Measuring The Strength Of Brand Identity

Guest AuthorFebruary 24, 20103 min

Ever wonder what is really behind this thing we call “identity? “

It’s one of those words that attracts a variety of meanings, ranging from a company’s name and logo, to its business definition (Fuji: We’re a digital imaging company), to its image in the marketplace, to its values.

Sometimes, executives manage to go a level deeper and talk about identity, their company’s, and even their own, as the unique characteristics that define how they create value in the world. From this vantage point, identity provides the seeds of differentiation. Ahhh. I think these guys may be on to something.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in; if you’re going to successfully re-shape your brand, you need to start by knowing who you are. This imperative isn’t just a nice-to-have; it’s a must-have, which we discovered recently through a research study, the Identity Impact Survey, that quantitatively demonstrates the impact of identity strength, organizational and individual, on employee engagement and business performance. The key findings of the survey, which included nearly 2,000 participants across five diverse companies and industries, were dramatic.

  • Increases in identity strength translate into predictable increases in revenue and other economic benefits.
  • Organizational identity strength is more influential than individual identity strength in driving employee engagement and business performance. Their combined effect, however, is greater than either one alone.
  • Although organizational identity emerges as a prime performance driver, employees don’t typically think that their organization actually has a strong identity.

The last finding made me shudder: Organizational identity strength has a major impact on performance, but most people don’t believe their company has a strong identity. Now, there’s a gap to be reckoned with! The implications get worse. What we found was that for all the innovative workplace activities companies use to boost engagement, better relations with one’s boss, more recognition, more work-life balance, none of them can make up for low identity strength. What’s a smart executive to do?

That question brings me back to brand. If there’s one management portal companies have for building identity strength, it’s their brand. Not brand as a measure of consumer attitudes, but brand as the vessel that links the company’s identity to how it goes to market, starting with how employees contribute to building brand success. Call it branding from the inside-out, rather than outside-in.

Our research offered many insights into the power of identity as a performance lever that executives can actually control. One of the most useful analysis in this regard was determining where identity strength comes from. What we learned is that it comes from eight building blocks, which constitute the primary “muscles” that account for identity strength and resultant business performance.

These building blocks of identity include: autonomy, differentiation, change, stewardship, purpose, alignment, brand and sustainability. While brand is ultimately only one of eight factors, it is still the best place to start when seeking to build identity strength. That”s because brand reflects, and affects, all parts of the business, simultaneously. (Just ask Starbucks, Toyota, IBM or Disney.)

One of our aims in conducting the survey was to develop a yardstick to measure identity strength, and its performance ramifications, in one number. Thus, was born “IdentityiQ.” Derived from the dynamics of human IQ testing, this simple yardstick gives executives a quick, clear read on performance that can be linked to strength or weakness on several key leadership measures including:

– Current financial performance
– Strategy deployment
– Innovation
– Brand
– Culture
– Investment value

What we’ve learned about identity strength through our research can reshape how companies approach their branding challenges. And it can give business leaders a new way to address employee engagement and business performance.

Someone once asked me who my heroes are, professionally speaking. After a bit of thought, and naming my usual suspects- Peter Drucker, Abraham Maslow, Jim Collins – I came up with one more; maybe the oldest brand consultant in history: Socrates, who famously said, Know Thyself. He was right. That’s where success begins.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Larry Ackerman, President, The Identity Circle

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  • Calvin Bacon

    February 24, 2010 at 4:27 pm


    Did you have any small businesses in your sample? We know that most of the companies in America are small businesses, but when I look at the list of building blocks, I wonder how many small businesses are doing well in any of these. Is there anyway to manage these well on a small scale?

  • Rob Wood

    February 25, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Great blog!

    Holiday Inn are a great example of ‘branding from the inside-out, rather than outside-in’. Before any of their hotels can be officially ‘rebadged’ each hotel has to undergo a new staff training programme, achieve a threshold level of customer satisfaction and implement new design standards throughout their hotel.

    A great step towards improving identity strength.

  • Larry Ackerman

    February 25, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Hello Calvin,

    Thanks for your question. It’s a good one. The answer is, yes. Our study included nearly 2,000 respondents across 5 companies, ranging in size from $50 million to over $8 billion. (There was another in the study that was about $65 million).

    I seriously doubt that many smaller companies are “doing well” in these areas. Not because they can’t; but because they simply aren’t aware of these building blocks, at least, not in this form. But that’s easy to fix.

    More important, there is no reason why small companies can’t actively manage these building blocks to their advantage – now and for the future. Frankly, if they did, it would create a more stable foundation for profitable growth.

    Hope that helps. If you have more questions, fire away. Larry

  • Helene Finidori

    April 11, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    Hi Larry,

    You hit the right spot here.

    I think the focus on identity allows the development of a platform around which strategy, brand and culture can be shaped. It addresses a concern of many branding agencies that try to adopt an integrated approach: widen the scope of branding towards strategy formation and shaping cultures, which is sometimes difficult given the functional and budgetary barriers between strategy, marcom and HR.

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