January 23, 2014

Guilty as Charged – 4 Misconceptions about Brand Identity

Guilty as Charged – 4 Misconceptions about Brand Identity

In the branding and logo design field, it’s not uncommon for us to hear “civilians” (noun. 1. those regarded by members of a profession as not belonging; 2. people less dorky than us) use the terms brand and logo interchangeably. While this is a recurring issue, it’s not the only misconception about brand identity.

Countering these untruths is important because it leads to greater comprehension of and respect for our industry. However, it’s also important because we sometimes encounter clients who don’t quite comprehend the difference themselves taking steps to develop their brand. Are you guilty of spreading these infuriating fallacies about brand identity? If so: surrender! This is a citizen’s arrest.

Brand identity is all encompassing: it’s the meeting of a company’s unique philosophy, corporate culture, and personality all in one. It’s everything that comes to mind when consumers think of your brand. Trust us: it’s important. Now that we know what brand identity is, let’s look at a few things it’s not.

Misconception #1: Brand Identity = Logo

This misconception is so enduringly popular, it’s the Beyoncé of branding fallacies … When it comes to brand identity vs. logo, all terms are not created equal. No matter how hard we as an industry work to dispel this myth, it’s like zombies; it just … won’t … die.

The truth is that logos are hugely important elements of branding and an important part of our work. But logos can be updated, manipulated, or changed by a company in partnership with an exceedingly savvy design firm. Brand identity, however, ultimately exists in the minds of consumers. For this reason, it takes time to develop and more time to change. Next time you think brand identity and logo are the same, ask yourself how much hipper Yahoo! seems since they rolled out their brand-spanking-new logo. What’s that sound? Oh, crickets!

Misconception #2: Brand Identity = Brand Image

The hipsters have claimed another victim in surrealist painter Magritte and his famous painting “The Treachery of Images (This is Not a Pipe).” You can’t even go into your favorite non-Starbucks coffee establishment these days without seeing it screen-printed on some totally disaffected 20-something’s distressed, shrunken, and totally ironic T-shirt. But Magritte has a point, and the hipsters have picked up on it. It’s not a pipe. It’s the image of a pipe.

Similar to the question of brand identity vs. logo, the difference between a brand’s identity and its image can be significant. The divide between brand identity and brand image is the sometimes shockingly wide crevasse between how a brand wants the public to regard it and how it is actually perceived. Brand image is created on the streets, in shopping malls, and online – not in a fluorescent-washed boardroom. Crossing this divide or more importantly, closing it, can be a real challenge for companies not prepared to get their hands dirty.

Misconception #3: Brand Identity is a Fixed Entity

Brand identity exists in the ether. It isn’t something that gets decided upon, implemented, and mass-produced. Brand identity takes work to develop, but the job doesn’t end there. As a brand grows and changes, companies often find it necessary to put in the non-billable hours to figure out what it needs to do to leverage these changes in the public’s perception. An example of a shifting brand identity is our partnership with the As Seen on TV brand. Once just a logo stamped onto a series of products that were seemingly unrelated, we helped this company rebrand itself as a premium shopping experience not limited to the TV market. By shifting the company’s brand identity, it became a multifaceted line with online and major retail presence.

Misconception #4: If You Build it, They Will Come

Danger, Will Robinson! This is one of the more frustrating misconceptions about brand identity because it’s part of the hands-off approach that really limits brand development. Doing the work to create and develop a brand identity, whether accomplished in-house or in partnership with an outside firm, is only the first part. After building brand identity, you have to take it to the streets! This is where marketing comes in. Applying your company’s unique brand identity to a tailor-made marketing campaign is where the magic happens. Though it’s basically sacrilege to say this, it’s true: James Earl Jones was wrong. If you build it, they might come. But what if they don’t?


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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