brand image vs brand identity with examples

Brand Image vs Brand Identity: With Examples & Explanation

Brand images are a huge part of business. A negative brand image can lead to a loss in sales. But, what IS a brand image?

A brand image is the perception of a brand/company in the mind of consumers. Many companies falsely believe that they themselves can create a brand image by deciding it in a board room. However, ultimately the brand image is what consumers believe.

The brand image is what people believe about your brand, not what you tell them to believe.

Let’s say a home goods retailer decides that they want their brand image to be caring and helpful. They can spend millions of dollars on TV commercials, billboards, and radio ads that tell people how caring and trustworthy their company is. But, in the store, employees are rude and customers wait an hour on hold when they need customer support. If the company gets a strong enough reputation as being uncaring, difficult, and rude, then THAT is their brand image. It’s a reputation.

How Does Brand Identity Differ from Brand Image?

brand image vs brand identity

A brand identity is what you decide your company stands for. A brand image is what people believes your company stands for. In our home goods retailer example, they had decided that their brand identity was being caring and helpful. They spent millions of dollars telling people that their brand is caring and helpful. However, people did not believe that the company was caring and helpful. They believed that the brand was uncaring and difficult. The companies brand identity is caring and helpful while the brand image is uncaring and rude. It’s bad when your brand identity is far different than your brand image.

Brand Image Examples:

Here is the process I used to find the brand image for each company below. I chose brands where I was already somewhat familiar with the overall reputation. I then read through dozens of reviews and articles to find what customers and journalists were discussing. I found 3 companies in different industries. The first’s brand image is well aligned with their brand identity, the 2nd is partially aligned, and then 3rd is poorly aligned.

1. Brooklinen

Brooklinen is a modern online bedding company known for luxurious and expensive sheets, high ratings, and positive customer service.

Tagline: The Internet’s Favorite Sheets (Brand Identity)

brooklinen photo of serene bedroom
Overall ReputationBrand Image PositivesBrand Image Negatives
Luxury Bedding at less than retail pricesHighly rated sheetsExpensive
Soft, high quality sheets & bedding
Good Customer Service
Modern and fun
cartoon sheep jumping over a fence

Is their brand image in line with their brand identity?

Yes. Brooklinen does an excellent job highlighting reviews, demonstrating the elegance and quality. I’ve personally used their customer service and they’re responsive and helpful. They’re an online retailer and their load screen on their website is jumping sheep.

2. McDonalds

Tagline: McDonald’s new slogan is: “Lovin’ Beats Hatin” but consumers remember “I’m Loving It”

McDonalds is known for fast, inexpensive food, and a consistent experience. Some people complain about unhealthy food and poor customer service.

Happy meal from McDonalds
Overall ReputationBrand Image PositivesBrand Image Negatives
Inexpensive food, fast service, and a consistent experience.Fast serviceUnhealthy
Consistent experience Mistakes with orders
Fun & happyStaff is sometimes rude
Good for kids

Is their brand image in line with their brand identity?

Not entirely. The first thing they show on their website is “quality ingredients”. A nutrition calculator is prominent on their website. Nutritious and very highest quality ingredients are not a key part of McDonald’s brand image. They’ve introduced healthier options, but it’s easy to come up with dozens (if not hundreds) of other brands that are more nutritious and have higher quality ingredients. However, there are a number of areas of McDonald’s brand identity that align with their brand image. Their brand image is bright, warm, fun, and a good spot to take kids. Their brand image also includes inexpensive food and great deals. These are key parts of their brand identity that align with their brand image.

Mcdonald's nutrition calculator

3. United Airlines

United Airlines’ brand image has been marred by a variety of scandals. While they’re known for decent seat room and high quality business class, they also are seen as having poor treatment of customers.

United Airlines Booeing 737

Tagline: Fly the friendly skies.

Overall ReputationBrand Image PositivesBrand Image Negatives
Good for business class, decent seat roomPolaris Business class is considered high qualityPoor treatment of customers
Poor treatment of customers & BagsDecent seat-room and flight featuresPoor service
Poor bag handling

Is their brand image in line with their brand identity?

Not really. United Airlines has been hit with a number of scandals which impacted their brand image. There was the scandal where they dragged a man off the flight which received worldwide coverage. A decade earlier, musician Dave Carroll’s guitar was broken and he released the song “United Breaks Guitars”. The song has received 20 million views on YouTube. They also had a scandal where they asked a woman to put her dog in the overhead bin, leading to the dog’s death. Does United Airlines ACTUALLY treat customers and luggage poorer than other airlines? Well, the perception is there which means that is a part of their brand image. This image also runs in conflict with their slogan “Fly the friendly skies”. There are several areas where United is in the middle of the road. They have average delay times and flight cancellation rates.

In my opinion, their brand identity needs some work. They don’t mention anything about their identity on their homepage. You need to go to the menu to find “shared purposes and values”. The first value they highlight is “connecting people, uniting the world”. They discuss how they help people share moments. As a consumer, it’s a bit challenging to see how this impacts me. If you asked 100 people what they think of United, how many people would say “well they help me share moments and unite the world?” They also mention being the best airline for their employees and customers. This isn’t in line with the brand image and gives no explanation of why they really are the best for customers. Later down the page, they do talk about safety. United Airlines was found to be in the top 20 safest airlines. It’s unclear if most consumers know this, and it’s unlikely it’s a part of their current brand image. But, if United really went after safety, used it in their messaging, and made it a priority, it could become a part of their brand image. I don’t personally have strong opinions on United, but after a number of scandals, they need to work on repairing their brand image.

How Do I Figure Out My Company’s Brand Image?

If you have a large customer base already, you can survey them on what they think about your business. What words come to mind when they think of your business? Is it incredible customer service, attention to detail, luxury materials, delays, unprofessional, rude, difficult to work with? Try to get people to go as detailed as possible. “Always understands my needs, then overdelivers” is much stronger than “good customer service” and “lasts longer than similar products” is stronger than “quality”. Make sure you get positive and negative feedback. People will be nervous to say anything negative in the survey, so you’ll want to specifically ask them for both the good and the bad.

old chicago online reviews

Online reviews are another way to see the brand image. How do people rate the business? What do those people praise and what complaints do they have? Newspaper and media mentions may also influence a brand image.

Now, for any business, there will be people who love the business as well as people who hate it. There is going to be a difference of opinion. However, a brand image is the general public opinion. If you ask 50 people to describe the brand image of McDonalds, you’ll get a variety of responses. However, as a whole, people will probably discuss it being reliable (the food will be similar no matter which McDonalds you go to), fast, inexpensive, and a fun spot to take the kids. People will be less likely to rave about the food quality, the nutrition, or the customer service.

What Can I Do To Impact My Brand Image?

So, if the public decides what our brand image is, what can we do? Quite a bit actually. Any company in business is going to have to make trade-offs. Let’s say you own a pizza parlor. It’s probably nearly impossible to have the cheapest pizza AND the best tasting pizza. You could have fast service, the best toppings, a perfect spot for business, or dates, or to watch a football game, etc. There’s no way that you can be the best at each area. Choose a brand identity and stick to it. Use this brand identity as your compass. If you want your brand to be friendly, take action to make sure everyone in town knows you’re THE friendliest pizza parlor. Spend extra time hiring and searching for the perfect people. Hire extra people to answer the phones and extra staff for rush periods. If you are committed to having the best service, your decisions should place this as a priority.

color emotion guide with brand examples
Source: James Taylor

Read reviews. Respond to reviews. Create a vision for what you want your brand image to be. Then, read reviews and gain feedback. Does your brand image align with what you want it to be?

Even though brand image and brand identity are different, having a strong brand identity can strongly shape what people think of your company. If you have elegant and luxury products, your brand’s colors, packaging, and website should project that image. Use a color scheme that matches your brand identity. Fonts and colors can strongly influence the way people feel about your brand. Create a strong brand identity, but then do the work to make your brand image match. Make sure your actions are in line with your brand image and brand identity. If you get this right, you’ll need to spend less on advertising. You’ll generate more word of mouth sales.

Fed Ex did a fantastic job positioning itself by saying: “When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight”. They positioned themselves as THE most reliable overnight shipping option in the market. But, they also took the actions to back this up. If they had used this slogan but did a poor job guaranteeing overnight delivery, this would have damaged the brand.

You Should Care About Your Brand’s Image (No Matter the Size of Your Company)

Even if you have a small company, or even it’s just you, you should still care about your brand image. Your reputation is key to your business. If you’re not seen as trustworthy by customers, vendors, or professional partners, this can destroy your business. Losing all trust can spell disaster. When people talk about your business, what do they say about it? A strong brand image will mean more word of mouth sales. It will also decrease the amount of money you need to spend advertising. If your advertising is different from your brand image, there will be a disconnect.

Your online reputation is important. An estimated 90% of consumers read reviews before visiting a business. People notice what other people say about your business. They also notice if you respond to each review. You don’t need to worry if you receive the occasional negative review. Studies have found that when a business has entirely 5 star reviews, it just looks like the business owner asked for reviews. When the rating is 4.2-4.5 people were the most influenced by reviews and people believed they occurred naturally.

If you want to read my guide on how to get more positive reviews, my guide on getting more Yelp reviews and building a positive online reputation is a must read.

Your online reputation goes beyond people finding you trustworthy or untrustworthy. A brand image is

  • What your brand stands for
  • What your brand is good at
  • How your brand differs from your competitors

If people in the community believe that you are THE best spot in town for a fancy date night, or for the best tasting food in town, or the most reliable service, this will make a huge difference for your business. The one thing you don’t want to be known for is THE cheapest price. There’s always someone willing to go cheaper than you. Often, you’ll be competing with large retail outlets or food chains.

Conclusion: A brand image is what customers believe about your brand. Your brand identity is what YOU decide your brand is.

Brand image and brand identity are closely connected. Your brand identity is what you tell people about your brand (through your website, social profiles, advertisements, and in face-to-face meetings). However, your brand image is what people actually believe about your business. You can find your brand image by looking up reviews, news articles, and by speaking directly with customers. To create a strong brand image, decide what you’d like your brand to be known for. Then center your business around these values. If you want to be known for reliability, make sure each product is well above average. If customer service is important, hire the right people and decrease wait times. Brand image is important for small and local businesses in addition to large companies. Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets.

We looked at 3 examples of brand image. Brooklinen, McDonalds, and United Airlines. While Brooklinen’s brand identity aligned well with it’s brand image, McDonalds was partially aligned, and United Airlines did not align. What you tell people about your company doesn’t always match what people believe about your company. It’s still important to have a strong brand identity and to efficiently communicate what your brand stands for. But, you also need to make sure public opinion is in line with what you say about your brand.

What’s Next?

My Ultimate Guide to Marketing will really help you shape your brand image and the way you market your business.

If you want help creating a step-by-step action plan for marketing your business and reaching the right customers, I highly recommend taking a look at my Big Picture Strategy Consultation. Within 2 hours, you’ll identity the actions that will have the biggest impact on your business. It comes with a 100% money back guarantee as well.

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