Identity vs image and the brand gap: The great confusion defused

Identity and image are two of the most misused terms in the world of enterprise. An unfortunately large number of managers toss the terms out to their colleagues and staff, in attempts to demonstrate their grasp of tactics without understanding what they are talking about.

If there is one thing you need to take away from the next few hundred words, it is this… Identity is what is projected by the enterprise; image is the consumer’s interpretation of identity. Carry on reading to get a firmer grasp of management considerations.

Notice that nowhere did I refer to identity as a letterhead. Stationery is lumped under what is known as CI or corporate identity. However, stationery is a subset of visual facets of identity. Your logo on a letterhead can evoke the identity but it is just one part of the broader sources of identity.

Like a living, breathing human, a brand establishes its identity merely by being present in an environment.

Visual identity is the most immediately observable facet. It will include the logo, and the colours. It will include typography, so pay close attention to that. It will also include photography and reels. Music and spoken voice are the aural identity. Are you playing hard rock while trying to attract classical listeners? Do you need a male voice or a female voice?

The way you use language – copy for instance – is important as well. Are you being too formal? How would you tailor your language to speak to a spouse, friend, child, or a colleague? Is your product, also a part of your identity, designed in a way that is fit for purpose and pleasing to the user?

These forms of identity are easy to control. Other forms – experienced identity – are difficult to control. Consider a rude receptionist who can tank your brand with a couple of bitter words. Do you fix your pricing in a cynical way or to reflect value? And are your values noble statements that are irrelevant to – or not experienced by – the consumer?

The consumer takes the sum of identity to which she or he is exposed and interprets it to form an image. If the consumer’s image of the brand correlates closely to the intent of identity, the brand is well managed, and the marketing aspects are correct.

The correlation between identity and image is called the brand gap. If the brand gap is narrow and the consumer is within the target market, the consumer is more likely to adopt the brand or give it consideration. Under ideal circumstances, the consumer may incorporate the brand into her or his own identity as a mark of tribal belonging: consumers often band around brands and validate one another and their choices.

What if the brand gap is wide? The superficially logical route is to amend the brand’s identity to reduce the brand gap. On the other hand, perhaps the identified target market is wrong, and the marketing aspects are flawed.

How do you identify a wide brand gap? Obviously, you will be using push marketing, expensive attempts to convince consumers to spend as they do not buy willingly. You may also find that your stakeholders give you resistance, or pressure you to change. It’s a bottom-line affair.

You will need to understand the brand gap. That means resorting to observation as the quick-and-dirty technique, though potentially unreliable, relatively inexpensive quantitative research, or more time-consuming qualitative research.

Management of the brand gap falls in the realm of brand equity, and it will impact marketing.

I’ll deal with brand equity and its impact on marketing in later columns.

*Pierre Mare has contributed to development of several of Namibia’s most successful brands. He believes that analytic management techniques beat unreasoned inspiration any day. He is a fearless adventurer who once made Christmas dinner for a Moslem, a Catholic and a Jew. Reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you need help.





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Last modified on Wednesday, 01 November 2023 17:15

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