Essentially, you can split your business into two components: a brand identity and a brand image. A brand identity is something that a business creates. A brand image is something that its audience creates in their minds over time.
A brand identity can be very much split into two easily digestible parts: the external identity and the internal identity. The external identity comprises the components you can see such as your logo and colours.
Everyone understands what these components are, because we see them all the time.
But the far more important and interesting part of an identity is what is unseen; the core of the identity, the internal identity. The internal identity basically boils down to positioning and personality.
And it is this internal identity that completely drives the external identity. The name, logo, colours and style should all look and feel a certain way because of a brand’s positioning and personality.
The positioning of a brand describes its products and services, its target audience, and its particular place in the market and in the world. The positioning can go further to talk about the price of its products, the values and ethics, and the general understanding of exactly the kind of brand it is.
The personality draws from this positioning by describing the way in which the brand acts. That is, how it speaks to its audience.
You can normally give a brand one of five personality types, based on the main differences between how brands identify themselves: excitement, sincerity, ruggedness, competence and sophistication.
People are more likely to identify with a brand whose personality matches their own, in much the same way as like-minded people tend to better get along with one another.
The personality and positioning of a brand both inform each other and drive what happens at the external level. Let’s take the positioning of an imaginary small, locally owned cafe.
The food and the decor appeals to a girl older than 23. This kind of person uses Instagram, loves quirky trinkets and wears hipster clothes.
She loves going to places where the service staff are like her: bubbly, bright and a bit interesting. She loves handmade food and discovering interesting new flavours. She also doesn’t really care too much about the price: $8 for a donut is nothing when it’s delicious and she feels at home.
This kind of cafe really takes on an exciting personality. It’s trendy, it’s spirited, it’s unique and it’s quirky.
Being unique means adding a mechanical cash register to the store instead of a digital one. It means homemade ice-cream. It means the baker has a unique story to tell, and doesn’t mind showing themselves with vanilla icing on their apron and flour on their hands.
Being trendy and spirited means having a fun, cupcake eating contest displayed in polaroids on the wall, where anyone can try and beat the record.
This cafe is on Instagram, showing off their latest creations, and keeping their friends up-to-date with the latest goings on. As I describe this cafe, you’ll get a sense for how the personality matches the positioning which again feeds the personality.
The internal identity matches itself perfectly, and the external identity matches the internal. For example, the name of the cafe is Sugar and Spice, and their logo is a hand-painted sign on the front window.
Their colours are a scattered mess of pinks, purples and greens, and their style is 50s/60s/whatever-just-looks-interesting. Even without an artist-designed logo, or specific colour palettes, or printed menus, the external identity still has a very complete look!
It’s exactly what the brand wants its audience to see. A pixel-perfect logo takes away from the spirited look. And perfectly-matching colours takes away from the quirky look.
Just like that one person we love who wears mismatching clothes, which has become a part of their own identity, the same holds true for certain brands.
It’s quite easy to see, therefore, that a brand identity isn’t really much about a logo and font choices at all for unique food businesses.
In fact a quirky cafe like this can get away with almost no brand identity and their brand image will still be strong (branding agencies will hate us for saying this - but it's the truth).
The brand image is all about the perception that a customer has of the brand. Just as you might have a perception of a friend or colleague, you will also have a perception of certain brands.
In much the same way as a person’s reputation cannot simply be manufactured, a brand image cannot be created. But it can certainly be tuned to match what it wants its image to be. However, maintaining a brand image requires a deep understanding of the brand’s identity, so as to not tarnish the image by doing things that a brand’s audience wouldn’t expect or would flat-out dislike.
Similar to how a person’s reputation for being honest can be completely destroyed with one lie, a brand image can be tarnished by a single misstep. Maintaining a brand image requires constant engagement with your audience as well as constant attention to the internal identity.
No one person remains the same from moment to moment, from year to year. And neither should a brand. As trends change, so should a brand’s identity.
If a cafe brand has a reputation for being sophisticated, it would tarnish its image by suddenly offering discounts or coupons in order to drive more sales or get more customers through the door. First of all, the new customers will likely be attracted to you because of the coupon, which really doesn’t jive with your positioning.
Secondly, your existing customers are likely to look at you with a raised eyebrow, wondering why you’re stooping to such levels as offering coupons. They might be more hesitant about turning up or recommending you, because you’re now attracting a clientele that doesn’t match what they think it should.
After you’ve designed your brand identity, it’s imperative to refer to it whenever you do something different or new. The most successful brands match their identity to what they want their image to be. They also acknowledge a changing image, and can either embrace it (in the case of Federal Express becoming FedEx), or reject it (in the case of Toyota proving to the US market that they aren’t “cheap overseas rubbish”).
Just as you would respond to your friend’s reputation of you by apologising or changing your habits or by simply making new friends, keeping your brand image in check by tweaking it constantly is critical to steering your brand image in the right direction!
And if you are that quirky Cafe brimming with personality - your brand identity takes a back seat. In this case. Your name, logo and brand identity can be just about anything and it won't really matter. In fact, less is more.
Focus on the personality and the positioning and a strong brand image will simply emerge.
Chris Jack is the editor of Locus Focus and a professional hotel photographer based in Brisbane with over 20 years experience in digital marketing. He also hosts the weekly "Sharper Hotel Marketing" podcast.