In 1996, Jean-Noël Kapferer aimed to conceptualize what he considers the six elements of a brand’s identity. The Brand Identity Prism works as a diagram to help us understand these elements and how they relate to one another. Together, Kapferer argues, the elements help businesses build strong brands, which in turn helps them communicate clearly and transparently and be easily remembered and recognized.
The key elements of Kapferer’s model are as follows:
According to Kapferer: “Strong brands are capable of weaving all aspects [of the prism] into an effective whole in order to create a concise, clear, and appealing brand identity.”
The Kapferer Brand Identity Prism places these six elements in relation to each other by taking into consideration their position between the business (Sender) and client (Recipient), and vice versa. The areas defined between these points range from internal (Personality, Culture, Self-image) to external (Physique, Relationship, Reflection), and many paths can be drawn to join each area.
Below, I’ll dig into each of these six elements a little further.
The first element refers to the physical characteristics of a brand. Namely, how we define the brand and how it will manifest, including its visual features—visual cues that help consumers identify the brand.
A good example of a brand with distinctive physical characteristics is iPhone. Some ideas that come to mind when we think of iPhone include modern, sleek, and minimalistic. Apple has succeeded in reflecting these attributes, which are its core values, throughout its products. Other common elements of physique include colors, logos, and packaging.
The second element is the brand’s personality or character—the traits of the brand in the eyes of the consumer. One way of understanding this concept would be to imagine your favorite brand as a living thing. What kind of living thing is it? How does it behave?
To convey brand personality, brands may use a specific style of writing, tone, attitude, or colors. For example, Coca-Cola uses its iconic typeface and the color red to communicate happiness and the moments of joy the brand personifies.
According to Kapferer, culture is the set of values that feed into or set a foundation for the brand. In some cases, this will include the culture and values of the brand’s country of origin (e.g., Ferrari is associated with luxury and the Italian tradition of sports cars). In other cases, Culture may have little to do with the brand’s country of origin.
Toyota used culture to establish a set of guiding principles known as “The Toyota Way.” These principles incorporate Japanese cultural concepts, such as “heijunka,” which means “work like the tortoise, not like the hare” and refers to leveling out the workload to minimize waste.
Self-image relates to the way in which customers see themselves in a particular brand. Brands can use self-image to their advantage by incorporating it into their identities. Self-image is like a mirror the target group holds up to itself—by associating themselves with certain brands, they see themselves differently.
For example, BMW India launched a campaign for people who see themselves driving a BMW, now or in the future. The campaign was “Don’t Postpone Joy.”
While the terms sound similar, Self-image and Reflection differ in a noteworthy way: Self-image refers to the customers’ ideas of themselves, whereas Reflection refers to how a brand portrays its target audience. Reflection is a set of stereotypical beliefs or attributes of a brand’s target market, which is often highlighted in ads and other communications.
For example, Coca-Cola and many other soft-drink companies depict their consumer base as fun, friendly teenagers, because doing so creates a desired impression of the soft-drink brand. In reality, consumers of these beverages range far more broadly in both age and personality.
The final element of Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism is about the nature of the relationship between the brand and its consumers, including both abstract aspects of the relationship as well as more tangible aspects, like what specific services are offered. How a brand connects with its audience and the type of relationship it wants to build is entirely up to that brand.
What are the types of services or attitude the brand wants to convey? Client-focused attention to detail? A more aloof attitude? For example, BMW has a serious-but-playful relationship with its customers, whereas Ferrari’s relationship is more serious and exclusive.
The six elements of Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism, when working in sync, can help inform a well-defined, structured brand entity. If the identity is unique, different, and clear about what the brand is trying to communicate, it can become the foundation of a long-lasting brand.
Caileigh Lombard is a senior project lead and strategist consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her most recent work has been with Hero Digital, Sephora, and Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the Bay Area. Caileigh is also hoping to become an avid namer in the future.
- “Brand Identity Kapferer Identity Prism,” Sander Janssens
- Interview with Jean-Noël Kapferer (video), HEC Paris
- “Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism Explained,” Inkbot Design
- “What is Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism and How is It Effective?” Tools4management