In today’s consumerist age, we hear the terms “brand”, “branding” and “brand identity” thrown around a lot, and at times used interchangeably – but did you know that they don’t actually mean the same thing?
In today’s post, I share some key differences between these commonly-used (and sometimes, misused) terms so that anyone who’s new to this can understand branding that much better. And if you’re looking for tips on how to create a brand, I hope some of the points I share at the end will help you out, too.
I’d like to start with one of my favourite branding expert’s definitions of what a brand is not. Marty Neumeier, famed author of The Brand Gap suggests that a brand is neither a logo, nor a product; neither a promise, nor an impression. Neumeier doesn’t mean to be difficult, of course. He’s basically stating it as it is. Casting out poor examples of what brands have typically been described as. Well, if it’s neither this nor that – what is a brand then?
We encounter hundreds if not thousands of brands everyday without realising it. So many brands, in fact, that only the strongest, most prominent ones will spring to mind when forced to name our favourite brand.
Go on then, take a stab at it.
Is it a brand that you recently interacted with? Or is it a brand that you trust and rely on the most? What specific values or traits do you like about the brand you subconsciously chose?
Honestly, it doesn’t really matter which brand comes to mind because every memorable brand will have its strengths. To keep it simple, you could define a brand as the reputation of a product or service it has garnered over time. Of course, Neumeier describes it more understatedly as a person’s “gut feeling” about a product or service. It’s hard to disagree because it just. makes. sense. Especially when every person holds a different meaning to the brand they’re interacting with.
So if the meaning of a brand differs from person to person, why do companies continue to spend so much valuable time and money on branding?
Well, because – as Neumeier puts it, brands are what consumers say it is and not the other way around, and so the role of branding has evolved to help influence both the consumers’ gut-feeling and how they advocate for a brand – and in my opinion, probably way before they come within a foot of it.
Let’s just say that branding is the process of actively building a distinctive brand. It is the concerted effort of carefully interlacing business strategies with company culture; artfully weaving personality into visual and verbal identities; and systematically deploying marketing activities based on well-thought plans – all with the aim of building awareness surrounding your brand – and which eventually affects your brand’s reputation.
You can be sure that a fair amount of work goes into the branding journey including things like market research and competitor analysis – the kinds of terms I’m trying hard to avoid today because they just don’t sound sexy. (They do of course sound a little geeky – and maybe when I’m in the mood for such a post in the near future, I’ll write a glossary about it.)
Often however, the process of branding is mistakenly reduced to the mere creation of a brand identity without a broader strategy. Being careful not to harm the livelihoods of fellow graphic designers out there – it’s just safe to say that brands that look polished and well put together are usually supported by a strong team of designers – business, visual and communication designers – all of whom have a good grasp of what it takes to do good branding.
So let’s talk a little about what brand identity is so that you know the difference.
Brand identity can be defined as the tangible expressions of your brand and typically include your logo, colour palette, patterns and shapes, typography choices and tone of voice. As individual components, these elements mean very little but when organised into a cohesive design system, these elements work together to help consumers recognise your brand.
Your logo forms the cornerstone of your brand identity and is the most immediate visual representation of your company — think of Nike’s swoosh or McDonald’s golden arches.
Because it’s widely known that colours can affect a person’s mood, choosing the right colours for your brand will likely evoke the right emotions you want from your audience, too – think of Coca Cola’s bright red that inspires activity and a burst of energy or Apple’s sleek silver that feels minimalist and hi-tech.
Patterns and Shapes
Like colours, your perception of a particular brand may be influenced by the dominant patterns or shapes that it features. For instance, round shapes may represent wholeness and unity – think of Starbucks and the social moments it inspires; squares or more structured shapes may represent stability and reliability – think of BBC’s logo; while lines may suggest speed or precision – think of Adidas’ line of shoes or Gillette’s razors.
Better known as “font” or “type”, the typography set you choose will say a lot about your brand. We’ll share more about the different typography styles you can select from and how to pair them in a separate post. As a general rule of thumb, using a consistent set of fonts on your stationery, website or marketing material will instill a sense of familiarity with your brand.
Tone of Voice
While good brand design will set a great first impression, it’s equally important to give your brand a personality and voice. If you need help imagining how your brand should “behave” or sound, try thinking of your brand as a person. Is your brand male or female, youthful or mature, casual or measured? Being able to identify your brand’s personality will point you in the right direction when it comes to developing a tone of voice.
Now, I’ve only defined the terms “brand”, “branding” and “brand identity” in this post. This means we’ve only scratched the surface. But hey, don’t worry – I aim to share a lot more in the coming posts including understanding brand strategy, what goes into creating memorable brand touchpoints, how to effectively distribute and manage your brand as your company grows and I’ll certainly discuss the topic of brand identity in more detail.
I typically share my take on branding and design but one thing I love about designers is that we’re a mixed bag. So if there are other topics surrounding branding, design or marketing that you might be interested in for us to share or would like to share, write me a comment and I’ll reply. Don’t be a stranger.
Nadine is the Creative Director of The Outsiders Co. and is a nonconforming, divergent thinker with a conviction that effective branding is the cornerstone to a successful business.
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