What Is Brand Vision?

Brand vision refers to the ideas behind a brand that help guide the future. When the brand vision clicks, it reflects and supports the business strategy, differentiates from competitors, resonates with customers, energizes and inspires employees and partners, and precipitates a gush of ideas for marketing programs. When absent or superficial, the brand will drift aimlessly and marketing programs are likely to be inconsistent and ineffective.

The Importance of Brand Vision

As I was writing my latest book, Aaker on Branding: 20 Principles that Drive Success, I realized two things:

First, brand identity is the cornerstone of brand strategy and brand building. You need an articulated description of the aspirational image for the brand, what you want the brand to stand for in the eyes of customers and employees. That description drives the brand-building component of the marketing program, and greatly influences the rest of your brand’s activity. In fact, seven of the 20 principles in my book are centered on getting the brand identity concept right.

Second, I had a chance to re-label brand identity as “brand vision,” something I had long wanted to do. In golf, we call that a do-over. I had been stuck with the term brand identity, because it was described in two of my previous books and countless articles I’ve written in the past. Now in this new book, I could finally change the label to “brand vision.” This term better captures the strategic, aspirational nature of the concept. The word “identity” has less energy and too often creates confusion because for some, identity refers to the brand’s logo and visual identity as supported by graphic design.

When the brand vision clicks, it will reflect and support the business strategy, differentiate from competitors, resonate with customers, energize and inspire employees and partners, and precipitate a gush of ideas for marketing programs. When absent or superficial, the brand will drift aimlessly and marketing programs are likely to be inconsistent and ineffective.

The brand vision model (formerly the brand identity model) is one structural framework for the development of a brand vision with a point of view that distinguishes it from others in several ways:

The Brand Vision Model: 6 Key Components

The Brand Vision Model directs you through the process of defining your brand vision and incorporating it fully into your business. Keep these six components in mind:

1. Defining Your Brand Vision

It may be based on six to 12 vision elements. Most brands cannot be defined by a single thought or phrase, and the quest to find this magic brand concept can be fruitless or, worse, can leave the brand with an incomplete vision missing some relevant elements. The vision elements are prioritized into the two to five that are the most compelling and differentiating, termed the “core vision elements,” while the others are labeled “extended vision elements.”

The core elements will reflect the value propositions going forward and drive the brand-building programs and initiatives.

2. Incorporating Extended Vision Elements

They add texture to the brand vision, allowing most strategists to make better judgments as to whether a program is “on brand.” The extended vision affords a home for important aspects of the brand, such as a brand personality, that may not merit being a core vision element but are crucial for success. Such elements can and should influence branding programs.

Too often during the process of creating a brand vision, a person’s nominee for an aspiration brand association is dismissed because it could not be a centerpiece of the brand. When such an idea can be placed in the extended vision, the discussion can go forward. An extended vision element sometimes evolves into a core element, and without staying visible throughout the process that would not happen.

3. Selecting Unique Brand Vision Dimensions

Brand dimensions that are relevant for the context at hand are the dimensions that should be selected. And contexts vary. Organizational values and programs are likely to be important for service and B2B firms, but not for consumer package goods. Innovation is likely to be important for high-tech brands, but less so for packaged goods brands. Personality is often more important for durables, and less so for corporate brands. The dimensions that are employed will be a function of the marketplace, the strategy, the competition, the customers, the organization and the brand.

4. Keeping the Brand Vision Aspirational

It is the association the brand needs to go forward given its current and future business strategy. Too often, a brand executive feels constrained and uncomfortable going beyond what the brand currently has permission to do. Yet most brands need to improve on some dimensions to compete and add new dimensions in order to create new growth platforms. A brand that has plans to extend to a new category, for example, will probably need to go beyond the current image.

5. Representing a Central Theme of the Brand Vision

When the right brand essence is found, it can be magic in terms of internal communication, inspiration to employees and partners, and guiding programs. Consider “Transforming Futures,” the brand essence of the London School of Business, “Ideas for Life” for Panasonic, or “Family Magic” for Disneyland. In each case, the essence provides an umbrella over what the brand aspires to do. The essence should always be sought.

However, there are times in which it actually gets in the way and is better omitted. One B2B brand, Mobil (now ExxonMobil), had leadership, partnership and trust as the core brand vision elements. Forcing an essence on this brand would likely be awkward. If the essence does not fit or is not compelling, it will soak up all the energy in the room. In these cases, the core vision elements are better brand drivers.

6. Using Brand Position as a Short-Term Communication Guide for Reaching Your Target Audience

The current positioning often emphasizes the brand vision elements that are credible and deliverable. As organizational capabilities and programs emerge, or as markets change, the positioning message might evolve or change. The centerpiece of the position is often a tagline communicated externally, that need not and usually does not correspond to the brand essence, which is an internally communicated concept.

Final Thoughts

Get the brand vision right and break out internal and external brand building programs that are “on-brand,” and you will inevitably become the leading brand you’re aspiring to be.

A good example to look at is the Berkeley-Haas School, which used solid research, inputs from stakeholders, school culture and strengths, and a very involved Dean to establish their brand vision. Putting the key ideas behind their brand— questioning the status quo, having confidence without attitude, being a lifelong student, and thinking beyond yourself— at the forefront of their operations resulted in more than a communication guide, but in extensive changes in programs and how they are presented.

Learn more about creating successful brand visions that inspire customers and employees.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse, where you can follow David Aaker’s thinking.

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  1. I appreciate David’s work and have used his books for years, however I have to question changing the term Brand Identity to Brand Vision. The work ‘vision’ implies that it is something the brand wants to become one day, not what it is authentic about it today. I appreciate the confusion that the word ‘identity’ causes, I am always having to educate clients about the wider meaning of the word, but would maintain that ‘vision’ is less accurate.

    1. You are right about the identity, it does mean who you are and what you want to be. That is why I chose it in the first place. But, it does get confused by many brand specialists that have used it to mean the logo and other visuals. Vision is aspirational and relatively unambiguous, so I made the change, but I am sure that most users still use identity.