As this series continues, I’ll explore how today, the external identity of a company is shaped less by companies than by consumers. Brands don’t belong just to companies. They belong also to consumers who define a brand’s boundaries, meaning, and even capabilities. Understanding that shift and the realities each brand (and the people who represent them) face will be an easier task if we do a bit of digging into identity, for brands are really becoming external, socially licensed expressions of the identity of a company. The identity of a brand (or a person, for that matter) can be understood through five dimensions.
Or, in outline form:
- Origin: What is the source of our brand’s identity, both internal and external?
- Recognition: How is our brand expressed? How is it recognized or received?
- Intention: What does our brand aspire to? How does it inspire others toward that? What are our intentions, really?
- Sustenance: What sustains our brand’s identity? What gives it drive and motivation? What keeps our brand going?
- Relationship: How does our brand relate to others? How do we treat friends and competitors?
I’ll use Kodak as an example to expand on this framework:
- Origin– Kodak was born from George Eastman’s desire to make photography accessible, but consumers also owned its identity and they defined its limits. Kodak did not recognize this until it was too late.
- Recognition– Kodak became known for demystifying the difficulty of photography and perfecting silver-halide chemistry–attributes that constructed an identity around the attribute of “easy”. However the relevance of these attributes, and the relevance of the brand, was hollowed out as methods of photo capture changed.
- Intention– Kodak’s worthy intention to help people capture memories and make photography easy was lost, and focus began to evolve around the preservation and growth of the Kodak brand and its profitability. When Kodak became self-focused and self-absorbed, aspiration faded.
- Sustenance– Increasingly, Kodak sustained its identity through the narrow confines of self-declaration and the reliance on familiarity. Kodak’s owners lost touch with its relevant purpose to help people to capture memories.
- Relationship– Kodak had a history of bitter competition with and conquest of its rivals. It functioned by secrecy and rigidity. Kodak listened to its consumers, but chose to pursue riches over relationship.