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

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.

Take a comprehensive approach to your brand image. Get started with market research services.

What is the difference between brand image and brand identity? The two are entwined but not interchangeable.

Brand identity is how a company portrays itself to customers through things like its colors, logo, website and personality; it’s how you want your brand to be perceived. Brand image, on the other hand, is how customers actually perceive your brand. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?”

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 touchpoints, and taking additional time to identify and understand what makes your brand unique.

Brand image can change 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,” more recent campaigns, like the apocalypse commercial for WWDC 2017, have poked fun at dependence on technology.

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.

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