We hear a lot about brand image, and brand identity, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. The concepts themselves have a lot of overlap, and yet -- most marketers would argue that there are some fairly big differences between the two. So what’s the deal?
Brand identity is the image your business seeks to project to the outside world. Take McDonalds as a key example. McDonalds is currently involved in the painful (but potentially lucrative) process of re-branding itself in order to stay abreast of -- or ahead of -- their competitors. “Because your family matters” is one of the most prominent phrases on their public website -- driving home the point that McDonalds wants consumers to associate it as a company that brings families together, while sharing affordable and easy meals.
Brand identity describes the essence of your company and how it is conveyed to consumers. Like McDonalds, companies seek to emphasize their business values that are going to connect best with their consumer demographics. In a way, brand identity can be seen as the “personality” of a company, as Anthony Lingwood points out. At the core of understanding company identity, is understanding how business decisions influence consumer perception.
While most of us may associate McDonalds with standard fast food fare like burgers and fries, these images appear further down the page -- you first need to scroll past reminders that McDonalds places emphasis on “quality.” McDonalds is hoping that its relentless images to reposition its brand identity, will influence its brand image.
Brand image, conversely, is how consumers perceive and experience a brand regardless of what that company is trying to convey via brand identity. For some companies, the two terms may be nearly synonymous -- a great brand manager will effectively communicate a brand’s messenge, and ensure that the company’s actual practices are in line with that message as well. For other brands, like McDonalds, the two may not line up when actual experience fails to line up with the qualities the company is emphasizing.
Many consumers still associate the brand with a distinct lack of quality -- in a documentary seen ‘round the world, SuperSize Me showed how a man eating a steady diet of McDonalds food would become so unhealthy, continuing the experiment became a health hazard. Director Morgan Spurlock’s time lapse of McDonald’s food looking the same after months left alone was replicated hundreds of times over on popular video website, Youtube. The lasting effect of this film -- among others -- can show just how hard it can be for companies to get in front of their own brand image.
Today, McDonalds is making headlines left and right for their efforts to meet a growing demand for healthy, quality options. The company is removing high-fructose corn syrup from their buns, and will end the use of artificial preservatives in several popular meat products.
"We’re following the customer," said Marion Gross, McDonald's supply chain senior vice president, in an interview with Business Insider. "...We moved to a sweetener that customers feel good about."
If McDonalds continues to emphasize -- and put into practice, most importantly -- quality products and practices, then there very well could be an overall turnaround for their brand image -- one that is finally in line with their brand identity.
What’s Your Brand Identity?
Whether you’re looking to create a brand identity or go through a rebrand, do it correctly with the right branding firm who can translate your brand identity into a brand image.