Brand Identity vs. Self-Concept



What is the Difference between Brand Identity & Self Concept?


Brand identity and self-concept seem to be pretty much the same thing: In psychology, ‘identity’ is also referred to as ‘self-concept’. A person’s self-concept refers to her/his perceptions about who s/he is (attributes, self-worth, etc.) and who s/he wishes to become (Rogers, 1959). This short definition suggests that there are different types of self-concept (see Figure below).



The Types of Self Concept


But the key point here is: Brand identity represents not the actual, but the ideal (social) self. It should not describe what a brand actually stands for today, but instead should represent...

  1. The ideal self – what brand managers wish their brand to become in the future and
  2. The ideal social self – how they would like the brand to be seen by their target groups.

Brand identity is goal-driven – it serves as a guiding star for brand managers.



The Interplay between Brand and Customer Identity

Because of the basic human need for self-consistency, people are motivated to consume brands that they feel are consistent with their self-concepts. They are less drawn to brands that have no relevance to their self-concepts – or to those that appear contradictory.  


Because of the basic human need for self-esteem and personal growth, we are all motivated to close the gap between our actual and ideal selves via discrepancy-reducing behaviors (Higgins 1987). One particularly popular way is through buying new stuff. Depending on their desired self, some people must have a Hermès Kelly bag, some swear by their Toyota Prius, and some don't want to miss their organic supermarket.



Closing the Gap between actual and desired Self



Clothing, housing, and automobiles are all acquired as a 'second skin' in which others may see us. Consumption of such products is an expression of people's self-concepts and a form of impression management (Ward and Dahl, 2014). People often perceive such possessions even as part of their self (called extended self; Belk, 1988). Brands can provide with their products the means for their customers to move closer to a higher goal - to become the person they want to be.

Crafting a meaningful brand identity is, therefore, an important prerequisite to attract your target customers.



The bottom line: Brand identity does not represent what your brand is, but what you want it to be.









Source: Heine, K. (2019) Build a Brand to Change your World. Upmarkit: Tallinn.

Belk, R.W. (1988) Possessions and the Extended Self. Journal of Consumer Research 15: 139-168; Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340; Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and interpersonal Relationships as developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the person and the social Context. New York: McGraw Hill; Ward, M.K. and Dahl, D.W. (2014) Should the Devil Sell Prada? Retail Rejection Increases Aspiring Consumers’ Desire for the Brand. Journal of Consumer Research, 41(3): 590-609.

Image sources: Image of a man in front of a mirror: Iryna Kuznetsova / Shutterstock; Figure about the Types of Self Concept: A dreaming man: Advent / Shutterstock; Animation about the actual/ideal self: All Pixabay: Stick figure by OpenClipart-Vectors; Cucumber by Momentmal; Handbag by czarownica; Yacht by Bumiputra.