What Is Brand Identity?

What Is Brand Identity?

Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo, that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds. Brand identity is distinct from brand image. The former corresponds to the intent behind the branding and the way a company does the following—all to cultivate a certain image in consumers’ minds:

  • Chooses its name
  • Designs its logo
  • Uses colors, shapes, and other visual elements in its products and promotions
  • Crafts the language in its advertisements
  • Trains employees to interact with customers

Brand image is the actual result of these efforts, successful or unsuccessful.

I remember once talking to my friend who was an executive with Ford Motors at the time and it is when the Ford Focus just was launched and they were trying to advertise it as small but spacious. I remember one commercial that I hated (because I’m not a fan of clowns) but it was when all of the clowns were coming out of the car…and they kept coming out…and coming out. To show how spacious the Ford Focus really was. I told him about how I hated that commercial and his reply to me was profound. “Yes, it may have been stupid, but you remembered it didn’t you? You remembered the brand and the message.” Well, he was right, I sure did. So while it may have been their most successful campaign, it was EFFECTIVE to their brand. That commercial was over a decade ago and I still remember it. 

We remember things like “Where’s the beef?” and jingles like “Where a kid can be a kid”. Those were very effective marketing campaigns to the brand of Wendy’s and Toys R Us. We recognize the golden arches from miles way on the interstate and we crave the fries. Even toddlers that can not read know the “golden arches”. Brand is also in the clothes we wear, the cars we drive and the phones we use. Brand is everywhere. So why is it so important? Or is it? 

Understanding Brand Identity

Apple Inc. consistently tops surveys of the most effective and beloved brands because it has successfully created the impression that its products are sleek, innovative, top-of-the-line status symbols, and yet eminently useful at the same time. Apple’s brand identity and brand image are closely aligned.

Consistent marketing and messaging leads to a consistent brand identity and, therefore, consistent sales.

At the same time, it is possible to craft a positive brand identity that fails to translate into a positive brand image. Some pitfalls are well known, and attempts by legacy brands to appeal to a new generation or demographic are especially treacherous. An infamous example is a 2017 ad by PepsiCo, Inc., which depicted a non-specific protest that appeared to allude to Black Lives Matter, a movement protesting police violence against people of color. The brand identity it wished to project, as a spokesperson subsequently described it, was “a global message of unity, peace, and understanding.”

Instead, the ad was widely disparaged for “trivializing” Black Lives Matter, as The New York Times put it. The moment in the ad, when a white actress hands a Pepsi to a police officer and seems to resolve all of the fictional protesters’ grievances, instantly became the focus of heavy criticism. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s daughter Bernice King tweeted, “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi,” accompanied by a picture of Dr. King being pushed by a police officer in Mississippi. Pepsi pulled the ad and apologized.

Pepsi’s sales do not appear to have been directly affected by this gaffe, but in some cases, a negative gap between brand identity and brand image can affect financial results. The teen apparel retailer Abercrombie & Fitch suffered a severe downturn when its once-popular brand became associated with garish logos, poor quality, oversexed advertising, and plain meanness. The company refused to sell women’s clothing size XL or larger, for example, because, “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends,” the chief executive officer (CEO) said. “A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong.”

By the same token, building a positive brand image can bring in consistent sales and make product roll-outs more successful. An example of the benefits of brand loyalty is seen in the introduction of two new subscription-based music streaming services in 2015. Tidal and Apple Music had to make very different choices in the marketing and roll-outs of their services because of brand loyalty. Apple, an established brand with very loyal customers, didn’t have to invest in the type of celebrity-oriented marketing that Tidal used to promote its new service.


  • Brand identity is the visible elements of a brand, such as color, design, and logo that identify and distinguish the brand in consumers’ minds.
  • Building a positive brand image can bring in consistent sales and make product roll-outs more successful.
  • Building a positive, cohesive brand image requires analyzing the company and its market, and determining the company’s goals, customers, and message.

1 Brand Identity Definition (investopedia.com)

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