The Brand Identity Prism

“Having an identity means being your true self, driven by a personal goal that is both different from others and resistant to change.” Jean-Noel Kapferer

There are many models and frameworks for branding. Unilever created their own patented “Brand Key”, Proctor and Gamble developed the “Brand Asset Valuator” to assess the value of a brand. Any of these models might be useful, but we think the most useful of all for the small professional services business is The Brand Identity Prism, created by Jean-Noel Kapferer in 2008.

How to Use the Brand Identity Prism

The brand prism consists of six facets, some are under the control of you, the company, others are on the receiving side of your clients and customers. This is what it looks like.

brand identity prism

On the right-hand side, we have the internalised facets. These are things below the surface of visibility but are within your organisation’s control.

The goal in developing the prism for your business is to add three or four (no more than four) words to each facet. No words should be used more than once.

Each word you choose should be as strong and clear as possible. The hallmark of good identity prisms is the strength of the words they use. No wishy-washy, half-baked sentiments will do. It requires conviction.

Here is a brief outline of each facet. You don’t need to do anything yet.


This facet has been defined by the pioneer of branding, David Aaker, as “the set of human characteristics associated with a brand”.

In other words, if the brand were a human being, what personality would they have? This doesn’t necessarily mean our brand’s personality should be exactly the same as yours. Some of our clients, after all, may be similar to us but that doesn’t mean they want a relationship with a brand that is just like them. As professional service providers, this relationship is and will be key to our business success.


The brand’s Culture includes the workplace, staff relationships, morale, corporate values and ideals. In fact, if you are a nonprofit, I would use Values as the section name and think about  culture in those terms.


This is your clients’ view of themselves and is the result of our research, whether that be observation, studies, your own insights, interview and so on. This is where we get under the skin of our targeted client and identify their lifestyles, frustrations, and aspirations. This is our target market from a psychologist’s perspective, not just a demographer’s. It’s not just some checklist of how old they are, where they live and what level of education they have received, it is what they think, what they want, what they feel, what they dream of.


This is how we take these insights of Self-Image and reflect them back to our target market so they can relate to our brand. In fact, we not only have to reflect our client’s self-image, we need to reflect their Ideal Self-Image, being who they would like to be.


This facet describes the way you conduct your contact with your client. What are the contact points. Here, it is useful to do an ‘Experience Audit’ from a client’s point of view. We want our clients to feel a certain way about us and our brand, this is where we design means to achieve this.


Finally, we get to the physical facet. Funnily enough, this is where most people start their brand creation and where they finish! This includes all the physical elements that represent your brand. We can’t develop the physical dimension before we understand its core substance. These things are the opportunity you have to use signs, symbols, colours, shape, texture, type, even music or sound to create brand recognition and convey your brand essence.  We will also include staff uniforms, the servicescape and furniture in this category.

We believe this should be done last when all the other facets of the business and the service design have been thought through. The Physique is the seal of authenticity.

Logo Design

A lot of people think a logo is a brand. It’s not. A brand is a collection of perception about your business and the products and services it offers, how it makes people feel, and the solutions you provide.

The logo is something you see, and if it is recognised, then it unlocks those perceptions (for better or worse).

Designing your logo is your opportunity to use the power of symbols to communicate your vision and your positioning.

The designer’s job, or your job if you do it yourself, is to take the essence of your Vision and what is unique about you, and distil it into it’s purest and simplest form.

People absorb a logo in these steps:

1. Shape

First the SHAPE. The shape should be simple. If you’ve ever taken a yellow pages ad, or put an ad in a school newsletter or in the paper, you often get smearing, so it should reproduce well the size of a 5 cent piece.\

2. Colour

Then the COLOUR – colour is very important. 60% of people’s decision to use a new product or service is based on its colour. If you use a multicoloured logo – keep in mind that an offset printer needs to make a separate plate for each colour so it’ll cost more than a one or two colour logo.

3. Text

Then any positioning word or text.

That’s the order of perception. But first things first. There’s a lot more work to be done on your brand before we can start looking at your logo.


Finally, the brand essence is the ‘soul’ of your brand. It’s the single, pithy description that sums up what you and your business stands for. It goes in the centre of the prism. It may be related to values, lifestyle, heart, or mind.

Examples of the Brand Identity Prism

To get a grasp of how simple and how powerful this brand identity prism can be, let’s consider a few examples you should be familiar with. Some of these are courtesy of Jean-Noel Kapferer and David Aaker, and some have been ‘imagineered’ by us to help elucidate the concepts.

Ralph Lauren, POLO

Visualised from notes by Kapferer (2004).

Ralph Lauren POLO brand identity prism












American Express

This example is the result of various sources including CEO Kenneth Chenault.


Americxan Express brand identity prism













Apple Inc.

Of course, no article on branding would be complete without the obligatory inclusion of Apple, the world’s most valuable brand (valued at $154 billion according to Forbes is 2016), so here it is:

apple brand identity prism













Try this tool yourself. You could download the blank at the top of this article,


  • Only three words or phrases for each facet
  • Don’t repeat any.


What is a Brand?

“Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.” Walter Landor

Your brand is not your logo. This is only the physical aspect – the identifier. In communication theory, it is the “signifier”. It works to signal a set of meanings, promised experiences, expertise, knowledge, creativity or whatever your business stands for.

Each of these things are what is “signified” by the logo. The power of a brand is only released in the mind of the consumer.

The Power of a Strong Brand

Imagine I give you a bar of soap.

It is an ordinary-looking cake of white soap, like hundred of others you have seen.

You smell it. It smells like… soap.

Now think about the soap for a second. What words come to mind?

Maybe the words you thought of were ‘clean’. Fresh. Pure. Hygiene.

What if you were to tell you that the soap is Imperial Leather.

Now what comes to mind?

Is it Luxury? Wealth? A Cruise-liner?

What if I told you that it is not Imperial Leather. It is Body Shop soap.

Now what comes to mind?

Ethical. Compassionate. Not tested on animals. Environmental.

That is a brand.

The Brand is the set of perceptions that are unlocked by your name, your symbol, or your signifiers.

The brand exists in the mind of the prospect or customer.

What the brand unlocks are associations including:

  • Personality
  • Higher Order Goals
  • Archetypal stories and mythology
  • Story of struggle, and success
  • Culture
  • How customers see themselves

A strong brand  works to tap into the collective unconscious and release a set of universal, archetypal stories. A brand is a fairy tale. It has a hero and a villain, a struggle against adversity, human spirit, emotion, vigour, and lasting value.

The strong brand can be globally relevant, because it represents aspects of human experience, which we all share, irrespective of the culture in which we were raised.


Photo by Jess Watters from Pexels