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What is brand image? How to build and improve brand awareness

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These days, image is everything. And that goes for brands too. Consumers have more choice than ever before, and so if you want them to keep choosing you over your competitors, you’ll need to maintain a healthy, positive brand image, and continually work to raise perceptions of your brand in the eyes of your target market. The good news? We’re here to help. Welcome to our comprehensive guide on how to build and improve your brand image

What is brand image?

But first: what exactly do we mean when we talk about brand image? Brand image is what comes to mind when people think about your business or product. It’s more than just the visual aspects of your brand—it also encompasses intangible brand associations like value, convenience, and quality.

Every interaction someone has with your brand shapes your brand image. From a social media impression, to a purchase, to a customer service experience, these interactions affect how someone thinks and talks about your brand.

Because different people have different interactions with your brand, shaping and maintaining a consistent brand image isn’t easy. But by taking the time to understand what people think about your brand, you can learn how to build and promote a positive brand image. Let’s dive into why brand image is important, how it connects to brand identity, and how you can measure brand image with surveys. For a more comprehensive approach, get started with enhanced market research.

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Brand image vs. brand identity

What is the difference between brand image and brand identity? It's important to note that the two are entwined, and key aspects of overall brand equity, but they're not interchangeable.

Brand identity is developed internally. Basically, it describes how you want to be perceived by your target audience. In that sense, it can be designed and controlled by you. For example, one way a company can portray itself to its customers is through things like its colors, logo, website and personality; it’s how you want your brand to be perceived. As such, brand identity is forward looking: it involves you continually trying to establish, refine and shape your image. 

Brand image, on the other hand, is how customers actually perceive your brand, and therefore it is developed externally. Though your company has less control over your brand image, it’s an essential part of your overall brand health and, ideally, it should be in sync with your brand identity. Brand image is backwards looking, since your image constantly changes based on consumers’ changing perceptions of you over time.

Brand IdentityBrand Image
Developed internallyDeveloped externally
The company’s desired imageThe company’s perceived image
Fully controllableOnly partially controllable
Forward-lookingBackward-looking

Brand image vs. brand awareness

There are also differences between brand image and brand awareness. Brand image describes customers’ perception of your brand, and comes from their interactions with it, as well as your branding activities. Brand image can be positive or negative (or neutral), and generally has an influence on customers’ relationship with your brand. In contrast, brand awareness simply measures how known your brand is to the customer. For example: has the customer heard your brand name? Can they recall your brand from memory? If presented with a list of competing brands, would they be able to recognize yours? To read more about brand awareness, take a look at this article about brand awareness.

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Why brand image is important 

When a customer purchases something from your brand, they’re not just buying your product—they’re also buying into your brand image. To make a convincing value proposition to potential customers, you need to be just as intentional about your brand image as you are about your product design or brand identity.

Putting effort into your brand image builds brand equity, i.e. the extra value a business gets from a product with a recognizable name, compared to the generic alternative. A business with brand equity has an easier time retaining customers, charging a premium for products, and launching new products to a receptive market. A positive brand image can increase brand equity in several ways.

A strong brand image makes a good first impression

While snap judgements can change, most people will form an opinion based on the first thing they see or hear about your brand. You can help your customers respond positively to your brand by making common customer touchpoints (like your website, business cards, and storefront) aesthetic and meaningful.

There isn’t just one way for your brand to approach aesthetics or meaning. Red Bull, for example, has a brand image that has more to do with selling an exhilarating experience than selling an energy drink. Because its customer touchpoints often involve extreme sports or daring feats, people associate Red Bull with excitement—which the brand’s aesthetic reinforces.

Your brand image builds trust

A stable brand image builds credibility and brand loyalty with your customers. When people know what to expect from your brand, they’re more likely to seek out your products based on brand associations. Three in five people prefer to purchase a new product from a brand they know something about, rather than an unfamiliar brand.

Whirlpool, for example, built its brand image around familiarity and reliability. When people go to buy a dishwasher or a refrigerator, they often go straight for Whirlpool because they already know what to expect from the brand. It’s the most trusted name in both product categories.

Brand image creates recognition

Above, we’ve distinguished between brand image and brand awareness, but don’t forget that the two are linked. In today’s highly competitive markets, it's actually quite difficult to make your brand recognizable to your target audience. If you put effort into crafting visual elements, brand attributes and brand associations that resonate with customers, and being consistent in how you convey your brand image through customer interactions, you’ll be well placed to develop a recognizable brand that people know and respect.

Brand image create recognition

Above, we’ve distinguished between brand image and brand awareness, but don’t forget that the two are linked. In today’s highly competitive markets, it's actually quite difficult to make your brand recognizable to your target audience. If you put effort into crafting visual elements, brand attributes and brand associations that resonate with customers, and being consistent in how you convey your brand image through customer interactions, you’ll be well placed to develop a recognizable brand that people know and respect.

Brand image builds credibility and equity

Brand image is paramount to building credibility and equity among potential customers. And, the value of that simply cannot be overstated.  Marketing noise means that it’s difficult to cultivate trust and credibility with customers. But, the more frequently you’re able to deliver on your brand promise with a strong brand image, the more likely customers will come to see you as credible; and that translates into sales and success. 

Strong brand image allows for growth

Of course, a strong brand image means more profits as new customers are attracted to the brand. However, the final rewards of brand image don’t just come through increased sales. It can also lower costs and increase efficiency. For example, it's much easier to capture a new market for a newly introduced product when you have a strong brand name. Customers will be willing to try the new product if it's associated with a brand they trust and respect.

How to measure brand image with surveys

The only way to find out what people really think of your brand is to ask them. A brand perception survey helps you understand your brand image, come up with ways to build your image, and benchmark your progress across time or in comparison to your competitors.

How to build brand image

So brand image is important, but how do you build it? Follow these steps:

Determine your mission, values, and vision

Start by defining your mission, vision, and values so that you have consistency. There’s nothing more undermining to a brand than a lack of consistent message. So, think about what exactly it is you want to convey to your market and have that in mind before you engage in any branding activities. Strong values will attract customers, and as a bonus, they’ll also play a key role in driving employee engagement.

Create a brand positioning statement

A brand positioning statement can set you apart from the competition and tells consumers exactly how you solve a need for your target audience. To start, we recommend researching competitors and understanding what makes your brand unique - from there, create a one to two sentence statement that communicates your unique value to your customers.

Create a brand personality

The activities that you engage in - both those observable and unobservable to customers - should reinforce your brand image, and that means you’ll need an overarching brand personality. Just like human beings, brands can be seen as fun, or innovative, or serious, or anything else. Identify what your personality is, and make sure all branding actions reflect and reinforce that personality.

Identify your key audiences using persona research

Creating a brand image happens internally, but you’ll need to know what customers think, and how to influence them for it to be a successful one. We recommend segmenting your audience into customers with shared personas, and crafting tailored messages for each to make sure your brand image work has the most impact.

How to improve brand image

Brand image, once built, can be lost, examples are everywhere. For example, in 2021, Volkswagen, which was already reeling from the poor reputational effects of its Dieselgate scandal, suffered another setback when an April Fool’s Day prank, claiming it had changed its name to Voltswagen because of concern for the environment, backfired. So, what can you do to make sure your efforts to build brand image aren’t undermined? We recommend the following three stage approach: collect feedback, draw meaningful conclusions, and adjust and repeat as needed.

Collect feedback

Knowledge is power, so to check that your efforts to build a strong brand image are effective, you’ll need to gather some data. The best people to gather information from are your customers. After all, what matters is whether they understand the image you’re trying to convey, and whether or not it resonates with them. To get started, customize the brand perception survey template with questions relevant to your business, industry, or product. Use multiple choice questions such as “How would you describe your overall opinion of this brand?” to gather metrics. For more specific insights, include open-ended questions like “When you think of this brand, what first comes to mind?”

Draw meaningful conclusions

Draw meaningful conclusions from your data collection efforts, and most importantly: act on them. The feedback from your survey will uncover ways you can build and improve your brand image. For example, you might ask your survey respondents to list both the qualities they typically look for in your product category and those they associate with your brand. You can bridge gaps between these two lists, and build your brand image, by tweaking the way you present your brand to meet market demand. This could include reassessing your brand guidelines, improving customer touch points, and taking additional time to identify and understand what makes your brand unique.

Adjust and repeat as needed

If you’re trying to improve your brand image, you should consistently monitor customers’ perceptions over time to assess whether the way you’re presenting your brand (i.e. your brand identity) is matching up with the way your customers see your brand. To keep tabs on your shifting brand image, use SurveyMonkey Audience to gather feedback from your target market 2 to 4 times per year. These routine surveys will help you make sure your marketing campaigns are fueled by an accurate picture of your brand image. And best of all: we can do most of the legwork for you, so you’ll have clear, actionable insights in just a flash.

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Examples of companies with successful brand images

Need some inspiration? Let’s look at some companies with successful brand images.

Apple

Apple is a great example of how a brand can carefully craft and change its brand image over time. For example, people today are less likely to describe Apple as “daring” or “innovative” than they were a decade ago and more likely to describe it as “dependable” or “familiar.” Apple has responded to this change by updating the way it markets its products. While early campaigns focused on “thinking different,” later campaigns, like the apocalypse commercial for WWDC 2017, have poked fun at dependence on technology.

Zappos

Online shoe and clothing retailer Zappos is widely known for being a fun, creative brand, despite being acquired by Amazon, a parent company that doesn’t quite have the same image. The key to Zappos’ success is that they up communications about their brand with observable action: in other words, they practice what they preach. For example, they created a Culture Playbook to help guide interactions with customers, focusing on wowing them with every engagement, rather than peppering adverts with empty buzzwords.

Coca-Cola

More than just a consumer products company, Coca-Cola has successfully managed to cultivate a loyal, cult following. Its success is down to its ability to speak to customers’ emotions by selling them experiences rather than just a can of coke or a bottle of water. Through its celebrity endorsements, engaging advertising and customer centric approach, the brand has managed to convey an image of joy.

Start monitoring brand image, quickly

The first task is to learn more about how your brand is perceived in the market. Learn more about Momentive and the brand tracking solution that can help you figure it out quickly. Or, let SurveyMonkey Audience construct a respondent panel quickly to help you capture insight into your brand image from the people that matter the most: your market. 

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