WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN BRAND AND IDENTITY? The concept of branding has become so central to discussions of marketing that we must all know what it means. Or do we? In a world where a lot of companies seem to live only for their brands, you occasionally have to wonder what lies at the heart of the enterprise. A corporation like, say, The New York Times Company means something larger, more important, than what we would normally call a brand. Nike, by contrast, is a brand. But if there is a distinction, what's the dividing line? A couple of academics with quite different backgrounds – Hamid Bouchikhi of Essec in France and John Kimberly at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania – make the case for a "soul" of the corporation. In an interview, Kimberly said that soul is tied up in the company's identity. "Companies can have a variety of phenomena in which their identity is anchored: It may be a brand, it may be a mission, it may be a particular form of business. But every company has a constellation of things which, together, define an answer to the question, Who are we?'," he said.
How does identity become a source of competitive advantage? Kimberly says identity "acts as a focal point for people's motivation and energy", creating convergence internally around this questions of "Who are we?" and "Why are we here?" Kimberly continues: "What that does is act as a force for bringing people together around a common purpose. And at the end of the day, that's what makes a company go, when people come together around a common purpose and are motivated in the same direction. It sounds very simple. Of course, it's a lot more complex than that, but at the most general level, that is, I think, the answer to the question," he said.
The two scholars have teamed up for a book on these ideas, giving examples of companies like TCL and Lenovo, whose brands mean little but which have identities, and those like Harley Davidson, where the brand and identity merge. "And in the mind of the consumer, when you buy a Harley-Davidson, you're buying into the organization that is behind the brand," Kimberly says.
Perhaps. Remember that a lot of Harley Davidson merchandise is made by organisations that have nothing to do with motorcycles but who merely license the brand. Consumers are buying the lifestyle, but are they really buying into the organisation? Or is the organisation – internally – struggling to make sure it still buys into the consumer's image of the brand? If so, where is that "soul" Bouchikhi and Kimberly think they've found?
Source documents: The interview and podcast are available from the Knowledge@Wharton website. You can also buy the book The Soul of the Corporation by Hamid Bouchikhi and John Kimberly.
04 January 2008