Brand image is the customer’s perception of your brand based on their interactions with the brand. It is the impression that potential and existing customers have of the business.
Kevin Keller defines brand image as the perceptions about a brand reflected as associations in the minds of customers. Keller believes that associations are built up as we: a) directly experience brands and receive information about them and b) indirectly make inferences based on our pre-existing brand knowledge, for example, country of origin.
Those who do not need or use your products or services can form associations and create an image of you in the same way so brand image is important across the board. Brand image can evolve over time and doesn’t necessarily involve a customer making a purchase or using your product or service. Brand image can be positive or negative.
Many consumers don’t buy your product or service simply because you have the best option, but because of what you stand for. A Havard business review study found that 64 percent of consumers say that shared values is the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand. That was by and large the biggest driver and only 13 percent cited frequent interactions as the primary reason for a relationship.
This means that the quality of your interactions with customers matter more than the quantity for a positive brand image. A brand image may start with a logo, but it includes everything from icons, logo, brand story, colour, photography etc. All these things make up the identity systems which help shape customer perceptions. Your brand image should always support your values and your voice and stand out to your audience.
Most entrepreneurs and small business owners don’t really think about their brand image until there’s a problem with the image they are developing. Customers will create an impression of your business and brand based on a variety of factors such as the way your employees are dressed, your website, business cards, the cleanliness of your store and more.
Whether we like it or not, people still judge a book by its cover. Even though a business card itself doesn’t make a sale, it does make a good impression about the expected brand promise.
“Having a business card itself shows customers that you’re a brand to be taken seriously,” Forbes said.
A positive brand image can increase sales both short term and long term which will increase brand loyalty and increased repeat sales. An increase in brand loyalty will build a barrier to entry in the market for competitors. For example, loyal Apple customers don’t see themselves using any other gadget which is not from Apple.
If you have other products in your portfolio, a positive brand image can also increase sales of those products as well. Building a brand image can be costly, for example Coca-cola spends billions of dollars every year to maintain their brand image. Also, a reputation built up over many years can be lost in an instant, for example that famous moment when Christiano Ronaldo opted for a bottle of water instead of a coke in front of millions of viewers. Coke lost billions in value.
The importance of brand image
1. Easy recognition
An apple device, a Nash paints bucket or a loaf of bread from Proton are easy to spot. Brand is more than a logo or visuals. It is about making your brand recognisable to customers. It includes elements and brand associations such as speed, reliability and quality. It is about putting effort into maintaining a consistent brand image with every customer interaction. You don’t want a situation where one customer gets a fast service one day and get a slow service the next, or get a fresh loaf of bread one day and get a stale one the next.
2. It shows brand cohesion
Simple things can signal to potential customers that you didn’t start your business last night or yesterday for example having a professional email address according to Forbes. If you walk in a Nash Paints branch, every employee is dressed in red and black. This creates uniformity and a sense of order which reflects positively on the business as a whole. Imagine if everyone at the company was allowed to just wear whatever they wanted?
3. It builds credibility and equity
If a company consistently works at maintaining a stable brand image, it will contribute to the consumer’s relationship with the company. 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.
If you want your brand to stand for great customer service, then you will need to work hard to be able to fulfil that promise for the customer. You may need to coach your employees, provide training, discuss your company core values and culture code so that everyone knows what is expected of them in the company.
Brand image versus brand identity
Brand identity is what the company is trying to communicate about itself and the associations it wants customers to form regardless of whether this turns out to be the end result or not. Brand image is what the customer feels that the company is actually communicating. It exists in the customer’s mind.
A company always endeavours to control its brand identity so that it can align with the brand image which exists in the customer’s mind. A brand identity is based on who the company want to become and their desired image whereas a brand image is based on how customers feel about the brand (in the customer’s mind). A brand identity is active in nature, the company actively tries to build a certain identity whereas brand image is passive in nature, the customer does not actively try to see the brand in a certain way.
Brand identity is forward looking, the brand is continually trying to create and establish their desired identity whereas brand image is backward looking, customers build it according to previous experiences with your brand.
Brand image versus brand awareness
Brand awareness concerns how consumers can think of a brand when they begin a product or service search. It is all about brand salience and how prominent a brand is in a consumer’s mind and therefore relates more to memory and recall.
Brand image, however, concerns the brand associations and perceptions built up over time which paints a picture of the brand overall.