to have a slogan or catchphrase which conveys the essence of your brand identity in a way that is easy to comprehend, as customers generally need a hint before deciding to dive deeper into the identity of a brand that is unknown to them. And once they are familiar with the brand identity the slogan will automatically evoke the desired feelings.
Once you have an understanding of the elements required to develop a strong brand identity you can find your target audience, build your story and set the action plan required to solidify the identity you want your brand to have. This takes effort, time and research, and failing to put the required work in can lead even the greatest idea or product to obscurity. And once you have established the brand identity you need to maintain it with appropriate communication as well as be on the lookout for changes within the consumer community which could potentially alter the path moving forward.
Successfully developing a brand identity is quite a tricky job, but understanding Kapferer’s good, old Brand Identity Prism will at least give you some invaluable equipment to deal with the trickiness!