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Brand Identity Traps

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Brand Identity Traps

What is a brand identity?

The brand identity combines the strategic and execution elements that make a brand. So it includes both the name and the logo design, the choice of colors and the tone of voice, the Personality, and its related design elements, like typeface and shapes, icons, and graphic elements. The most apparent manifestation of a brand identity is the brand book, which outlines all possible design elements related to the brand. 

Brand Identity Prism


Professor Kapferer‘s Brand Identity Prism is notably the best framework for understanding what Brand Identity includes. In this model, there are six critical components:

1) Physique: it details all the physical characteristics of a brand, like a logo, the style guide, colors, typography, and graphic elements.

2) Personality: It translates the positioning’s Personality in visual and content choices.

3) Culture: It refers to the Roots elements of the brand positioning and how it contrasts visual and graphical elements. 

4) Relationship: It reflects the type of non-transactional relationships between the brand and its customers.

5) Reflection: In a nutshell, it represents the target of the brand positioning.

6) Self-image: it’s the image the target have – or wish to have – of themselves. 

The elements of the brand identity prism are clustered in meaningful ways, for example:

  • Picture of the Sender is the combination of Physique and Personality
  • Externalization refers to Physique, Relationship, and Reflection
  • whereas Internalization deals with Personality, Culture, and Self-image
  • finally, the Picture of the Recipient includes Reflection and Self-image

An important caveat: the notion of brand identity is often confused with brand image, which is the external perception of the symbolic elements. The first aspect is the method. The second is how well the method is perceived. 

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Brand Identity as a System

We often refer to the artifact of BI as a system to stress that not all the identity elements are static in time and how they influence the execution of a brand.

In this case, we focus on the three concentric elements: at the epicenter is the Brand Essence, the brand promise that the brand wants to create for its customers and shareholders.

Then, from the center to the external boundaries of the onion, we distinguish between core and extended brand identity components: the first refers to all elements that endure time passing, like the iconic shape of Coca-cola’s bottle and its background red color. The latter relates to design and execution elements that follow current trends or cultural filters and often vary, like web or social media graphic design elements.

Brand Identity

In addition to those dimensions, the BI as a System includes 12 modules clustered in four segments:

  1. Brand as a Product: e.g., Product, Product Scope, Quality, Value for Money.
  2. Brand as an Organization: e.g., Local vs. Global, Attributes.
  3. Brand as a Person: e.g., Personality, Relationship
  4. Brand as a Symbol: e.g., visual image and brand heritage

What are the Brand Identity Traps?

According to David Aaker in Building Strong Brands, brands that lose relevance and credibility follow in one of the Brand Identity Traps. 

Brand Identity Traps are probably the most significant barriers for brands to become salient in consumers’ memory.

Aaker enlists four types of traps:

1) Brand Image Trap: the brand image is the external perception of the brand identity. When the brand image becomes the sole focus of brand identity, it loses its soul, Personality, and ability to shape consumers’ and stakeholders’ perceptions. Lego started collaborating with Marvel and Disney and launched its studio productions to avoid being stuck in the Brand Image Trap.

2) External Perspective Trap: the brand identity should help the organization understand what values and purposes it needs to promote. Many top-end and luxury spirits brands aim at an exclusive target on exclusive occasions, except for being known for cheap and lousy choices. 

3) Brand Position Trap: when the brand identity fails to provide a coherent view of the brand’s Personality, tone of voice, and look and feel by over-playing the promise and differentiation dimensions of the value proposition. The brands lack symbolic expression, preferring call-to-actions. For example,  Black Momma Vodka prides itself on being the child of the First African-American Woman Master Distiller, which says nothing about the brand.

4) Product/Attribute Trap: brand management becomes a synonym of new product features and attributes. Brand Management fails to distinguish between brands and products. This trap is recurring in CPG markets, where flavors and line extensions dominate marketers’ time and become the brand. 

In conclusion

Salient brands overcome Brand Identity Traps by balancing internal and external points of view, organizational and execution aspects, and symbolic elements with product attributes. The traps emerge when the equation is not balanced: too much focus on perception and too little on value-added; or too much emphasis on product attributes and not enough on symbolic elements; too practical, or too emotional with no practical declination. When in Rome, do like the Romans: in media stat virtus.


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