Building and Maintaining Your Brand Image
How to connect with, acquire, and retain consumers
If I were to ask you to think about the brand McDonald’s, what comes to mind? What about the brand Tiffany’s? Two distinctly different brands, each with their own feelings, meanings, colors, and more. This is brand image: how others perceive your brand whether they’ve purchased from you or not.
A positive brand image is important because it…
creates more brand awareness, recognition, and recall
differentiates you from competition
In its simplest form, your brand image is your reputation. This makes it key to your business because not being seen as trustworthy or credible can destroy your business. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how consumers see you – what associations do consumers have with your brand? Brand image is based on associations people have with your brand, which stems from many influences like emotion, attitude, friends, family, culture, and the media.
So, how do you make sure your brand has positive associations and a positive brand image? If you don’t know what people think about your brand, ask them! Survey consumers and ask what words come to mind when they hear or see your brand name. This allows associations with your brand to come to the surface. Do the words match the ones you would’ve said for your own brand?
The goal of branding is to match a brand’s image to its identity. Let’s slow down for a second – what’s the difference between the two? One key word: think!
Identity is what your brand stands for v. Image is what consumers think it stands for
When brands create a mix of positive associations along the customer journey (all of the moments a customer has with your brand from becoming aware of it initially all the way until purchasing your products and remaining loyal), then there is alignment between the two. This results in a favorable impression, credibility, referrals, or brand recall/recognition. It also positions your brand favorably in the marketplace against competitors.
A great example of strong brand image is Airbnb. The brand itself is the one who creates its identity, meaning we can often find signs of identity in the story of its founding, on their website’s About Us page, and especially their mission statement. Airbnb’s is: “to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere”. To find how brand image is conceived, just look to their ads to see the associations Airbnb is attempting to build. Airbnb’s knack for storytelling creates a brand image that makes you feel safe and comfortable – they have developed consumer trust and a sense of community between hosts and travelers across the globe. Just think about it… we’re willing to stay in a complete stranger’s home and pay that stranger a handsome sum! Therefore, Airbnb has successfully aligned its brand identity with its brand image.
What happens if you ask people about your brand and the words they say aren’t the ones you think they should? Or what if they’re words with negative connotations? This is what is known as brand misalignment.
We can see this with Abercrombie & Fitch’s (A&F) complicated history. When A&F was founded in 1892 it was meant “to make every day feel as exceptional as the start of a long weekend”. However, with an outwardly discriminatory CEO and hyper-sexualized, unrealistic models throughout the 2000s and 2010s, A&F’s brand image became associated with exclusivity, insecurity, and intimidation. Over time, the brand lost customers and prestige due to this misalignment. No one trusted that A&F cared for its consumers the way it claims to when so many people felt like they weren’t accepted by the brand.
Luckily, A&F was able to turn itself around by talking the talk and ultimately walking the walk. By returning to its roots of happiness and freedom through using inclusive models, donating to charitable organizations, and reorganizing its employees, A&F is finally able to align its new and improved image with its core identity.
Let’s think about another brand. If you read our blog about brand identity, then you know that we highlighted the Fenty brand as one example and stated their brand identity includes inclusion, daring, fun, bold, direct, poetic, casual. Take a look at the word cloud below, which illustrates what consumers think about Fenty, and let us know what you think about the questions below.
Do these word associations match their identity?
What does this say about Fenty’s brand image?
Do you think Fenty is successful?
Now that you thoroughly understand what indicators of a positive or negative brand image is, how do you execute it for your business? If you’re struggling to develop the image you desire, try some of these things:
Make sure you have a strong brand identity
Know your mission, vision, and values
As mentioned previously, ask for customer feedback to know where you stand
Implement some marketing strategies
For example: develop an engaging website and social media, run ads, etc.
Build relationships with all your stakeholders (community, competition, customers, media, investors)
Especially increase face-to-face interactions with your community
Provide excellent customer service
Involve your employees by revisiting core values and culture
All of these build brand trust and reliability
So, be intentional with your brand identity because your customers are buying what you stand for and you want them to have belief and spread the word. Then, be strong in presenting the brand image you want to maintain your identity, and thus maintain and grow your customer base.
As pointed out in a Forbes article, “The more often you can deliver on your brand promise with a strong brand image, the easier it will be for consumers to remember your brand and what it stands for.”