Interview with Ray Sheehan: Navigating the Interplay of Brand Identity and Brand Image
In the world of branding, the concepts of brand identity and brand image are pivotal, shaping how a company is perceived by its audience. Ray Sheehan, a seasoned expert in business development and experiential marketing, offers profound insights into these critical elements. With his extensive experience at Old City Media, Ray sheds light on how brand identity and brand image work together to craft a compelling brand narrative. He explores the significance of understanding the distinction between the two and shares strategies to align them for a consistent and impactful brand perception. Join us in this enlightening interview as Ray unveils the dynamics of creating memorable brand experiences and effectively managing consumer sentiments in today’s evolving landscape.
HELLO RAY SHEEHAN, WELCOME TO ABOUT INSIDER! THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. TO KICK THINGS OFF, COULD YOU PROVIDE OUR AUDIENCE WITH AN OVERVIEW OF THE KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN BRAND IDENTITY AND BRAND IMAGE AND WHY UNDERSTANDING THIS DISTINCTION IS CRUCIAL FOR EFFECTIVE BRANDING?
Brand identity can be thought of as your company’s core self — its mission, values, and vision. This is how I usually define the term. Some marketers also define it as the visual components of branding, such as the logo and color scheme. The idea is to make the company’s graphic design feel a certain way.
Brand identity starts within the company. You and your team have a lot of control over brand identity. What’s your mission? What’s your point of difference? What’s your company culture like? What’s really important to your company? You can decide on the answers to these questions, as well as your business’s distinctive look.
On the other hand, your brand image is directed toward the outside world. How do external people perceive your brand? What does the public think of you? How about your clients or customers? Brand image is how your customers view your company, having interacted with it. This includes all their engagements with your business — every single one!
Brand image is much harder for the brand to control than brand identity. To figure out how others are perceiving your business, you can do brand activation events to have conversations with consumers. You can also conduct focus groups or surveys. Having obtained sufficient reliable data, it becomes possible to refine your brand accordingly.
Understanding the difference is crucial because it helps you make the right decisions about where to direct your time, energy, and attention. I recommend that businesses begin the process from the inside. Focus on what you can control, then let your message and core values happen organically on the outside. If you do brand identity right, then expressing it in an honest and authentic manner will give your messages the best chance of resonating with the target audience, resulting in a positive brand image.
BRAND IDENTITY AND BRAND IMAGE ARE FOUNDATIONAL CONCEPTS IN BRANDING. CAN YOU ELABORATE ON HOW THESE TWO ASPECTS WORK TOGETHER TO SHAPE A BRAND’S OVERALL PERCEPTION IN THE MINDS OF CONSUMERS?
Brand identity is the first way your business interacts with customers. It’s how the brand presents itself in public.
To make connections with consumers, your brand identity should attract your target audience, not only through aesthetics, but also through your brand’s purpose, values, and culture. Keep in mind that people tend to choose brands they feel speak to them, have made an impression on them, or have something in common with them. Good branding accomplishes this.
Next, all of your touchpoints — such as your website, social media presence, or contact center — should capitalize on those initial feelings of resonance and develop positive feelings in customers over the course of their interactions with your company. When people feel like a brand communicates with them in a genuine way and customer service treats them right, they will gain a positive, warm image of the brand.
AS THE HEAD OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT AT OLD CITY MEDIA, YOU’VE HAD EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE IN HELPING BRANDS CONNECT WITH THEIR TARGET DEMOGRAPHICS THROUGH EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING. HOW DOES A WELL-DEFINED BRAND IDENTITY CONTRIBUTE TO CREATING MEMORABLE AND IMPACTFUL BRAND EXPERIENCES?
First, let’s talk about what experiential marketing is. Basically, these are events that surprise and delight consumers, giving people a pleasant, memorable experience. We call them “brand activations.” For instance, a construction company could surprise people at a major home-improvement store with a pop-up booth that hands out gift cards to the host location.
The idea is to have fun and generate conversations with prospective customers, which creates an emotional connection. A well-designed event understands the target audience and is designed to give that audience something they love. Forging a shared bond in this way is often more effective than advertising, which a lot of people experience as an annoyance.
In my experience, if you and your team have developed your brand identity enough — if you have a strong sense of your mission and its value — then you’ll be able to communicate more effectively during your brand activations. However, if you or your brand ambassadors don’t have a clear sense of what you offer, then this message can get lost.
That’s why it’s so important to conduct adequate training and share a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) document with the whole team. I also advise making sure that you and your team are having fun during the event, since consumers will pick up on your emotions. You and your team will set the tone.
In short, your brand identity is your starting point. Your team needs to be rooted in this foundation to do the audience-centered outreach of experiential marketing effectively.
WE OFTEN HEAR ABOUT THE CONTROL A COMPANY HAS OVER ITS BRAND IDENTITY, BUT BRAND IMAGE IS SHAPED BY CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS. HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THIS DYNAMIC TO ENSURE THAT A BRAND’S INTENDED IDENTITY ALIGNS WITH THE IMAGE IT PORTRAYS TO ITS AUDIENCE?
First of all, I’m a big believer in focusing on that which is within your own power. If you start internally and build a healthy foundation and culture within your company, then the next step is to show consumers that truth. If you authentically communicate who you are and what you believe in, then an advantageous brand image will often develop organically.
That said, ensuring that the target audience — not to mention other possible audiences — will receive the exact same message you intended to communicate is a high bar. A measure of humility can come in handy.
Yet, there are things we can do as marketers to rise to this bar as much as possible. For instance, it’s always in our best interest to practice active listening and solicit honest feedback. One of the great things about brand activation events is they give you a chance to have in-depth conversations with people. You can learn a lot about how your brand is perceived that way. Quick surveys can also act as a litmus test. Focus groups require more time, effort, and resources, but they pay off with more in-depth data.
It’s true that, when you open yourself up to hearing what consumers have to say about your company, sometimes you will hear brutal things. But hearing what people really think is necessary to make the right adjustments to your marketing campaigns. That’s why it’s worth the pain.
COULD YOU SHARE AN EXAMPLE FROM YOUR OWN EXPERIENCE WHERE A BRAND EFFECTIVELY MANAGED THE INTERPLAY BETWEEN BRAND IDENTITY AND BRAND IMAGE, LEADING TO A POSITIVE IMPACT ON CUSTOMER ENGAGEMENT AND LOYALTY?
Many brands within the energy space currently promote sustainable energy. They have a real concern about the world we live in today, as well as what the future will look like. Accordingly, their brand message emphasizes the importance of leaving a better carbon footprint. That brand identity is very easy to comprehend and is based on a vision of a shared future. Most consumers not only have a clear understanding of those brands’ images, but can also relate to them. That’s what makes them effective.
BRAND IMAGE CAN HAVE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT ON A COMPANY’S REPUTATION AND SUCCESS. WHAT STRATEGIES HAVE YOU FOUND EFFECTIVE IN INFLUENCING AND MANAGING BRAND IMAGE, ESPECIALLY IN CASES WHERE CONSUMER SENTIMENT MAY BE CHALLENGING TO CONTROL?
Personally, I don’t think about managing or controlling consumers so much as learning from them. It might be necessary to change your product, service, or messaging based on consumer feedback.
In addition, if something at your company goes wrong or you experience a crisis, keep in mind that consumers love accountability. How you deal with negative feedback or adverse events shows a lot about your company. Being honest and taking responsibility for any mismanagement can humanize your brand and even work to your advantage in many people’s eyes.
Strategic partnerships can also help. Aligning yourself with other brands or groups that the ideal customer trusts can help you burnish your own company’s credentials. Look for businesses that you admire or aspire to be like — they could be good possible partners.
Finally, have your company take action on topics that are important to your company and company culture. Most brands do a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. Being the exception to that rule makes your company stand out. Today’s customers want to see real social responsibility from corporations.
IN A RAPIDLY EVOLVING DIGITAL LANDSCAPE, SOCIAL MEDIA AND ONLINE INTERACTIONS PLAY A SIGNIFICANT ROLE IN SHAPING BRAND IMAGE. HOW CAN BRANDS PROACTIVELY USE THEIR ESTABLISHED BRAND IDENTITY TO GUIDE AND POSITIVELY INFLUENCE THE PERCEPTION THAT CONSUMERS FORM THROUGH THESE CHANNELS?
Every touchpoint, including websites and social media presence, should remain mindful of your branding. Aesthetics should stay consistent across platforms. Every post should center the target audience and be in alignment with your company’s mission. Don’t share any content that could hurt or interfere with your brand image.
In particular, I recommend positive messages that spring naturally from your brand identity. Consumers appreciate where you stand on things, but they don’t appreciate when you jam it down their throats. Go too far, and you may open yourself up for backlash.
YOU’VE MENTIONED THE IMPORTANCE OF ALIGNMENT BETWEEN BRAND IDENTITY AND BRAND IMAGE. CAN YOU PROVIDE INSIGHTS INTO THE STEPS COMPANIES CAN TAKE TO ENSURE THAT THEIR INTERNAL BRAND IDENTITY IS CONSISTENTLY REFLECTED IN EXTERNAL BRAND IMAGE?
There’s only one way to truly know what your brand image is: ask customers for their opinions about your brand. That’s why you should ask for feedback. The more open you are to receiving it, the better.
One of the things I love about experiential marketing is that you get out in the field and talk to real consumers. In addition to promoting your products and services — which usually increases sales — you also get the chance to speak with consumers and solicit their real, honest feedback. That will give you a level of insight that’s difficult to acquire from a traditional advertising campaign.
As previously mentioned, surveys and focus groups made up of your target audience are also valuable. The important thing is to accept any patterns that emerge from this data and experiment with solutions. Gathering feedback should be more than just a performance.
LASTLY, RAY, WITH YOUR EXTENSIVE EXPERIENCE IN EVENT PRODUCTION AND EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING, COULD YOU SHARE A PRACTICAL TIP OR ADVICE FOR COMPANIES LOOKING TO BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN THEIR INTENDED BRAND IDENTITY AND THE BRAND IMAGE PERCEIVED BY THEIR TARGET AUDIENCE?
Don’t be afraid to get your staff involved in conversations about brand identity and brand image. When handled correctly, this kind of collaboration will make your team feel empowered and take ownership of your company’s success. It will also create clear alignment throughout the organization. Everyone starts pulling on the rope together.
If you focus on creating a healthy, positive internal culture, then your brand messaging will come across more clearly, consistently, and organically when you enter the field. Nothing will feel forced or fake. Consumers will sense that you’re for real and worthy of their trust. As a result, they will tend to give it to you.