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The New Interface – Managing identity and image perceptions

In the previous column, I described the various facets of identity and image. If you did not read that, you will need to read it in order to understand this one. You can find it on my blog.
The object of managing the perception of identity and influence the resulting image is to develop the correct relationship. The relationship should contain the correct emotional content and should be supported by facts, firstly because people may need to use them to defend the brand and secondly because people need the reassurance that there is a factual basis.
As the brand is primarily an emotional beast, even a financial brand, the emotion is critical.
Physique is the first aspect. The physique, or physical experience of the brand, has to live up to the claim of the brand. Using service as an example of this, if a service claims to be helpful, it has to live up to that claim. If a brand claims expertise, don’t send a junior staff member to provide the core of the service or communicate the expertise. If a product claims to be classy, the packaging has to be beautifully designed to suit the aesthetic.
This is where most management of perception stops and amazingly, where many brands fail. Sometimes services aren’t helpful, and sometimes products which claim an aesthetic suffer from very poor design.
The next level is to communicate the personality of the brand. This can be implicit, in the form of statements made using the character of the brand, for instance reliability, friendliness, youth. This can be handled by a competent creative team. The alternative is to go with characterisation, either in the form of a spokesperson (dangerous, because you might end up with someone like Paris Hilton, or discover that the role model is not truly representative of your brand) or a fictional character, such as the housewives that were used to tout household products quite a while ago.
Whatever the choice, your personality will be at the core of the relationship, and every relationship needs a place to begin. Most relationships begin with a notion, so the very important thing is to ask, and this means some kind of research. If the brand is being established or if it is and existing brand that has not been researched, it is important to know what will work best.
You will firstly need to ask how the brand will look as a person (the reflection) and probe that. What is the person’s nature and personality? What environment does the person inhabit? Is it stylish, homely, healthy, natural?
Secondly, find out about the person who will use the brand. It may be helpful to identify  the superficial, such as socio-economic factors and looks, but it will be far more important to question the person’s self image. For instance, the sports car buyer may be middle aged, but may also have the belief that he is young and handsome on a sub conscious level.
Once you have these two, check them against the personality you have already established, and make changes where need be or decide on which aspects of the reflection you are going to emphasise. Then start reflecting them back in the form of various types of communication, affirming what the consumer believes of himself or herself. In this way, the brand can be shown to fit with the consumer and possibly give him or her the reward of taking the steps from the current reality to the idealised self image. That is how brands transform their consumers.
From this first point, things can begin to evolve and the relationship can be developed.
Here’s the caveat. Checking this against the personality is vital. The brand cannot promise what it cannot deliver. If it does, the relationship becomes a disappointment or a betrayal of trust, and the recovery from that will take a large amount of time and money. In other words, ‘walk the walk, then talk the talk’.

In the next column, I’ll look at culture and personality in a bit more depth.

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