MAT MARTIN | Branding – The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

8 April, 2017, 14:00

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The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism
The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

The identity of a brand is traditionally understood in terms of its intended audience’s experience and perception. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism attempts to create a map or diagram of this understanding. It sets out a number of distinguishing qualities which together form a faceted brand, based upon the ways in which these experiences and perceptions are formed.

Brand identity differs from brand image in terms of the direction in which attention is focussed. Brand image is generally considered in terms of the decoding of a brand by an audience. The concept of brand identity allows us to focus on a brand’s intention and therefore assess its efficacy and adjust approaches to improve results.

Put simply, we could say that brand image is perceived, whereas brand identity is projected.

The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

In 1986, professor Jean-Noël Kapferer sought to analyse the key elements which contribute to the identity of a brand. Considerations such as the nature of the service or product offered, or the name chosen for a business, led him to use a language of human qualities to do this. He laid these out in what is now known as the Kapferer Brand Identity Prism.

These key elements are defined as follows:

  1. Physique
  2. Personality
  3. Culture
  4. Relationship
  5. Reflection
  6. Self-image

In these terms Kapferer defined what he considered to be the six distinguishing features of a brand’s identity. As the features of a person help us to identify them, so is it with a business or service. A strong brand helps a business not only to make a clear and useful impression but also be remembered and recognised.

Kapferer put it this way:

Strong brands are capable of weaving all aspects [of the prism] into an effective whole in order to create a concise, clear and appealing brand identity.

The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism places these six aspects in relation to one another by considering their position between the business (sender) and client (recipient), and back again. The areas it defines between these points range from internal (subjective, implied, emotional) to external (objective, defined, tangible), and the shape of the prism makes it clear that many paths can be drawn to join them up.

The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism

To better understand the nature of a brand’s behaviour in this space it is useful to look at each of the terms separately.

1. Physique

The physical features and qualities of the brand. Think of the shape of a bottle of Coca-Cola or Orangina and you’ll be considering the physique of a brand. Kapferer stated that this should be considered the basis of the brand, although this is a simpler consideration if you are selling a tangible product rather than a service.

2. Personality

A brand’s personality is nebulous at best. It can be communicated through a choice of colour, typography or even a celebrity endorsement (think of George Clooney’s association with the Nespresso brand). It really is about character – what is your brand like to be around? Would you be more likely to go to a board meeting with your business, or out for a drink?

3. Culture

This refers specifically to the culture of a demographic in which it is necessary for a brand to base its behaviour. A brand like Budweiser trades on traditional, even stereotypical North American values, and yet markets another version of their product – an older one – as a traditional Czech product. This is a clear example of a company adapting its brand identity culture to distinct markets.

4. Relationship

The relationship in question here is between brand and client. Where does a brand sit on the spectrum between client-focused red carpet treatment and haughty aloofness? Different messages will attract different client interactions. For example, Apple are a company who successfully walk a very delicate line between providing a high end luxury product on a large scale, whilst maintaining a level of customer service and focus on customer experience which appears to value the individual client highly.

5. Reflection

This refers specifically to the reflection in branding and promotional material of the stereotypical user of the brand in question. For example, Coca-Cola’s focus on the 15-18 age group with strong messages of fun and friendship, or Marlboro’s strong, masculine and neo-mythical cowboy styling. Famously, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign used this aspect of brand identity effectively. This article at Brand Manager Guide offers some interesting breakdowns of these brands and more, drawn directly around Kapferer’s Brand Identity prism and demonstrating very clearly this particular concept.

It is important to note that a brand which effectively reflects to a very specific audience can also perform very well in much broader terms (again consider the real demographic for sales of Coca-Cola compared to that brand’s reported 15-18 demographic).

6. Self-image

There is an important yet subtle point of difference between reflection and self-image. Where reflection works with the sender’s perception of the client image, self-image deals with the client’s own idea of self. Often the client of a luxury brand doesn’t buy into that brand because they are in the targeted demographic, but rather because they want to identify with that demographic: People may well borrow beyond their means to buy a luxury car so as to project an image of success to themselves and those around them. For example, both Zeynep Çıkın and Tools 4 Management point out in their articles on this subject that customers of the Lacoste brand appear to see themselves as belonging to a sports club, even when they do not.

In Short

Kapferer’s list provides a means by which to identify some key aspects of the communication of a brand. Thinking in these terms invites us to consider the role of the client in forming a brand identity and take this into account when managing that brand. The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism illustrates the various relationships we can seek to nurture between these areas, and thus between business and client.