David A. Aaker, a marketing professor at the University of California at Berkeley and author of the popular Building Strong Brands (1996), has developed a comprehensive brand identity planning model. At the heart of this model is a four-fold perspective on the concept of a brand. To help ensure that a firm’s brand identity has texture and depth, Aaker advises brand strategists to consider the brand as: 1) a product; 2) an organization; 3) a person; and 4) a symbol. Each perspective is distinct. The purpose of this system is to help brand strategists consider different brand elements and patterns that can help clarify, enrich and differentiate an identity. A more detailed identity will also help guide implementation decisions.cautions that not every brand identity needs to employ all or even several of these perspectives. For some brands, only one will be viable and appropriate. Each organization should, however, consider all of the perspectives and use those deemed helpful in articulating what the brand should stand for in the customer’s mind.
The following briefly characterizes each of the four perspectives Aaker recommends firms take into account in formulating their brand strategy:
The brand-as-product. A core element of a brand’s identity is usually its product thrust, which will affect the type of associations that are desirable and feasible. Attributes directly related to the purchase or use of a product can provide functional benefits and sometimes emotional benefits for customers. A product-related attribute can create a value proposition by offering something extra like features or services, or by offering something better. Aaker argues, however, that the goal of linking a brand with a product class is not to gain recall of a product class when a brand is mentioned. It’s more important, he posits, for customers to remember the brand when there’s a need relevant to the product class.
The brand-as-organization. This perspective focuses on attributes of the organization rather than on those of the product or service. Such organizational attributes as innovation, a drive for quality and concern for the environment are created by the people, culture, values and programs of the company. (Some brand aspects can be described as product attributes in some contexts and organizational attributes in others.) Aaker notes that organizational attributes are more enduring and resistant to competitive claims than product attributes.
The brand-as-person. Like a person, a brand can be perceived as having a unique personality. The brand-as-person perspective suggests a brand identity that is richer and more interesting than one based on product attributes. Aaker cites three ways a brand personality can create a stronger brand: 1) create a self-expressive benefit that becomes a vehicle for customers to express their own personalities; 2) form the basis of a relationship between customers and the brand (in the same way human personalities affect relationships between people); and 3) help communicate a product attribute and thus, contribute to a functional benefit.
The brand-as-symbol. A strong symbol can provide cohesion and structure to an identity and make it much easier to gain recognition and recall. Its presence can be a key ingredient of brand development and its absence can be a substantial handicap. Elevating symbols to the status of being part of the identity reflects their potential power. Aaker highlights three types of symbols: visual imagery, metaphors and the brand heritage.
As suggested by Aaker’s elaborate brand taxonomy, brand identity consists of a core identity and an extended identity. The former represents the timeless essence of the brand. It’s central to both the meaning and success of the brand, and contains the associations that are most likely to remain constant as the brand encompasses new products and travels to new markets. The extended identity, on the other hand, includes elements that provide texture and completeness. It fills in the picture, adding details that help portray what the brand stands for. A reasonable hypothesis, Aaker states, is that within a product class, a larger extended identity means a stronger brand—one that is more memorable, interesting and connected to customers’ lives.