Branding
5/9/2022

Where do you fit on the brand identity prism?

Way back in 1986, Jean-Noël Kapferer had an epiphany. Before him, he saw six dimensions of brand identity, all intertwining together, and realised that the brands who could weave all the aspects together - to create a prism, no less - were the strongest brands of all.

And so, with a click of the fingers it was born: The Kapferer brand identity prism.
Also known as the brand identity prism for short. Even he wasn’t about to totally brand a paradigm.

Now we’re not saying it happened exactly like this, but whatever flash of inspiration that Jean-Noël Kapferer had that day changed the brand identity game. Forever.

What is the brand identity prism?

The Brand Identity Prism, also known as Kapferer’s Brand Prism, is a marketing model that visualises the six key elements that make up a brand identity. The idea behind the Identity Prism was for companies to be able to recognise their bespoke identities more easily, and then use those identified unique brand features to tell a more cohesive brand story.

The six characteristics Kapferer and his prism structure identify are said to be the vital elements in any brand's success. According to Kapferer, these qualities must be perfectly blended and articulated if a business wants to establish a powerful and distinctive brand identity.

And he must've been onto something, because it's lasted the test of time.

Sure, other brand identity frameworks have come and gone over the years but none of them have matched up to Kapferer’s prism. Why? Because the framework makes brands stop, think, and identify their characteristics.

But what characteristics we hear you cry? Let's take a look.

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The six elements of Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism

Not only did Kapferer visualise six elements on that fateful day, he also went one further and grouped them into two broad categories into the two broad categories that the brand identity prism consists of.

The categories are: Internalisation and externalisation. The first three elements on our list below, physique, relationship and reflection are all externalised elements of the prism, which means the other three, personality, culture and self-image are internalised.

Externalised elements refer to how the brand appears to the consumer, whereas internalised elements refer to how the brand wants to be perceived by its consumers.

These two categories are important because they touch on another aspect of Kapferer’s genius: Communication. Brands who could weave the six dimensions together seamlessly only did so by connecting how they wanted to be perceived with how they were actually perceived, and this is the crucial element that successful brands get spot on.

So without further ado, onto those mind-breaking dimensions that show exactly how the brand identity prism works.

  1. Physique

Physique is a nice easy one because it refers to the physical characteristics of a brand. Tangible characteristics can be thought of as the Apple logo, the three stripes in the Adidas trefoil logo, or that deep, sensual red of the Virgin colour scheme.

Physique always heads up the list of Kapferer’s six elements because the man himself said that physique should be considered the very basis of a brand. In his eyes - and indeed, anyone’s - the physical appearance of your brand is the clearest representation of how your brand wants to be perceived, and what it aspires to.

To work out your own brand’s physical attributes you can ask yourself three pressing questions:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. How does your brand function to your consumers?
  3. How can your brand be recognised?


Now Kapferer even offers some advice in his commentary on the brand’s physique because he suggests that no brand will be able to answer those questions, nor define their tangible elements, without bringing attention to their material benefits.

That means that it’s ok to show off what you’re bringing to the table. In fact, you should own and flaunt what you bring to the table. A bit like having the confidence of a Kardashian.

And if we stop and think about it, he was right. Even Rolls Royce have to advertise that they’re selling cars, just like Rolex has to advertise that they’re selling watches.

The only tricky part of flaunting it whilst you define your physical characteristics is working out how you’re going to do that in a recognisable manner that differentiates you from the competition. But if you and your brand can do that, you’ve ticked one box off of Kapferer’s Strong Brands checklist.

2. Reflection

In the second element, we’re reflecting. Only this time, it’s not on our mistakes. It’s on what our ideal target audience looks like.

Every brand will have a number of different buyer personas, but every brand also has that one teeny tiny subset of their target audience that they’re most trying to appeal to.

This little community are often identified as the loyalists - the ones who eat, breathe and sleep the brands aspirations and values.

Take shoe giant, Vans for example. Vans ideal target audience, the group they’re most fluttering their eyelashes at are those into competitive physical outdoor sports. If their slogan, “Off the wall” didn’t give it away, then perhaps their imagery of skateboards, BMXing and even placing their logo into the shape of a board will.

However, that doesn’t stop non-skaters buying their products and Vans like that, so they find a way to make it work for everyone. Their messaging may be inclusive, but they’re always appealing most to those into their ideal categories because they have the most chance of becoming brand ambassadors.

Kapferer’s lesson here is that there is no need to tunnel vision your target audience, and in fact, a brand shouldn’t be limiting itself by only making itself available to one group. Instead, within its messaging it should wink at its ideal prospective customers by presenting an image that will resonate most strongly with them, whilst it smiles at everyone else.

When it comes to your own brand: Think about your loyalists. Who are they? What do they look like? What do they enjoy? And then curate messaging that speaks to those people subliminally, without making everyone else feel like a third wheel.

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3. Relationship

The third and final element of the externalised elements is a big one. The relationship element refers to how your brand functions to your consumers. Remarkably you can identify the relationship between your brand and your consumers by asking yourself the following question:

  • What does my consumer expect to get from my brand outside of the products and services I’m offering?

Let’s look at that in example terms.

Lamborghini is an expensive car manufacturer. If I’m going to Lamborghini ready to spend my life’s savings on a car I’m not entirely sure I’d park in Tesco car park without having a panic about it being pranged or stolen, I want a level of customer service that I wouldn’t get from say, Citroen (no offence, Citroen).

Do I want a red carpet? I mean, it would be nice. But mostly I’m looking to feel special. I want to be made to feel like I am in the upper echelons and I would expect to be treated as if I was their only customer, instead of one of many, because of the money I’m spending with them and therefore the trust I’m placing in them.

And that word: Trust, is key. The old adage, “You can’t have a relationship without trust”, rings true in this relationship between brand and consumer, too.

When we spend money (sometimes, significant amounts of money) with a brand, we want that exchange to be the beginning of a beautiful relationship that eventually seduces us into becoming brand loyalists.

We want great customer service, we want a fantastic experience that we can recommend to our friends, and we want reassurance and security if anything goes wrong.

These are just some examples of what customers expect from a relationship. No customer wants to be a one-nighter. They don’t want to give you their money and then never hear from you again. They want to build something and believe in something and your brand must provide this. You must go beyond the superficial and offer depth.

Here’s a quick tip for you: Producing this depth to nurture this relationship is something that will help significantly when it comes to differentiating your brand from competitors.

Building trust is almost the same as building belief. Want to do that too? Why not talk to Huddle about it?

4. Personality

Now we’re looking inside as we turn to the first of the internalised elements. Brand personality is exactly what it says on the tin: It’s your brand's character, and it's the way your brand communicates with its ideal customer.

Here at Huddle, our brand character is friendly, empathetic, warm and most of all: Approachable. We differentiate ourselves from others by providing that human element that means we can talk to you like a human, and not like a well oiled, well greased (and that’s just the hair) corporate machine.

The personality element of your brand identity is most commonly conveyed in your brand’s tone and voice, but also in your design assets like your colour scheme. Bright, bold colours will emphasise a fun and positive personality, for example.

In today’s very influenced world, personality can also be conveyed by using a figure with certain personality traits that match the brand’s traits to directly connect with consumers. Modern day examples of this include Nespresso and George Clooney - smooth, soft and timeless, we presume, and Claudia Winkleman and Head n’ Shoulders - funny, friendly and personable.

Personality is a vital element of brand identity because it fuels connection between your consumers and your brand, eventually nurturing customer loyalty. The way you communicate with them may end up enticing them to choose you over a competitor that perhaps they feel talked down to.

5. Culture

We know. Nowadays the word “culture” when referring to a professional environment conjures up images of happy hours and Wolf of Wall Street-esque, “Work hard play harder!” chants.

And whilst that is basically what a brand’s culture refers to - the basic principles and system of values that your brand bases its unique brand identity, behaviour, communication and products on - the good news is that you can steer the culture that your brand conveys.

It is worth noting however that Kapferer identified a brand culture should be directly linked to the company culture. That is to say that the brand should ultimately convey the core values of the organisation throughout how it represents itself to consumers and the outside world in order to form that successful connection.

Cultural associations can relate to the work office culture of a particular brand, like Google’s innovation, creativity and flexibility, for example, but it can also refer to geographical locations too. Gucci is synonymous with Italian culture for example, Givenchy for French culture, and Burberry for London. The cultural values that origin countries or founding cities embody can just as easily be aligned with how the brand represents itself.

Brand, business and alignment. If you need more on that little cycle of connection, we’ve got you covered here.

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6. Self-image

In the final internal element, the brand's target audience are put on the spot, given a mirror, and asked “So how do you see yourself?”

Self-image refers to the paradigm that your target audience buy into when they buy your brand’s products. They want to feel as though their identity resonates with the values, culture, interests or identity of the brand.

For example, Polo Ralph Lauren consumers. Polo Ralph Lauren consumers view themselves as on the upper fringes of society, with a love of the countryside, horses and rich-people-games like Polo. In reality, their client base may live nowhere near the countryside, may have never ridden a horse or seen a game of polo and may certainly not own a classic Aston Martin. But that’s the perception Polo Ralph Lauren consumers want other people to believe, because internally that’s how they see themselves.

Using a consumer's self-image is a powerful tool in building a brand identity. The intrinsic values that consumers have can give the brands messaging and advertising a huge boost just by appealing to those personal drivers.

Often our perceptions of ourselves are incredibly personal, so finding these hidden motivations for resonating with your brand’s offerings may not be an easy task, but it is an achievable one. Harp back to your culture, the brand’s values and the perception it has of itself.

Identify whether those elements are what your audience are relating to, and if so, play on those. Test different aspects to see what your audience connects with the most. Or, in the case of Lacoste - you could just ask them.

Using the brand identity prism on your own brand

We’re handing over to you, here.

Considering everything we’ve said: Where do you feel you fit on the brand identity prism? Are you interweaving personality with relationships? Is your culture the same as your representation? Or is the messaging fragmented, the target market too refined and the self-image too presumptuous?

If that’s the case, it’s time to reimagine everything you thought you knew about your brand.

Creating your own brand identity prism framework can provide priceless insight into how the various elements of your brand may be distracting or enhancing your brand’s identity.

If your brand identity and brand image isn’t a cohesive unit, reimagine every dimension in the brand identity prism. Find the disconnect, and change things until they connect. Your ideal outcome of this process is to create a brand that is cohesive across all its touchpoints, in its communications and in its messaging.

Remember, strong consistent brands are the memorable brands. They’re the ones we think of as industry leaders and experts.

Ready to reimagine everything you thought you knew? Want to check all six boxes on Kapferer’s Strong Brands checklist? Want a helping hand throughout that process? We’re ready when you are. Or have a little stalk of work we’ve produced here.