Brand Identity, Image and Change

It is important to fully appreciate the connection between brand identity and image. At the most basic level, brand identity is internal and brand image is external to an organization. Identity is like a charter given to defining the brand in terms of what it stands for encompassing all its attributes, benefit, positioning, personality and values. Identity is a complex issue. Brand identity is executed through all marketing programs and it comes alive through different Ps. Identity is like a unique signature that a brand wants to leave in customer’s mind. Image, on the other hand is totality of perception that is created in customer’s mind. It is external to the firm. It stands for mental picture of a brand that people hold in their minds. It is extracted or decoded portion of expressed or presented identity. It is important for a brand to keep its image always aligned with it identity.

Brands belong to a world that changes every moment. Change is external to brand and it is beyond control. Thus a brand is vulnerable the forces of change which may render it obsolete and out of sync with emergent realities. For instance vanaspati brands like Dalda and Rath suffered as consumers become health conscious. On the other hand Bajaj was quick notice the transition of two wheeler market from scooters to motorcycles. It is imperative for brand managers to define what they want their brand to be and what they don’t. Consider a brand like Suffola cooking oil, it has shifted its proposition from product ingredient (cholesterol busters- PUFA and MUFA- heart attack prevention) to healthy oil to healthy life style.

A brand may engage different senses to create an intended signature. For instance Singapore Airlines uses many senses to create brand distinctiveness- patented scent, cabin ambience, meals and beverages, stewards and stewardess (Singapore Girl), service, Malay sarong kabaya, hospitality and entertainment system. Of all these are expressions of brand identity but Singapore Girl is the most important one. It is visual emblem of what the brand stands for. It is condensation of brand’s core essence by which it seeks to forge customer relationship. It is an extraordinary expression of brand’s core idea of Asian hospitality with all the powerful characteristics like- gentle, warm, elegant, grace, serene and grace.

In order to be successful,  a brand must communicate what it stands for to its target customer. The visual signature is important in this context. Brand’s core idea can be conveyed in split of a second to both insiders and outsiders. It is here all the visual elements- name, font, typeface, color, form, shape, mark, mascot, logo, word mark- are orchestrated to both connote and denote a brand’s core. Visual identity is instrumental in driving brand recognition, preference and commitment by developing a cohesive and consistent picture.  

One of the most visible examples of identity change in India has been Bajaj. In its new logo which can be described as white and blue reverse hexagonal with combined with the words ‘Bajaj Auto’ signed off by cursively written line ‘inspiring confidence’. This identity change celebrated and signified its transformation into a motorcycle major with credible technology credentials (DTSi technology). The identity change is not just a creative change rather it is signification directional change in the life of a brand. The new identity takes forward the Bajaj’s core values –learning, innovation, perfection, speed and transparency- and adds ‘excitement’. The new abstract ‘B’ (flying B) that replaces the old symmetrical hexagonal symbol signifies – style and technology. The brand very subtly leverages company heritage and adds new values to enrich the brand.

Mahindra is another example of Indian group that has made rapid progress in its diverse set of businesses. The group’s rapid stride across all its businesses necessitated the need for a new cohesive and contemporized identity to be signaled across all businesses and geographies. It was designed to mark group’s evolution and its readiness to future challenges. The process got initiated in 2011. The idea was to contemporize the brand and reflect global ambitions. The new word mark in different in style, color and logo- in energetic red presents ‘one Mahindra’- cutting across diverse businesses like IT, vacation ownership, tractors, financial services to automotive. The new mark strikes a balance between continuity –its roots, values and strengths (name Mahindra) and change (new execution) – aspiration and evolution. The new execution is done to appeal younger set of audience.

Mahindra’s new word mark accompanied by new graphic device/ element (called the ‘ridge’) signifies Himalayan mountain range. It condenses the idea of ‘Rise’. The inspiration here is Mount Everest’s ridges that lead to its peak. The Mahindra group in this symbolism becomes a platform or enabler for its people which provides them with paths to reach their potential. This identity change must not be confused with a simple tweaking with its logo. It is not a shallow change of brand elements without corresponding change in people, processes and values. Rather the word ‘Rise’ is summed essence of brand’s ethos, raison d’être, its intent to enable people to rise.

For some managers identity change is nothing more than an indulgence in creativity. This is nothing but hollow exercise in deception. Visual identity change is real when the internal substantive aspects of brands undergo a change.


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