Kapferer's Brand Identity Prism

Identifying Your Brand's Voice

Kapferer's Brand Identity Prism - Identifying Your Brand's Voice

© iStockphoto

Build a strong identity for your brand to encourage customer commitment.

When you stop and think about Apple® products, what comes to mind? Creativity? Innovation? Style?

What about BMW®? You might instantly think of luxury, speed, and performance. Or, perhaps you imagine yourself behind the wheel of one of their cars, whipping around turns and experiencing the thrill of racing down a highway at top speed.

Brand identity is a big part of the success of Apple and BMW. They've created and sustained specific and emotional ideas around their brand, and these ideas resonate strongly with their customers.

A successful brand identity reflects people's values and beliefs, and how they would like to see themselves. However, without a clear and meaningful identity, a brand can quickly fade away.

Kapferer's Brand Identity Prism identifies six key things that you need to think about when developing a brand identity. In this article, we'll look closely at the model, and we'll discuss how you can apply each element to build a strong identity for your brand.


Jean-Noël Kapferer, professor of marketing strategy at the HEC Graduate School of Management in France, developed the Brand Identity Prism and published it in his 1996 book, "Strategic Brand Management."

The Brand Identity Prism identifies six key elements that you should consider when building your brand.

Your customers' own experiences and history shape the way that they see your brand. They're constantly looking for clues about what your brand stands for, and how it will make them feel if they commit to it.

These clues are represented within the prism's six sections: physique, relationship, reflection, self-image, culture, and personality. You can see these in Figure 1, below.

Figure 1: Kapferer's Brand IdentityPrism

Kapferer's Brand Identity Prism Diagram


The prism is also divided in half vertically. Consumers can see the three external elements on the left (physique, relationship, and reflection), but the three elements on the right (self-image, culture, and personality) are internal – they're incorporated within the brand's spirit. (We'll look at the six sections of the prism in more detail, below.)

Both sides must be in place for a brand to create a strong identity, and, for a brand to remain strong, it must stay true to that identity.


The Brand Identity Prism has several important uses.

First, you can use the prism as a checklist to identify your brand's strengths and weaknesses, and you can use it to spot weaknesses in your brand.

You can also use the model to build a brand's identity from the ground up, by structuring your marketing messages and your strategic planning correctly.

Applying the Model

Let's look at each of the six elements in detail.

1. Physique

The foundation of your brand's identity lies in its "physique." The physical characteristics and main purpose of the products or services within your brand evoke certain images, feelings, and ideas in consumers.

For example, the physique of Apple products is a sleek, aesthetic design, which is instantly recognizable. In addition to consumer companies, service organizations also have a physique. For example, American Express® has a physique of high class, superior quality, and excellent standards.

Look at the products or services within your brand. What do they look like? What images and emotions do they evoke? And are those images and emotions aligned with the identity that you want for the brand?

2. Relationship

It's essential to understand the relationship between your customer and your brand, and to know how strong the relationship is.

You can build this relationship around a product and what it means. For example, Gerber® baby food is, at heart, about the relationship between a mother and child.

The relationship can also be based on how your organization supports your customers. For example, retailers like Amazon.com® and Zappos® have relationships built on trust and customer satisfaction, and they do what they can to make sure that their customers are happy.

Take time to think about the relationship that your customers have with your brand. Use techniques like customer experience mapping to see your business from their perspective. How do they see your brand? What kind of relationship do they have with your organization? How are you communicating with them? And how are you supporting and improving the relationship?

3. Reflection

As part of your business plan, you will have already defined your target market; this is the group of consumers who are most likely to enjoy – or find a use for – your brand. However, reflection describes how your customers want to see themselves when they subscribe to your brand – not who they are now, but who they could be with your brand.

For example, the target market for clothing brand Patagonia® is active adults aged 30 to 50. However, the reflection is that Patagonia clothing will help you look and feel your best on your next adventure. When you wear these clothes, you're not afraid to take risks: you're a global trekker who is open to different cultures, and is excited about experiencing them.

Remember, brand reflection should reflect how your customers want to see themselves; it's not about how they are at present.

Take time to think about your brand's reflection. What do your customers imagine when they think about using your product or service? How is your brand helping them achieve their hopes and dreams? Once you've identified your brand's reflection, make sure that it's embodied in your marketing strategy.

Free "Build a Positive Team" Toolkit

When you join the Mind Tools Club before midnight PST September 27

Find out more

4. Self-Image

If your brand "reflection" is how customers want to see themselves outwardly, then "self-image" is how they currently see themselves, inwardly.

For example, parents may choose Volvo® cars if they see themselves as responsible and environmentally conscious, and if they prioritize their children's safety above other factors. And, professionals who feel that they've reached the pinnacle of success often choose to write with a Mont Blanc® pen.

Revisit your target market and analyze how consumers might see themselves on a deeper level. Divide your target market into smaller groups based on interests and values. How can your brand address these deeply held needs and interests in a focused way? (Market segmentation may help you zero in on the perspectives of different groups of consumers.)

5. Culture

Your brand has its own culture, with its own values, energy, and beliefs. When shaped with intention and focus, your brand's culture can become a source of inspiration for your customers, and it's also a major part of your unique selling proposition (USP).

For example, Southwest Airlines'® culture is focused on fun, creativity, and customer satisfaction. Nike's® culture is built on individual empowerment and a healthy, active lifestyle.

Your brand's culture is an important part of your marketing strategy, and all of your communications should reflect it. The more that your customers recognize and identify with your culture, the stronger your brand will be.

Use the Competing Values Framework and The Cultural Web to think about your current corporate culture. You should also identify your brand's values , and make sure that these values are part of your brand's marketing. (Clearly, you have a problem if there's a mismatch between company and brand values!)

6. Personality

The last element in the Brand Identity Prism is personality. You create your brand's personality and character with advertising, communication, and corporate culture.

For example, the personality of Peugeot® cars is conservative and reliable; the personality of Porsche® is rich and racy; and the personality of Land Rover® is adventurous and authentic. All three are automobile manufacturers, but each of them has a distinctly different personality.

Think of your brand's personality as you might think of a person's identity. What is your brand like? What is its character? How does your brand talk to consumers? And is your brand's personality in line with how you want consumers to see you?

Key Points

Jean-Noël Kapferer developed the Brand Identity Prism and published it in his 1996 book, "Strategic Brand Management." The prism outlines six key elements that are essential for building a strong brand identity. These six elements are:

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

You can use the Brand Identity Prism as a checklist for identifying the strengths and weaknesses of your brand, or to spot any holes in your identity. You can also use the prism to build a brand's identity from the ground up.