Learn the differences between a brand, a brand identity, brand design, branding, and even marketing for companies, products, and people.
According to Wikipedia, the definition of brand is “a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.” While it may have fit the definition of a brand at one time, in today’s omnichannel world, it’s no longer accurate. Over the years, the meaning of the word has transcended its simplest definitions to take on a much broader, ubiquitous connotation.
These days, everyone tosses around the word brand but few actually understand its nuances so in this post, I’m breaking it down to define some common brand terms and answer the questions:
- What is a brand?
- What is a brand identity?
- What is brand design?
- What is branding?
Let’s dive in…
What Is A Brand?
Brand refers to the reputation associated with, experiences had with, emotions tied to, and perceptions of an entity.
A brand encompasses every experience a customer, prospect, vendor, partner, or other person has with you, your business, product or service, online, offline, or in person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. It’s the feeling someone has in their gut when they think about a company, product, or person.
“A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
The reality is that a brand can be shaped with a strong brand identity, consistent brand design, and strategic branding efforts, but it is truly defined by the audience and customers — those interacting with the brand. A person’s relationship with a brand is what drives engagement, creates meaning, trust, loyalty, and inspires action.
What Is A Brand Identity
A brand identity is what most people think of when they think of a brand. It’s the primary visual language that identifies a specific company, product, or person and how a brand is distinguished from other companies, products, and people.
“Brand identity is ‘the outward expression of a brand, including its trademark, name, communications, and visual appearance.'”
A brand’s identity is its image and visual differentiation. Creating the identity for a brand means defining and creating the following elements:
- Color palette
All of the items included in a brand identity package are then assembled in a brand style guide or brand manual that explains the dos and don’ts for the brand’s logo marks and explains the specific details and usage guidelines for every visual element of the brand.
A style guide ensures that anyone creating on behalf of the brand understands the brand and anything created is consistent with all other existing brand items.
Once the brand is designed and the style guide is created, an identity package, also called a stationery package, is designed. The core identity package for a brand typically includes items like a business card, letterhead, envelope, notecard, and slide deck template.
What Is Brand Design?
Brand design builds upon the foundation laid by the brand identity design and style guide. It translates brand guidelines into all of the on-brand supporting graphics, items, and materials that will be used to market and promote the brand.
Brand design extends the visual brand language into things like:
- Branded apparel, stickers, and swag
- Email marketing templates and newsletters
- Video cover images
- Social media cover images and newsfeed graphics
- Product and packaging design
- Postcards, brochures, and flyers
- Promotional materials and advertising
- Digital backgrounds
- Workbooks and worksheets
- Signage, booths, and banners
- And more…
Many businesses create marketing materials on the fly, as needed, without much consideration given to consistency. A strong commitment to consistent brand design ensures that everything put out into the world to represent a brand is clear, consistent, and recognizable.
What Is Branding?
The word brand, as a noun, is a thing: a perception, emotion, experience, thought, or opinion about a company, product, or person. The word branding is a verb, which makes it an action: everything done on behalf of a brand to shape how it is viewed, understood, perceived, and remembered by its audience and customers.
“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”
Effective branding reinforces capabilities and differentiation, communicates the messaging and mission, and keeps a brand top of mind.
It’s a long-term strategy that focuses on:
- Embodying the brand’s core values
- Solidifying a market position
- Establishing expertise and creating authority
- Shaping beliefs, perceptions, and mindsets
- Making connections and forming relationships
- Building an undeniable reputation
- Increasing expertise in a specific niche
- Becoming known for something
- Creating loyal customers, fans, and evangelists
The benefits of successful branding efforts include:
- Attracting ideal clients/customers
- Shortening the sales cycle
- Increasing brand value and fees
Now, you might be reading this and thinking, “Gee, this sounds remarkably like marketing. How are branding and marketing different?” While there will always be some overlap, here’s the simplest breakout of the difference between marketing and branding:
- Branding is all about trust and reputation.
It’s everything done to establish awesomeness, create fans, inspire loyalty, and make meaningful, emotional connections.
- Marketing is all about conversions and sales.
It’s everything done to gain traction, build an audience, grow an email list, inspire action, increase conversions, and make sales.
Brand Building Is Like Creating A Restaurant
If you’re still unsure how each different part of brand-building works together, consider this example of how it applies to a restaurant:
- The brand identity is the design of the restaurant: It includes the exterior elevation, floorplan, and core and design decisions for things like building materials, hardscape, cabinetry, countertops, and flooring, as well as the creation of the core menu items.
- The brand design is the interior design and decor: It includes the wall colors, window treatments, artwork, furniture, serve ware, and decor, as well as the uniforms and menus.
- The branding is the atmosphere and service: It’s everything done by the restaurant to stand out from the competition and make sure customers have an amazing experience, from great food and fast service to cleanliness and staff friendliness.
- The marketing is what gets people in the door: It’s the advertising, happy hour deals, special events and promotions, limited-time menu items, coupons, live music, and more.
- The brand is what people think of the restaurant: It’s what people say about the restaurant and how they feel about their experience, as well as their opinions on the quality of the food and the service received.
If people have an extraordinary experience at a restaurant, they’ll tell everyone they know about it, recommend the restaurant to friends, and go back again and again. If their experience leaves them unsatisfied, frustrated, or regretful, they’ll tell people that too.
The same is true for a brand — your personal brand.
As Warren Buffett says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
So think about your brand. Consider your reputation and how you are perceived. Think about the experiences your clients and customers have. Evaluate how you’re showing up in the world. If what you’re saying and doing doesn’t align with what your audience understands and experiences, it will create a disconnect, and ultimately, damage your brand’s reputation.
If you need to make a few changes, it may be time to revisit your core brand identity and supporting brand design, branding, and marketing.