There are a few misconceptions about the words brand, branding, and brand identity. These 3 terms are frequently considered identical and often used as synonyms. In reality, they’re not, there are major differences.
Without a brand, there’s no branding. Without branding, there’s no brand identity. Without a solid brand identity, your branding will be unfit, and as a result, your brand will be unsuccessful.
That’s right — all three need each other to fully exist and build a successful brand.
So what, exactly, are those differences?
What is a Brand?
A brand is a foundation every company needs to have in place before building its brand identity and branding. A brand consists of the following key aspects:
Brand mission. What does the company do? What impact does it have? What’s the goal? How exactly is it helping its target audience?
Brand values. What does the company stand for? What makes it do what it does every day and how does it achieve it? It needs to be actionable, unique, timeless, memorable, and of course well defined.
Point of difference. What are the attributes and benefits that customers strongly associate with the brand, which they could not find with a competitive brand? What makes customers come back repeatedly? What’s the uniqueness?
Products and/or services. What products or services are offered to customers? What is the added value for them?
The modern word ‘brand’ comes from the old Norse word, ‘Brandr’, which meant ‘to burn’. It refers to the old tradition when cattle were marked with a hot iron, either with a sign or a combination of alphabets and numbers so they could be identified. This led many to associate the brand with a name or logo and, more recently, to a tagline or a slogan.
However, a brand isn’t a name, a logo, a tagline, or a slogan. Neither it is a product, advertising campaign, or website. These are key marketing and communication elements of a brand that are used to shape people’s feelings, but a brand is much more than that.
A brand is the difference between a computer and my MacBook, between a coffee machine and my Nespresso. How we relate to brands is a lot about how we relate to people, just like when we meet someone for the first time, we start having first impressions about them.
It’s the emotional connection companies try to create with us to differentiate themselves from competitors and the never-ending quest of being remembered. These perceptions, ideas, and feelings we have as customers are personal. This emotional sphere is what makes us choose a brand over another.
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon
People fall in love with brands. In other words, a brand is what can't be seen.
Even if companies can influence the experiences we have with their brand, they don’t have total control over it, which is why delivering on their brand promise to their customer is key. Actions speak louder than words!
How can this be done? It’s the creative partnership between a company’s visual appearance (brand identity) and brand experience (branding).
What is a Brand Identity?
If a brand is what can’t be seen, on the contrary, brand identity is everything that can be seen. It’s the physical and visual presence of a brand.
A strong brand identity is very powerful because it is not designed for aesthetic purposes only, it is a creative and strategic process. It awakens many, sometimes, all our senses using various elements with the aim to communicate a clear message in a familiar and meaningful way.
To only name a few…colors, logo, typography, a slogan, website, packaging, photography, illustrations, music, olfactory signature, motion graphics are all elements that constitute a brand identity. The amount of elements used entirely depends on how many touchpoints need to be designed for the brand to reach its customers. These elements are connected to one another in a structured way so that they can be understood by customers.
Inside a company, it forms a Brand Identity Guide to ensure that all branding elements and visual assets are used correctly. Every company should have one in order to make sure all branding efforts are in line with the brand identity.
A successful brand identity = consistency.
When a brand identity is well defined, cohesive and unique, the more likely the brand will stand out from the crowd, be recognised and admired.
So what on earth is Branding?
While it’s the customers who decide what a brand really is, the actions carried out by a company in order to raise awareness and influence customers’ opinion are called: Branding.
Branding is the entire experience created around a company. Every single touchpoint is carefully designed to evoke a response when customers are in contact with the brand.
It is a powerful brand management tool used to communicate a company’s brand characteristics, values, essence, mission, style — basically everything that makes it unique; clearly advertising what the brand is and is not. This can be done in many shapes and forms.
It’s about taking every opportunity to express why people should choose a brand over another by giving meaning to it. It’s this differentiation that defines a company and helps it stand out. It might not always translate as desired in the minds of customers, but the more coherent, present and relevant a brand is in peoples’ lives, the more likely it will achieve its goals.
There’s no one fits all solution for branding; the most efficient branding strategy is going to depend on the brand and target audience.
Globally, branding helps companies lead, outrun the competition, and give employees the best tools to reach customers.
So, let’s recap.
All three B’s are interdependent.
Brand: how people perceive a company.
Brand identity: the visual elements designed by a company to share an image and message that together create a consistent brand.
Branding: the actions taken to shape that brand perception, build awareness, stimulate the emotional component and make sure customers perceive the brand the way the company wants them to perceive it.