Identity, image and reputation: what is the difference?

Identity, image and reputation: what is the difference?

In communication and marketing related content terms like identity, image and reputation are used interchangeably.

Even though the concepts are related, there is still a big difference in their meaning. 

That is why in this blog article, I explain what each of these concepts mean based on the terminology described in the article from Brown, Dacin, Pratt & Whetten (2006).

In their article, Brown et al. (2006) state that you should look at your organization from four different perspectives.


The first perspective is 'Who are we as an organization?'. Here, it is important that the organization is seen by the employees internally. The term that belongs to this perspective is identity. 

The identity of an organization exists of 'CED' core values. CED stands for Central, Enduring and Distinctive. Identification happens when there is an overlap between the core values of the individual (the employee) and the core values of the organization. In this case, the employee feels him or herself part of the group (the organization) and he or she is proud of that. 

The identity of an organization can play an important role in brand management. Identity based brand management assumes an inside-out perspective: strong brands/ organizations are brands/ organizations that are carried by the employees themselves. With the help of internal branding employees can become ambassadors of the brand. If employees externalize (strengthen) the identity, the real identity equals the desired identity and eventually leads to the desired reputation. 


Image consists of two components. The answer to the question 'How does the organization want other people to think about the organization?' is the intended image. The answer to the question 'What does the organization believe about how other people think about the organization?' is the derived image.

Intended image

The intended image can differ for different stakeholder groups. With the consumer the organization might want to come across and qualitative and trendy, but with the supplier the organization might want to come across as trustworthy and financially stable. The organization externalizes the intended image by choosing to communicate or not to communicate certain qualities.

Derived image

The derived image plays a role in the development of the identity. Research suggests that the assumptions about how others look at the organization, can influence the way employees look at it as well. For example, it turns out that when the organization is judged positively in the media, employees feel proud. Employees will identify more strongly with the organization. Organizations can ensure and enhance this by making and distributing snippets internally. 


The last starting point, 'What do stakeholders really think about the organization?', refers to the term reputation. When analyzing the identity and image of your organization you still look at the perspective of the organization, whereas reputation refers to the perspective of the external stakeholder.

Reputation is about the perception of an organization by people outside of the organization. The definition of reputation consists of four elements: it is subjective, dependent on the subject and stakeholder group, somewhat stable, and the image must be compared against a certain standard (such as the competitor or the reputation from 10 years ago). As mentioned earlier, reputation is related to identity. In the most favourable scenario, the core values of an organization (as defined by CED) align with the core values attributed to the organization by external stakeholders (desired reputation). However, it is also possible for stakeholders to have a completely different perception of an organization, despite the communication expressions of an organization.

Conclusion: difference between identity, image and reputation

Below a short conclusion on the difference between the terms identity, image and reputation. 

The identity of an organization is who you are as an organization.

The image of an organization is how you want people perceive the organization (intended image). Also, the view of others can influence an organization (derived image). 

The reputation of an organization is about the perception of people outside the organization.



Brown, T. J., Dacin, P. A., Pratt, M. G., & Whetten, D. A. (2006). Identity, intended image, constructed image, and reputation: An interdisciplinary framework and suggested terminology. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 34, 99-106

Burmann, C., & Zeplin, S. (2005). Building brand commitment: A behavioural approach to internal brand management. Journal of Brand Management, 12, 279-300.