Part one of this two-part series examined the origin of David Aaker’s Brand Vision Modeli and three of its components—the brand essence, core vision elements, and extended vision elements—represented by concentric circles (or ellipses) in the center of the model.
Below the concentric circles sit a second, key piece of the model: four brand vision “perspectives,” each with two or more categories of elements listed underneath.
Brand vision perspectives and elements
In part one, I mentioned that Aaker’s model doesn’t require the inclusion of specific components like brand personality or values. Instead, Aaker encourages the strategist to consider including these categories, but only if they make sense for the brand in question. This is a key distinction between Aaker’s model and many others (e.g., Kapferer’s Brand Identity Prism and Marty Neumeier’s Brand Commitment Matrix). To ensure the brand has been considered from every angle, Aaker recommends strategists try thinking of it from four “perspectives”—as a) a product, b) an organization, c) a person, and d) a symbol—and consider each of 12 element categories broken out across these perspectives. The table below provides an overview of the 12 element categories, organized by perspective; click any category name to see a more detailed description and examples.
|Brand as product|
|Brand as organization|
|Brand as person|
|Brand as symbol|
Quite simply, with what product(s) is the brand associated? This could be either broadly defined (e.g., automobiles) or narrowly defined (e.g., sportscars). So-called “niche brands” may have very narrowly defined product scopes. And defining the scope too narrowly might prevent a brand from reaching its full potential (e.g., What if Nike was still just a shoe brand?). As brands grow, companies often strive to expand their product scope, sometimes through brand extension or brand licensing.
Examples of product scope:
- Saturn: U.S. subcompact
- McDonald’s: Fast food, hamburgers, children’s entertainment
- Apple: consumer electronics and PCs
- Nike: sportswear and sports equipment (not just shoes!)
- Häagen-Dazs: ice-cream
- Band-Aid: adhesive bandages
What is a feature or benefit of the product(s) offered by the brand? Product attributes can provide functional benefits or emotional benefits—perhaps something that the product does better than the competition, or that other products don’t do at all. According to Aaker, the problem with product attributes is that they “tend to be the focus of identity efforts to the exclusion of other perspectives that can add value and distinctiveness to the brand.”ii
Examples of product attributes:
- Tesla’s cars are all-electric.
- Allbirds’ shoes are considered more comfortable than most.
- Norelco’s razors provide the closest shave (via the lift-and-cut system).
- 7-Eleven stores are more convenient than grocery stores.
- McDonalds has “unrivaled global product consistency.”
- Virgin Airlines offers free limousine service to passengers who fly business class.
Where do this brand’s products fall on the quality/value spectrum? Are they known as premium? Affordable? Aaker believes quality governs competition within many industries. In some “competitive arenas,” the highest quality wins. In others, brands must exhibit a minimum level of quality in order to compete at all. Relatedly, some brands (e.g., Walmart) choose to make value or affordability an important part of their identity.
Examples of quality/value:
- Lexus versus Toyota
- Mont Blanc versus Bic pens
- Nieman Marcus versus Kmart
- Chipotle versus Taco Bell
- Equinox versus 24 Hour Fitness
For what are the brand’s products used, or in what context are they used? “Owning” a specific use case, even if it’s not the only purpose for which a product can be used, can work very well as an approach to brand positioning. However, if a brand is too tightly attached to an occasion, it may prove difficult to convince customers to use the brand outside of that occasion.
Examples of associations with use occasions:
- Q-tips are associated with cleaning one’s ears, despite many (safer) uses.
- Snickers want to be known as the candy bar to turn to when feeling hangry.
- Gatorade is used by athletes hoping to maximize their performance.
- For many, Starbucks is used not only as a source of coffee and food, but as a meeting place or ad hoc office.
- Airborne is for an immunity boost when flying.
Who are the brand’s products for? What type of people are associated with the brand? By associating the brand with a particular user type—defined through demographics and/or psychographics—Aaker says a brand “can imply a value proposition and a brand personality.”ii
Examples of associations with users:
- REI is for outdoor enthusiasts.
- Gerber is for babies.
- Friskies is for active cats.
- Yorkie chocolate bars are for men (and definitely not for girls).
From where did the brand originate? The final brand-as-product element category is a link to a country or region. Some parts of the world are associated with luxury, precision, or innovation—noting that a brand hails from one of these places can help imbue that brand with the same qualities. Interestingly, Häagen-Dazs was named to sound Danish (the founder felt Denmark was known for high-quality dairy products). In fact, the founder named the brand by sitting “at the kitchen table for hours saying nonsensical words until he came up with a combination he liked.”iv
Examples of links to countries/regions:
- Apple products are “Designed in California.”
- Shinola is from Detroit.
- Louis Vuitton is French.
- Rolex watches are Swiss.
- Guinness is Irish.
- One might guess Bombay Sapphire is from India, but it isn’t.
The brand-as-organization perspective looks at the people, culture, values, and programs of an organization rather than properties of any product. Organizational attributes are typically more stable than product attributes, and harder for competitors to recreate.
Examples of organization attributes:
- Building a world-class economy car (Saturn)
- Customer focus
- Environmental concern
- Technological commitment
- Local orientation
- Reputation for innovation (e.g., 3M)
According to Aaker, “a brand often needs to make a fundamental identity choice: Should it (1) be a global brand … or (2) try to connect with the local market?”iii While global brands (or brands perceived as global) have size and prestige on their side, they may have trouble positioning themselves as locally relevant. On the other hand, local brands may be able to position as local favorites, but they lack the credibility of global recognition and acclaim.
Examples of local and global brands:
- Lone Star beer (local to Texas) vs. Budweiser
- BYD (Chinese automaker) vs. Nissan
- Peregrine Espresso (local to Washington, D.C.) vs. Starbucks
What are some human traits of the brand? Through visual identity, brand voice, advertising, and other means, a brand can exhibit a personality. Consumers for whom the brand personality resonates may be inclined to associate themselves with the brand—e.g., by buying its products—as a way of expressing their own personality or values. A study by Jennifer Aaker, marketing professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business (and David Aaker’s daughter), identified five dimensions of brand personality: Sincerity, Excitement, Competence, Sophistication, and Ruggedness. Each dimension contains multiple traits, as shown below.
Examples of brand personality:
- Saturn is (was) reliable, down-to-earth, and friendly.
- Harley-Davidson is macho, America-loving, and freedom-seeking.
- McDonald’s is family oriented, all-American, genuine, wholesome, cheerful, and fun.
- Black Velvet (a Canadian whiskey brand) is classy and elegant but friendly and approachable.
What type of person-to-person relationship does the brand hope to emulate? Related to brand personality, brands can mimic real-life relationships, such as those between close friends, family members, or business associates.
Examples of customer/brand relationships:
- Campbell’s Soup is like an old-fashioned mother—down to earth, honest, and always there for you.
- REI is like an outdoor companion—adventurous, athletic, and outdoorsy.
- Lyft is like a cool friend—easygoing, a bit quirky, and happy to help.
Brand-as-symbol is about more than the logo. It includes any visual representation of the brand, such as a character (e.g., GEICO’s Gecko), recognizable packaging (e.g., Toblerone’s triangular box), or an iconic building design (e.g., old Pizza Hut restaurants). Other examples of symbols include unique product design (e.g., the VW Beetle) and people associated with the brand—whether they’re celebrity endorsers (e.g., Aaron Rodgers for State Farm) or famous employees/founders (e.g., Steve Jobs for Apple).
According to Aaker, “symbols are more meaningful if they involve a metaphor.”
Symbols are more meaningful if they involve a metaphor, with the symbol or symbol characteristic representing a functional, emotional, or self-expressive benefit. For instance the Prudential rock is a metaphor for strength, Allstate’s “Good Hands” logo for reliable, caring service, The Pillsbury Doughboy’s soft tummy for freshness, Michael Jordan’s leaping ability for the performance of a Nike, and the Energizer Bunny for long battery life.”
David Aaker, Building Strong Brands
Examples of visual images and metaphors:
- GEICO’s Gecko
- Toblerone’s triangular box
- Pizza Hut’s iconic restaurant roofs
- Volkswagen’s Beetle
- Aaron Rodgers for State Farm
- Steve Jobs for Apple
- Prudential’s rock
- Allstate’s “Good Hands”
- The Pillsbury Doughboy’s soft tummy
- Michael Jordan’s leaping ability for Nike
- The Energizer Bunny
Lastly, what is the brand’s history? A brand’s meaning can be wrapped up in its heritage—a sometimes-powerful blend of backstory and nostalgia. A brand with a storied past, such as a prestigious university or an Americana-oriented brand like Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, or Disney, can put its legacy to work as one element of its identity.
Examples of brand heritage:
- U.S. Marines using the tagline “The few, the proud, the Marines”
- Amtrak reminding customers that “there’s something about a train that’s magic”
- Starbucks’ link to its first coffeehouse in Seattle’s Pike Place market
- Marvel Studios’ opening sequence flipping through old comic book pages
Putting it all together
In this post and part one, I’ve explained the following components of David Aaker’s Brand Vision Model:
- Brand essence
- Core vision elements
- Extended vision elements
- Four brand vision perspectives
- 12 element categories broken out across the four perspectives
You may still be wondering how to use these components in practice. Aaker suggests beginning with research, or “strategic brand analysis,” by assessing customers, competitors, and the existing brand or organization. Based on these inputs, you should be able to identify potential brand vision elements, being sure to consider each of the 12 categories. Through further analysis, which may include workshops or additional research, select the most important elements and categorize them as core—those that are timeless, consistent across markets and products, central to the brand’s meaning, and important to the success of the brand—or extended—those that “provide texture and completeness.”iii Taken together, these elements should feel cohesive and give a clear picture of what the brand stands for. Lastly, in some cases the vision may be summed up in a brand essence—a succinct phrase or statement that captures the brand’s identity.
A complete, coherent Brand Vision Model can serve as a map, providing a clear view of a brand’s meaning. Based on this map, strategists can work to create a compelling brand position or value proposition, as well as a consistent experience for the brand.
Rob Meyerson is a brand consultant, professional namer, and host of the How Brands Are Built podcast. He is also principal and founder of Heirloom, an independent brand strategy and identity firm in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- i Aaker decided to rename the model recently because “identity” is often misconstrued as a reference to a visual identity or logo.
- ii Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success, David Aaker
- iii Building Strong Brands, David Aaker
- iv Häagen-Dazs Wikipedia page
Sources/further reading and listening:
- “David Aaker got religion on the power of stories,” How Brands Are Built podcast episode
- Building Strong Brands, David Aaker
- Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles That Drive Success, David Aaker
- “6 Reasons Your Brand Needs a Brand Identity Model,” David Aaker on the Prophet blog
- “It Starts with a Brand Vision: 6 Key Components of Successful Models,” David Aaker on the Prophet blog
- “How to Build a Successful Brand: 7 Essential Steps,” David Aaker on the Prophet blog
- Aaker Model, Wikipedia