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  • Kylegory Giles

Image Trumps Identity and Brand

University of Memphis PRSSA chapter welcomed public relations professional Beena J. White to speak on identity, brand and image.

White is the owner of Cocoabeens Communications, a public relations and consulting firm which she founded in 2007. The motto of her company is “have fun and get things done” because, as she puts it, they’re not having fun when things aren’t getting done. At her firm, she takes an identity approach when she helps clients.

White focused on three concepts: identity, brand and image. She defined identity as “who you are, what you do and why you do it.” Brand is more of “how you express your identity and differentiate yourself” from others, and image is what people “think about you.”

She talked about the similarities and differences between these three concepts, noting that if your brand doesn’t line up with your identity, your image suffers, which leads to a crisis. This relates to the legitimacy that a company establishes over time.

Volkswagen, for instance, was known for being a green company that prided itself on fuel efficiency, causing less pollution than vehicles like Escalades and Hummers. As it turned out, Volkswagen was lying about the standards they followed and were actually doing as much damage to the environment as their previously mentioned counterparts.

The public’s reaction to this crisis relates to emotion. Volkswagen blatantly lied about what was thought to be one of their core values, which tainted their image and made their stakeholders question their identity. Because the crisis originated internally, emotions were higher when this information was released. People were angry that a company they trusted was dishonest, which led to anger and protests against Volkswagen.

Volkswagen is just one example of the many people and organizations that White mentioned. One highlight I took from the lecture is that you should always be consistent and genuine when it comes to your brand. People don’t like uncertainty. Granted, as a public relations professional, you won’t release all the information you know at once, but you should never lie because people are likely to find out.

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