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Have you ever chosen one brand’s product over another because you were confused about what the other brand stood for and didn’t know if it would deliver what you needed or wanted? If so, you were reacting to brand identities and those brands’ success or failure in communicating them to you. Think about the sheer global volume of those types of buying decisions that people make every day, and you’ll understand why carefully building a strong brand identity is so important.

What Is a Brand Identity?

A brand identity is consumers’ perception of your company; it’s what they expect from it. It includes visual and design elements, like your logo, taglines and the look of your products. These aspects of brand identity are important because they communicate your brand’s personality and message.

Brand identities create an emotional response in consumers. Consumers also associate certain brands with different levels of quality and performance, based on experience or that of others and on the brand values you promote. Building a successful brand identity and being consistent with it are important because doing so creates brand value and loyalty and helps differentiate your brand from competitors.

4 Components of Brand Identity

Some of the most important steps in building a successful brand identity include the following.

Identify your specialty, and research what is important to your market.

Examples: Apple’s emphasis on design and technology as key elements of its brand identity also appeal to the Apple customer’s desire for status. As another element of its brand identity, Apple also portrays its customers as doing things that make a positive impact on society with Apple products, as it does with its One Person Can Change the World ad.

Nike has identified its target market as one that cares about inclusivity, self-expression and standing up for one’s beliefs. Its ad campaign featuring quarterback Colin Kaepernick along with the ad copy “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” and the Nike tagline “Just do it,” is an example of the importance of social issues to Nike’s brand identity. The emotional response to the ad that Nike gets from its target market reinforces the alignment of Nike’s values with those of its customer and is one of the foundations of its brand identity.

Determine and promote your brand’s core values.

Examples: Two of Volvo’s most important core values are safety and the environment. The Volvo Cars Group’s website describes its cars as “sustainable and safe,” and the goal of its Vision 2020 program is to reduce the number of injuries and deaths from auto accidents to zero. Its sustainability initiatives include increasing the use of recycled plastics in its cars to at least 25 percent by 2025 and growing the number of electric cars it produces.

Volvo’s brand identity also revolves around improving safety and sustainability without sacrificing quality and design. These elements of Volvo’s brand identity appeal to like-minded consumers who are also concerned about safety and sustainability while simultaneously valuing high-quality and design in an automobile.

Food brand Kashi emphasizes its core values in its brand identity and in its descriptions of the ingredients used in its products like cereal, bars, cookies and entrees on its website. Those core values include nutritional benefit, using plant-based ingredients and sustainability as key elements in the production of items like Kashi’s Organic Sweet Potato Sunshine Cereal.

Research the competition and the products, services and values they promote. Ask yourself what sets your brand apart from your competition.

Example: Singapore Tourism and The Hong Kong Tourism Board are fierce competitors for leisure and business traveler dollars in Asian markets. Although both are increasing the types of big events that draw travelers to the destinations, Singapore has also boosted its strategic partnerships.

Singapore’s partnerships with Singapore Changi Airport, Singapore Airlines and Japan’s largest travel agency, JTB, set it apart and give it a competitive advantage over Hong Kong Tourism. The proof is in the pudding: While Singapore is seeing more tourism from mainland China, an extremely important market, Hong Kong Tourism is seeing less.

Be consistent with your brand identity to build awareness, trust and loyalty. Put branding guidelines in place so that your brand identity doesn’t develop multiple personalities that confuse consumers.

Examples: When Colgate-Palmolive decided to enter the frozen food market with a product line called Colgate Kitchen Entrees, consumers were understandably confused to see the familiar toothpaste logo on frozen dinner boxes. The new product line bombed, and Colgate Kitchen Entrees stand as a prime example of what can go wrong with inconsistent brand identity.

The introduction of the soft drink New Coke was another colossal brand identity misstep. Coca-Cola vastly underestimated the loyalty that consumers had for its classic formula, doing away with the original Coke and creating New Coke as a sweeter drink to compete with Pepsi. Sales were dismal as consumers reacted emotionally to the loss of the original formula, and Coca-Cola eventually brought back it back as Coca-Cola Classic and dropped New Coke completely.

If you keep these four components of brand identity in mind, then you can create and portray a clear and consistent message to your target market, building trust and helping your company stand out from the crowd.