Brand identity

According to Aaker brand identity provides strategic direction, purpose and meaning for a brand. For that the brand identity is one of the main drivers for brand equity. Aaker defines brand identity as: “…a unique set of brand associations that the brand strategist aspires to create or maintain. These associations represent what the brand stands for and imply a promise to customers from the organization members. Brand identity should help establish a relationship between the brand and the customer by generating a value proposition involving functional, emotional, or self-expressive benefits.” (Aaker, 1996:68)

Brand identity represents how the brand wants to be perceived, it leads brand image and is situated on the sender’s side. The way a brand is perceived by its customers is key to it success. To drive positive brand association that customers know and trust, requires recognizable brand associations in the mind of customers, without a discrepancy in the brand elements. The brand perception, or in other words the brand image, is therefore always on the receiver’s side (Kapferer, 2007:99). See figure 14.

Identity and image

Figure 14. Identity and image (Kapferer, 2007:98).


It is necessary to have a clear and objective self-image of the brand identity in order to influence the desired set of brand awareness, perceived value and brand image. According to Van Gelder brand identity declares; its background, its principles, its purpose and its ambitions. For that reason brands need to be managed for consistency and vitality (Gelder, 2005:35). Hence the identity concept, the promise to a customer, plays a crucial role within the brand management process as a brand needs to be durable. The brand must deliver coherent signs and products and it needs to be realistic (Kapferer, 2007:106). Brand image can easily change over time where brand identity represents long lasting values of the brand. From that perspective brand image is more a tactical asset, whereas brand identity fulfils a strategic asset role (Kotler & Pfoertsch, 2006:94).

Kapferer has developed a brand identity prism where he distinguishes a sender and recipient side, plus an externalisation and internalisation side. The 6 identity facets express the tangible and intangible characteristics of the brand and give it a unique authority and legitimacy of values and benefits (Kapferer, 2007:105-107). See figure 15.

Brand identity prism and three-tier pyramid

Figure 15. Brand identity prism and three-tier pyramid (Kapferer, 2007:107 & 223).


The six facets of the identity prism define the brand identity from different perspectives and sets the boundaries within it is free to change or to develop in time (Kapferer, 2007:107-112). The six facets of the identity prism can be described as;

  1. Physique
    • An exterior tangible facet communicating physical specificities, colour, form and brand qualities. Physique is the starting point of branding and therefore it forms the brands backbone.
  2. Personality
    • An internal intangible facet which forms the character, soul and brand personality which are relevant for brands.
  3. Culture
    • An internal intangible facet to integrate the brand into the organization which is essential in differentiating brands.
  4. Relationship
    • An exterior facet with tangible and intangible areas, and defines the behaviour that indentifies the brand – the way the brand connect to its customers.
  5. Reflection
    • An external intangible facet reflecting the customer as he or she wishes to be seen as a result of using a brand. So called: the target outward’s mirror.
  6. Self-image
    • An external intangible facet reflecting the customer attitude towards the brand. These inner thoughts connect personal inner relationship with the brand. So called: the target internal mirror

Brands will evolutes in time in a certain direction. To manage and balance identity changes across the facets in a guided and preferred direction, organizations need to understand the key brand drivers and “raison d’être”. Kapferer has captured this in a three-tier pyramid where he positioned the identity prism is the pyramid. See figure 15. The pyramid counts 3 layers of freedom and flexibility; (1) the brand kernel, (2) the brand style, (3) the brand themes, acts and products. The flexibility and freedom of change decrease from the bottom to the top. The pyramid concept enables differentiated change management across identity facets by grouping them in a pyramid layer (Kapferer, 2007:222-224).

Aaker developed his brand identity model around four different perspectives and 12 dimensions. See figure 16. Brand managers should have an in-depth understanding of the brand identity from different perspectives before they are able to clarify, enrich and differentiate the brand identity. Aaker distinguish the following perspectives (Aaker, 2000:78)

  1. Brand as a product
    • The product related attributes will by nature have an important influence on brand identity due to the fact that they are linked to user requirements and product experience. Aaker addressed six dimensions within this group (Aaker, 2000:78-82).
  2. Brand as an organization
    • By looking at the brand as an organization, brand managers are forced to shift their perspective from product to organization attributes. These are less tangible and more subjective. Attributes as CRM, innovation, perceived quality, visibility and presence can contribute significantly towards value propositions and customer relationships. Aaker addressed two dimensions within this group (Aaker, 2000:82&118).
  3. Brand as a person
    • Brand as a person is a perspective as if the brand was a human being. Brand personality is a very distinctive brand element and extensively used in many brand equity models. For that reason it is described in next paragraph 2.3.4. Aaker addressed two dimensions within this group.
  4. Brand as a symbol
    • Brand as a symbol can capture almost anything that represents the brand. A strong symbol can fulfil an important and even a dominate role in brand strategy. Symbols are very strong if they involve a recognizable, meaningful and trustful metaphor. Aaker addressed two dimensions/three types within this group

The balance of the four perspectives can vary by customer segmentation, competitor composition and internal context. As a consequence the balance is interdependent with the strategic brand analyses (Aaker, 1996:68-79).

Brand identity perspectives

Figure 16. Brand identity perspectives (Aaker, 1996:79).


The hart of the model contains the brand essence, core identity and extended identity.

  1. The brand essence
    • The brand essence captures the brand values and vision in an ambivalent timeless identity statement. Aaker sees this as the internal magnet that keeps the core identity element connected (Aaker, 2000:43-47).
  2. The core identity
    • The core identity represents the essence of the brand and contains the associations that are most likely to remain constant over time. Ultimately, as a result the core identity elements make the brand sustainable, unique and valuable(Aaker, 1996:85-89).
  3. The extended brand identity
    • The extended brand identity fulfils a completeness and texture role to funnel the ambivalent core identity into a consistent direction of the brand. Where core elements are timeless, the extended identity contains elements that do not belong to the timeless foundation of the brand identity (Aaker, 1996:85-89).

The brand identity perspective model is part of Aaker’s brand identity planning model, see appendix 2.