How To Create An Iconic Brand Identity

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Iconic brands are defined as having aspects that contribute to consumer's self-expression and personal identity. Brands whose value to consumers comes primarily from having identity value are said to be ''identity brands.''

Some of these brands have such a strong identity that they become more or less cultural icons which makes them ''iconic brands.'' Examples are: Apple, Nike and Harley Davidson. Many iconic brands include almost ritual-like behavior in purchasing or consuming the products.

There are four key elements to creating iconic brands (Holt 2004):


  1. Necessary conditions - The performance of the product must at least be acceptable, preferably with a reputation of having good quality.
  2. Myth-making - A meaningful storytelling fabricated by cultural insiders. These must be seen as legitimate and respected by consumers for stories to be accepted.
  3. Cultural contradictions - Some kind of mismatch between prevailing ideology and emergent undercurrents in society. In other words a difference with the way consumers are and how they wish they were.
  4. The cultural brand management process - Actively engaging in the myth-making process in making sure the brand maintains its position as an icon.
All companies aspire to build brands that eventually get etched in the culture of the society and become cultural icons. But very few companies are able to achieve this iconic status. Contrary to popular perception, iconicity does not happen by chance, but rather has to be carefully planned and executed. There are three requirements to create an iconic brand:

Create an Identity Myth: For any brand to attain iconic status, it has to create an identity myth. Brands that resonate and show direction to the masses through the brand stories and brand activities get etched into the culture.

Weave Powerful Brand Stories: Great brands always have resonating stories that touch the lives of consumers. These stories could be of the brand's unique history, myth, culture, struggle or underlying philosophy.

Involve Multiple Storytellers: Dissemination of brand information through the many participants of the society is critical for an iconic brand and brand strategy. The four major authors of these brand stories are: companies, the culture industries, intermediaries and customers. By associating the brand, brand strategy and its identity with the prevalent events in the society, these authors create an iconic stature for the brands.

''Iconic'' brands are often automatically confused with iconic design. The two are different, but if connected, can create enormous long-term desire. Because of who they are and what they mean to us, iconic brands need to follow a unique set of principles. Within this, design-as well as communication and innovation-have very unique roles to play. Here is where design jobs, particularly jobs in graphic design and jobs in web design become relevant to building an iconic brand identity.

So what makes an icon? We can see them where there is an unquestionable connection, deep, powerful symbolism and personal and societal impact. Iconic brands like Absolut Vodka, Cadbury's, Calvin Klein, Harley, Nike, Chanel, Levi's, Budweiser and so on all have to face the inevitable-how to evolve, have enduring significance and stay desirable over time.

Iconic design changes can make something more modern and relevant while still staying close to the original. A significantly refreshed design brings the brand forward, yet maintains the key characteristics of the original. A deeper understanding of iconic brands is essential for a designer career and will boost designer employment in industry.
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