Brand identity Elaboration Exercises

Elaboration can make the identity less ambiguous and thus more useful as a guide to brand building programs. The 4 categories of exercises are:
  1. The audit of identity supporting programs reviews the substance behind the brand identity aspirations.
  2. Identity role models are actions and programs that communicate the brand.
  3. The development of visual metaphors provides another way to make the identity more vivid.
  4. Brand identity prioritization determines which dimension should be the focus of positioning and brand building efforts.

Identity supporting Program Audit
The identity needs to be true to the firm and have substance behind it; it should not be  simply an exercise in branding and advertising. Effectively communicating a clear, differentiated brand vision that resonates with customers is not enough. The organization needs to be willing to support the identity with substantial investment in real programs. Two types of programs and investments can support the brand:planned and existing. The first provides strategic imperatives, future programs that  must be developed in order to deliver the brand identity. Proof points that catalog existing programs, initiatives and assets which support the brand identity describe the second.
The strategic imperatives represent action steps that are needed to deliver substance behind the brand identity. These action steps are thus clearly a part of the brand building effort – in fact, efforts to revitalize or reposition the brand sometimes are best delayed so that they may be synchronized with the strategic initiatives.
While strategic imperatives are organizational initiatives requiring significant investment, proof points are already attached to the dimensions of the brand identity. Proof points are programs, initiatives and assets already in place that provide substance to the core identity and help communicate what it means. While strategic imperatives are few in number and often costly and risky, proof points can be numerous and operational. Proof points are a necessary foundation.
Identity Role Model Identification
Identifying role models can provide the meaning and emotion to help motivate and guide the brand building effort.
Internal role models are stories, programs, events or people that perfectly represent the brand identity. Out of 5 proof points supporting an identity, there might be one program that really reflects the identity best. Stories can communicate the identity and add elements of aspiration and emotion as well. Some of these actions can be legends that are part of the brand heritage. The emotion attached to stories is important, because those implementing the brand must know and care about what it stands for. In fact, stories not only represent the brand but also influence the culture.
People, such as a founder or a strong, visible CEO with a clear brand vision, can be powerful role models. The impact of the founders can be made more vivid if their picture is a brand symbol. Some founders, like Bill Gates and Richard Branson ( & Narayan Murthy), are not formally included in the brand’s symbol, but their faces are so familiar that the result is similar.
There are many ways to personalize the brand. The one person who represented everything you wanted to stand out for, could be used as a role model to guide. A brand can also be personified by a visible spokesperson who becomes closely connected to the brand over the years. Alternatively, employees can represent a brand. Identification of internal role model starts with what is visible. The candidates will usually be well known, especially to the veterans in the organization.
Although internal role models can be extremely powerful because they are already in the context of the brand, they are limited to what has been done within the organization. Other strong, well positioned brands from diverse industries can be role models and, as such, can be a powerful metaphor for your brand. The search for an external role model can be broad:

  • What brands do you admire?
  • Which comes closest to how you would like to be perceived?

With an external role model identified, the next step is to learn as much as possible:

  • Why is it a good role model?
  • How did it develop authenticity and credibility?
  • What are its stories and internal models?
  • Its proof points?
  • What is its culture?
  • Is there anything that can be learned or borrowed?

Another tack is to focus on one of your brand’s core identity elements, then identify a set of brands that also focus on a similar dimension.
It is helpful to identify not only external role models that are on target but also those that define the boundaries of the brand identity.
Visual Metaphor development
Core identities are defined verbally – i.e., a few words or phrases attempt to capture what the brand should stand for.  Following are some of findings of Zaltman (HBS):

  • Most communication (70 to 90%) is non verbal. Visual imagery has been shown in a host of contexts to be much more powerful than verbal communication in affecting both perceptions and memory.
  • Metaphors are basic to the representation of thought. metaphors are powerful communication tools.

So why not attempt to translate verbal core identities into visual metaphors? Suppose the core identity of a financial service firm is strength. potential visual metaphors could be a steel girder, a heavy weight boxer, an Egyptian pyramid or a fortress.
The first step is to identify visual metaphors that either represent the brand or the brand identity, or represent the opposite. Customers, for example, can be asked to suggest visual metaphors representing the core identity element. To obtain visual metaphors without involving the customers, you might examine the brands that have images close to the identity under study. What visual cues are associated with each of these brands? What colors, images, metaphors or feelings? Gold is a color that is associated with premium in most categories. To prune down a large number of visual metaphors to a manageable set, cluster them into groups. Representative elements from each group can be scaled as to how closely they represent the identity elements.
The next step is to analyze the images that you have gathered. The ultimate goal is not so much to identify a key metaphor but to learn what makes a metaphor right or wrong for the strategy and its communication.
Brand Identity Prioritization
As a multidimensional portrayal of the brand, the brand identity can be complex. A brand might have associations that reflect product attributes, personality dimensions, organizational associations, symbols and user images. The core identity plays a key role in providing focus to the brand identity, as does the brand essence – a word or phrase that represents much of what the brand stands for. Another approach to prioritization, however, which is almost always helpful, involves comparing the image to the identity and assessing the ability to leverage each dimension.
Source: Aaker, David A –  Brand Leadership