TL;DR Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism is a useful framework to analyse your brand. It considers the identity you intend to project and the identity your customers perceive and summarises it in a co-created brand essence. It helps to decide where to adjust brand identity and where to keep it consistent to keep it relevant for consumers.
The Brand Identity Prism is an effective tool to examine brands. Jean-Noël Kapferer, professor of marketing at HEC Paris, introduced the prism back in 1986. Since then, it has become the dominant framework of identity-focused brand perspectives. Both in practice and academia.
What the prism does particularly well is that it treats brand identity as dynamic. That is, the brand is a result of interacting and opposing forces that change over time. Kapferer calls this the essence1Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.. The forces that shape a brand’s essence are the firm intended identity and consumer perceived identity. Kapferer labels these the picture of the sender and the picture of the receiver. We can also broadly refer to this as brand identity (firm based) and brand image (consumer based).
What this means is that companies do not control how people see their brands. People create their own associations and brand meanings. This is a complicated process that happens within consumers’ minds and sums up in certain a brand image. Brands can and should influence this, but the end result is always unique to each individual.
Right. At this point, you may be thinking “stop blabbering and get on with it”. But this is important, trust me.
Companies research and build brands as they would like to have them. This is brand identity or picture of the sender. These brands communicate with their audiences. People establish their own brand images based on how they think and feel about the brand identity as well as the broader context. Brand identity and image contest each other until they find a balance2da Silveira, C., Lages, C., & Simões, C. (2013). Reconceptualizing brand identity in a dynamic environment. Journal of Business Research, 66(1), 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2011.07.020. At the core of this balance, you find the central value the brand symbolises – the essence3Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
Now you may ask: “what difference does this make?”. Buttloads.
There are a lot of people out there that will tell you that your brand needs to be consistent no matter what. These people will likely go on to say “always use the same font”, “make sure you have a great recognizable logo” and such-and-such. They might even invite you to buy their course that promises to teach you how to build a brand in 5 steps without any effort whatsoever!
Being consistent is fine, but these are not the areas where it matters the most. More important is to be relevant. This means knowing where to remain consistent and where to adapt to your surroundings4Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page..
Now that we have laid the foundation and the ideology to apply to the prism, we can dig into the model itself.
When to use Kapferer’s brand identity prism and how to apply it
You should use the brand identity prism in a brand-consumer context. It does not consider any other stakeholders and will therefore not give you any insights into those areas. It tends to be best applied to product brands, in particular those that are emotional5Urde, M. (2013). The corporate brand identity matrix. Journal of Brand Management, 20(9), 742–761. https://doi.org/10.1057/bm.2013.12.
I’ve seen some posts recommending the prism when building a new brand. You can do that, but you will lose out on the receiver side since there are no customers yet. That means it will just be your intended projections or speculations of consumer perceptions. This is a good benchmark to have though and will serve you well when you come back to analyze it later, with consumer insights.
Analysis is where Kapferer’s brand identity prism reveals its strength and is best used. It allows you to discover gaps between intended and perceived identity. It also helps to highlight when elements are not working together to create a strong brand essence.
There are a couple of things more to keep in mind when conducting the analysis6Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
- Keep it simple. Only use a few words in each facet.
- Make sure that you are not repeating yourself across facets
- All words should have value. If it’s not crisp does not serve to make your brand stand out, then cut it.
The Picture of the Sender
As discussed, the picture of the sender is about what identity the company wants to project. It consists of Physique, Relationship, and Culture.
At its very core, every brand has some sort of physique. Brand physique is the things that immediately come to mind once prompted with a brand related cue. Think about the key physical elements that embody the qualities of the brand7Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page. For example, the flagship product, or prototype if you are just starting out, and design.
- What unique and special physical elements does my brand express to the world?
Personality consists of the traits that give brands human characteristics: big and small. It is the way brands speak about their products and services, their philosophy, interests, goals, traditions, temper, reputation, needs and so on. For an empirical foundation, you can relate this back to Jennifer Aaker’s brand personalities. Using 2-4 adjectives that encompass the intended personality is also just fine.
- If my brand were human, what traits and characteristics would people use to describe it?
Culture is the brand-specific ideology that drives communications and marketing efforts. It is infused into every product, providing inspiration and aspiration to achieve great things. Culture is an internalized concept, but it doesn’t hurt to consider the public. How do they see your culture? Is there a common ground? Good culture drives and motivates the brand. Great culture breaks conventions and pushes new ideas that consumers find meaningful8Holt, D. (2016, March). Branding in the Age of Social Media. Harvard Business Review, 40–48. https://hbr.org/2016/03/branding-in-the-age-of-social-media, 9Holt, D. (2006). Jack Daniel’s America. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6(3), 355–377. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540506068683.
- Why do we do what we do?
- Do people find it meaningful?
The Picture of the Receiver
When you set out to create your brand, you probably had a decent idea in mind of how it should be seen by consumers. But as we have discussed, that’s not up to do you to define. In analysis, the picture of the receiver will highlight any inconsistencies between intended and perceived brand identity. Both in terms of how it relates to the essence and individual facets.
When people buy a brand, they are not just getting a product; they are entering into a relationship. This is true for emotional product brands and services and will only increase in significance as we head towards a service-dominated economy. How the brand should act depends on the relationship consumers are seeking. According to Susan Fournier, there are 15 types of relationships that form between brands and consumers. Use them to guide your work.
- What type of relationship do consumers want to have with my brand?
Brands are a reflection. The brands you buy are a reflection of you. This facet is about reflecting customers as they want to be seen as a result of using the brand, not how they actually are10Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page. For example, if you run a brand of convertible cars, your main audience may be middle-aged bald men. They, however, may want to be reflected as cool young men with their hair fluttering in the wind as they race down the highway.
- How do my customers want to be seen as a result of buying my brand?
Last, we arrive at self-image. While reflection is about how people want other people to see them, this facet focuses on people’s own feelings about themselves. It’s how the brand makes them feel and want to conduct themselves. This is often phrased as an “I am” statement11Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
- How do consumers think of themselves as a result of using my brand?
Drawing conclusions [with examples]
Now you should have a hexagonal prism that looks something like this:
Put together, it reveals your brand identity. All facets are distinct yet interrelated and packed with meaningful descriptions. It should allow you to define your brand’s essence as it arises as an outcome of brand and consumer co-creation.
You should strive for this result, no matter if you use the prism to build or analyze your brand. But it is not always possible.
Some brands are poorly built, have an identity crisis, or some other issue. Barnes & Noble is a prime example of this. It’s a brand that has failed to put the customer first and move with the times. It has again and again opted for short-term profits instead of a coherent strategic vision. This has confused consumers as well as its own leadership, leaving a fragmented brand identity behind.
The picture of the sender and the picture of the receiver are not congruent. They can not be effectively summed in an essence. It is de facto a brand without essence.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, there are several questions you must address.
- Do we act according to our own intended brand identity?
- Does the intended identity support the perceived identity? is there conflict? For example, does the projected personality align with the relationship people are after? Or does culture resonate with self-image, reflection and relationship? What about our own personality?
- Are there unfavorable perceptions on the consumer side? How to remedy them?
- Is there anything we need to adjust to? Should we do X to meet Y?
The questions above are to give you a start, but there are a thousand different things for you to consider, all depending on your own prism. To get the most out of the brand identity prism, make sure to do thorough research and review it critically. If you do that, you should be able to draw out what areas to capitalize on and what needs your attention.
- 1Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
- 2da Silveira, C., Lages, C., & Simões, C. (2013). Reconceptualizing brand identity in a dynamic environment. Journal of Business Research, 66(1), 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2011.07.020
- 3Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
- 4Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page.
- 5Urde, M. (2013). The corporate brand identity matrix. Journal of Brand Management, 20(9), 742–761. https://doi.org/10.1057/bm.2013.12
- 6Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page
- 7Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page
- 8Holt, D. (2016, March). Branding in the Age of Social Media. Harvard Business Review, 40–48. https://hbr.org/2016/03/branding-in-the-age-of-social-media
- 9Holt, D. (2006). Jack Daniel’s America. Journal of Consumer Culture, 6(3), 355–377. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469540506068683
- 10Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page
- 11Kapferer, J. (2012). The new strategic brand management. London: Kogan Page