Decoding Kapferer’s brand identity prism

Updated: March 11, 2019 3:52 AM

Jean-Noël Kapferer of HEC Paris represented brand identity as a hexagonal prism, with each side representing essential elements of a brand.

Brand identity is the meaning of the brand that the marketer projects and its efficacy can be measured.

By Vidya Hattangadi

As humans, as organisations, as products, as services and as nations, each one makes an effort to create an identity of its own because ‘identity’ provides meaning, harmony and purpose in life. It evolves as we grow through life cycle. Without identity, it’s almost unfeasible to create meaning and purpose.

A corporate identity or a corporate image is the manner in which a firm or business presents itself to the public and stakeholders. Creating a suitable identity is primary goal of corporate communication. For positioning a brand in customers’ mind, having a robust and recognisable brand identity is essential for distinguishing it from other products in a cluttered market. The identity needs to be crafted in a certain way, using particular elements of that brand such as the logo, tag line, tone, or colours, packing, ingredients, etc.

Brand identity is the meaning of the brand that the marketer projects and its efficacy can be measured. In 1996, Jean-Noël Kapferer, the professor of Marketing Strategy at HEC Paris, came up with the idea of representing brand identity as a hexagonal prism, with each side standing for one of these essential elements: ‘Physique’, ‘relationship’ and ‘reflection’ are the external factors of a brand, whereas ‘personality’, ‘culture’ and ‘self-image’ are internal factors. Successful brands are the ones in which all of these six facets are carefully intertwined and aligned. Kapferer’s brand identity uses the traits of human beings as a metaphor of a brand.

Physique: The first facet of the Brand Identity Prism refers to the underlying physical characteristics of a brand. Physique portrays the form, size and development of a product. The physique of a brand turns abstract and elusive characteristics into something visible. The physique helps consumers get associated with the brand initially. When you see the iPhone made by Apple, you get attracted to its elegance, style and aesthetics.

Personality: It is the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character. This element is about the character of a brand. Brand personality is developed by attributing human characteristics to it, so that a consumer can relate to the brand easily. Toyota Innova has built a reputation of being a rugged, dependable and comfortable MPV with the highest levels of safety. Brands also hire celebrities to endorse a product’s personality.

Relationship: It refers to relationship between a brand and customers in terms of what consumers think, feel, and how they pursue the brand. A favourable relationship helps managers and stakeholders understand how to create a favourable brand approach to drive brand loyalty, repeat purchase, customer lifetime value, customer advocacy, and communities of like-minded individuals organised around the brand. The approach adopted by the marketer is important in terms of which human traits describe this relationship.

Netflix, the video streaming company, is known for its obsession with customers; Netflix collects a huge amount of data on customers to create hyper-personalised recommendations. It uses that data to help customers find their new favourite shows and to create award-winning original content that is exactly what customers want.

Culture: It can be defined as the inherent DNA that runs in the organisation. It consists of values, expressions and interactions the organisation creates with customers, employees and all stakeholders at every point. The culture consists even of the country of origin, the nation where a product is produced or branded. For example, globally, people favour cars produced in Japan for its culture, values and demographics. Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Toyota are respected brands in the world of auto.

Kapferer also gives another insight on culture; he says some brands have managed to capitalise on false origination than its original—the famous American brand Mars made the Dutch believe it originated in their country, and Mars has gotten adjusted to the Dutch culture and values.

Reflection: There is a subtle but sizeable difference between self-image and reflection. While the former is about customers’ idea of self, the latter is how brands pursue their audience. Reflection can be described as a set of stereotypical notions of a brand’s customer base, is used for promotional purposes, and highlighted in ads and commercials. It is a new framework to help brand owners and advertising agencies to understand and communicate brand identity more effectively. Brand reflection is especially useful for branding by marketing agencies to accelerate the positioning process of a brand in a certain segment. Brand reflection represents the distinctive class of users of a brand.

For example, in a typical Indian urban man’s wardrobe, his suits have a special place; nicely dry-cleaned, neatly hung and properly matched with accessories from top to bottom. Among many other brands, at least one of the suits in the wardrobe is a Raymond suit. The tag line ‘The Complete Man’ suits the Indian man’s psyche. The Complete Man describes a beautiful soul and a quintessence of individual spirit beyond gender specifics.

Self-image: It is about how customers of a particular brand see themselves; a brand gets the benefit from incorporating the unique association created by customers into creating its own identity. Most youngsters like to be tagged as ‘cool’, ‘stylish’, ‘vibrant’, etc; they, therefore, choose brands that help them ascertain those tags. A research on brand identity has found that people who struggle with identity disorders gain real insight into themselves by choosing ‘right’ brands. Perfumes help consumers boost their self-worth—Arpège, by the famous French company Lanvin Perfume, is used by stylish and classy women. It has been known for restoring feelings of self-worth in many women for decades. Its catchy tag line ‘No bottles to break—just hearts’ says it all.

(The author is a management thinker and blogger)

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