What’s Brand?


Brand is an important part of any business. So why do some of us claim we brand businesses, when we fall so short on it’s definition and limit ourselves at logo design? There are many factors that affect a brand and these factors can contribute to a unique and long-lasting brand. We often overlook the real meaning of brand and we need to understand it to fully comprehend the field.

The word ‘brand’ is as improperly used as the word ‘weight’ (which actually means the vertical force exerted by a mass as a result of gravity – the proper word for the definition we have in our minds of ‘weight’ is mass). Dictionaries define brand as a noun (that is, a person place thing or action), but in our conversations it is commonplace to use brand as a verb (that is, an action). To ‘brand’ something is generally thought of as putting your letterhead on it (including your identity/logo).

I really like the way that Brian Hoff defines brand in his interview1 with Ludicry:

“A brand is what the emotional response your company receives. The emotion behind what someone feels, sees, tastes, etc when they come across your brand. A memorable logo is just the beginning – yet an extremely important beginning – that sets the overall tone for your new or existing brand.”

Branding is a strategy that we need to help our clients with – much like copy writing and usability. While the logo is an important first impression for your project, it can’t stop there. The brand needs to be reflected in the content, style and feel of the website, and extend to every part of the business.

Brand Includes: Link

  • Brand Name (the name of the product or service)
  • Brand Positioning (the business’ niche)
  • Brand Management (the application of marketing techniques)
  • Brand Equity (the marketing effects or outcomes)
  • Awareness
  • Image
  • Value
  • Brand Definition (the distinguishing name and/or symbol, including the logo and colours)

Brand Affects Link

  • Customer service
  • Aesthetics of the website/logo/business card/letterhead/clothing
  • The sights (building and furnishings), sounds (music that is played), and tastes (what is served, etc.)
  • Content including titles

Branding is a strategy that we need to help our clients with – much like copy writing and usability. While the logo is an important first impression for your project, it can’t stop there. The brand needs to be reflected in the content, style and feel of the website, and extend to every part of the business.

Hold On. How Does Brand Affect the Five Senses? Link

We expect certain things from a brand that fall very closely to our five senses. For example, what do we think about when we imagine an Apple store? We think about the friendly people dressed in bright coloured clothing, a clean atmosphere in which everything is well-designed. Furthermore, when we interact with customer service in-store or via phone support, we get the same feelings.

As we all know, the Apple logo is an Apple with a big bite taken out of it. For someone who might have never heard of Apple and was left with their logo and without everything that came with it, we would think they’re apple farmers. But it’s because of their recognition of the important of brand further than their logo, that Apple’s products and services are easily distinguishable.

Still, some companies only deal with online business. You can’t smell a website, you can’t taste a website. I’d actually like to dispute this: as designers, our job is to invoke emotion. When I visit Pizza Hut’s online website, I can taste and smell the pizza. There may not be anything for you to literally eat on the website, or a smell protruding from your monitor (if there is, please take it to the nearest repair shop) – but those elements touch your senses in a sixth-sense sort of way.

What Are Some Factors That Affect Brand? Link

Businesses can also affect their brand positively and negatively by simply watching their actions and ensuring that they reflect the business they want to receive, and are socially sustainable and responsible for their actions. But we (both as consumers and designers) can affect brand in positive and negative ways. While we can positively affect brand by providing good and bad reviews as consumers, we can create a negative brand image by creating branding elements (such as the logo and colours) that don’t reflect the business well.

How Designers Can (Positively) Influence Clients’ Brands Link

So you’ve been signed onto a client to do their branding. You say to yourself – I was signed onto this project to do branding. My only real deliverables are a logo, letterhead and (maybe, if you’re in a good mood) a business card. While this is true – your only tangible deliverables will be those things, you certainly can’t ignore the rest of the process. Make sure you teach your clients what branding is (something more than a first impression), and that your tangible deliverables, reflect the brand name, positioning, and management.

Here are some questions you can ask your clients that are important in creating identity pieces (such as a client’s logo, business card, letterhead, etc):

  • What words would you use to describe your company?
  • What words would you like your clients to describe your company?
  • How is your business different that your competitors?
  • What do you strive to provide to your customers better than the next guy?

Closure Link

Branding without analyzing all of the impressions a business makes on it’s clients is like usability testing without analyzing the final data and making changes. While we may be asked to create identity pieces, we need to ensure they reflect the company properly so that it creates an effective brand.

It’s your turn now.

What do you think? What is branding to you?

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://lucidry.org/business/media/importance-of-branding-with-branding-expert-brian-hoff/

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James Costa is the Creative Director at The Phuse. Based in Toronto, Canada, James has been designing and developing for the better part of 10 years and isn’t ready to stop yet. If you like his style, follow his company on Twitter, and read more of his stuff on their blog.

  1. 1

    Hi James, love the article!
    Great custom blog-post design too!

    Keep up the good work! Will think about my own branding strategy today and reply with a much bigger comment soon! :D
    .-= Davy Kestens´s latest Blog Entry – Why I fired my boss and went to college =-.

  2. 2

    Really useful article. That’s given me a few things to think about when I develop brands for my own clients – especially remembering to explain to them what branding is, rather than just assuming that they know!

  3. 3

    I’m loving this blogazine style you got going one. Must be one hell of an extra effort to make these posts look unique every time.

    The questions for clients at the end of the article are very important. I personally have a list these kinds of questions to ask before starting designing.
    .-= Melvin José´s latest Blog Entry – Cool Dark and Light CSS3 Buttons From Me to You. Desaturated Coolness! =-.

  4. 5

    As always, love to see a custom designed post!

    This concept of ‘brand’ being more than a logo is something I discuss with my clients all the time. One aspect of a company’s brand that I always mention, that is absent from this article, is the employees of a company. The graphically design elements that are a part of a company’s brand – the logo, Web site, colors, etc., are an important part of establishing their identity, but the way that employees carry themselves, interact with customers and respond to their audience’s needs is a big part of how the company will be perceived. The people who make up a company are a major piece of the brand itself.

  5. 6

    First I want say that the Post design is really awesome!!!! Hats off to you Jad…

    Next, the post is wonderful. It is really important for Designers as well as Business Owners to carefully look in this.
    James, you explained the meaning of ‘BRAND’ very well. The improper use of word ‘brand’ can be seen frequently over many portfolios and sites.

    I learned a lot from this post,
    .-= Nikhil´s latest Blog Entry – 15 Brilliant CSS3 Based Articles =-.

  6. 7

    I truly enjoy your custom design posts. It makes me leave my boring rss-reader and fully enjoy the article!

  7. 8

    Appreciate your efforts in putting this together.

  8. 9

    Amazing layout and great article. Thanks! =)
    .-= julio´s latest Blog Entry – Beautiful Website Navigation =-.

  9. 10

    Here’s to kicking a**: *cheers*
    .-= Brian Cray´s latest Blog Entry – .htaccess hack: remove query strings from URLs =-.

  10. 11

    Hey guys! Thanks for all the positive comments. I’m really happy with how the design came out (all thanks to Jad, because I’ve been busy beyond belief!).

    What I wanted to add to the discussion (or to spur one therein), is that I’ve learned a lot since writing this article some month and some ago. I’m impressed by some companies who have come forward (even smaller businesses) with a Brand Strategy and Core Values report. It outlines how their logo can be used, provides them with everything they need, and more importantly sets the foundation for things like copywriting, the image they want their clients to build in their minds when interacting with the brand, etc.

    Since seeing these in action and how effective they’ve been, I’ve started bringing them and using them with my own clients. I add a little extra charge for this when a client gets me to work on “brand design” as opposed to “logo design”, and I usually work on this very carefully for the client. That way, whatever and whoever interacts with and represents their brand will know how to do so in a way that properly represents the business.

    Do any of you do this?
    .-= James Costa´s latest Blog Entry – Why “Throwing Something Up” Isn’t Worth It =-.

  11. 12

    I like the design and the article. One of the Best articles i’ve read this year. Great Job!
    .-= Kwame´s latest Blog Entry – Start The Year With Digging Into WordPress. =-.

  12. 13

    Love the custom post design, plus its a well written (and informative) article! Thanks
    .-= Lee Gustin´s latest Blog Entry – The Epicness of Voltron =-.

  13. 14

    James, I agree that it is incredibly important for the client and designer to have a clear understanding of the brand objectives to successfully execute a cohesive and succinct brand message. Otherwise, you are left with a muddled mess that will ultimately fail.

    The questions that you have for the client are great, but I would argue that it should be taken one step further (especially for clients with an existing product) by utilizing market research on their brand. Without knowing the perceptions their brand is leaving on their customers, there is no true way of enhancing the positive impressions while combatting the negative ones.

  14. 16

    Thanks for the good read! Absolutely love how you style your posts!!
    .-= Kristaps Lazda´s latest Blog Entry – Parts of a sailing boat =-.

    • 17

      First thing first….great custom designed post.

      Secondly, great article It gives us the insights about creating our own brand, it gives us the very simple steps to achieve success in business or life.

      Thank you James and Jad! :)

  15. 18

    I probably have 3 meetings a week that have to do with peoples brands, and I don’t claim to be a brand designer or consultant. So many people need help with their branding.

    Great post, this will go in my, branding tips to friends toolbox.
    .-= bryan noel´s latest Blog Entry – Bryanjnoel: Great post – I have so many conversations about this, great post RT @designinformer What’s Brand? | Design Informer http://bit.ly/9JoiA6 =-.

  16. 19

    It is disappointing that clients and sometimes even some designers equate a “brand” to a logo and business card. James, you have done well to shed light on what is a commonly misunderstood concept.

    Erik brings up a great point about market research. For an existing brand it is essential to understand the existing perceptions of the audience to set a baseline to build branding upon.
    While the amount and kind of research conducted is dictated by the budget of the client, failing to conduct any research when branding is just guess work.
    .-= Duane Kinsey´s latest Blog Entry – Beyond the Brief – Undertanding a Logo Design Client =-.

  17. 20

    Great 101 on the enigma surrounding the term ‘brand’ that often eludes businesses and designers alike. Although this article touches on the surface of the subject, I think it serves as a good intro for those new to the intangible, unquantifiable, beyond metrics, aura of Brand. Thanks for the write-up, my fellow Torontonian’

  18. 22

    Great post, even though you didn’t say it directly but the use of colors is very important as well. Take Facebook for example, they established their brand very nicely not only with their logo, but use of the bluish-purple color. It’s an uncommon color, and so it sticks in your head. They also use it all across the site for their interface, and always makes me feel good and lets me know even before I look a the logo or URL: “Hey, you’re on Facebook.”

    Again great post I like the unique style, keep it up.

  19. 24

    Well written mate.

    I do think that the ‘branding’ conversation is a little redundant now though, a bit 2 years ago – probably for two main reasons:

    a. designers talking up a lot of nonsense junk trying too hard to prove that they ‘get branding’,

    b. marketing people demonstrating that they will never ‘get branding’ through cynical / insincere applications of the ‘3 steps to authenticity’, or whatever the last branding buzz book they read told them.

    Really, for designers, marketing suits, or anyone else involved in the process, if you don’t intuitively ‘get it’ by now, you’ve pretty well missed the boat.

    • 25

      While I understand what you’re saying, noting from the comments alone, not everyone has fully thought about it like this. I’m sorry you think it’s an overrated topic, but it’s a necessary one for the times as people are still committing the same crimes as before.

      Similarly, you’ll still be telling people “don’t kill someone” in 20 years from now even though we’ve been telling people that forever. As long as it still exists, people still don’t know not to. Yes, I realize that’s an extreme example. I still haven’t had my coffee this morning!
      .-= James Costa´s latest Blog Entry – Test post from Blogo for preview =-.

      • 26

        Ha ! Yes, good call – I’m sure many of those murders are being committed between clients and designers over this very subject !

        I certainly didn’t mean to discount your article in any way – it really is a very concise roundup.

        My whole criticism is of those among our colleagues who carry on talking a lot of crap in 5 syllable words, think that will justify their existence and command a premium ‘brand consultant’s’ fee, when all their ‘credentials’ really add up to is having read The Brand Gap [ which IS a fantastic book btw ! ].

        It’s very similar to the SEO industry – with no real barriers to entry existing around this new and largely misunderstood area, any half arse programmer/designer who knew how to use Google Analytics was suddenly calling themselves an ‘SEO Expert’.

        Again, it’s like Sales – it’s the profession you have when you don’t have a profession !

        My point is, it just pollutes / dilutes the genuine branding industry to have these hacks misrepresenting it.

  20. 27

    liked the
    “but those elements touch your senses in a sixth-sense sort of way.”

    Very nice article.
    Thumbs up!

  21. 28

    Your brand is not what you say it is but what your consumers say you are.

    Nice article, but I’m always left a little miffed as to how to bridge the branding gap between design and marketing as people don’t tend to see them as one and the same.

    • 29

      Hey Will!

      Thanks for the comment. Hopefully I can help shed some light on this one for you. Marketing and Branding really need to support each other to work. If the brand strategy tells you to use a logo in a certain way and you don’t in your marketing campaigns (talking specifically about advertising campaigns, print, etc) then the brand is to hell. Therefore, Marketing needs to almost be an extension of your brand (as should everything else).

      Marketing is how people start to get to know the brand and gives the extension of that first impression from the logo as a piece that will attract potential clients towards the product or service the company is offering.

      Hopefully this helps a little? Definitely a great idea for an article I’d love to work on in the near future. :-)
      .-= James Costa´s latest Blog Entry – Test post from Blogo for preview =-.

  22. 30

    Great post. I have been in charge of the company brand for several of my employers and now run my own branding and marketing firm. I have always argued that the “brand” is more than a logo, what color and fonts we use, or what the letterhead looks like.

    A brand is the combination of what you want your customers to believe about you and what they actually believe. It is created from various elements, including logos, colors, the type of language used in creating the “voice” of the company (formal, conversational, technical, etc.), the look of offices, how employees are dressed and interact with customers, the quality of services (fast/slow, helpful/rude), and many more. It all adds up to create an impression, positive or negative, with consumers and THAT is your brand.

    Right now, since I work from my home, I am especially careful to dress up even if I run down the street to the office supply store. I would hate for a client to run into me and think that pajama pants or sweats represent my brand.
    .-= Debi Teter´s latest Blog Entry – Nestle versus Facebook “fans”: The mess of social media protests =-.

    • 31

      Definitely branding yourself is important – and starting with what you wear is as well! While my clients will never catch me dead in a suit (quite literally), they expect me to dress a certain way that aligns with their perception of me as a professional. As well, my purchase of a MacBook and iPhone (while absolutely for the convenience and love of Apple) considerably changed my brand and how potential clients perceive me.

      .-= James Costa´s latest Blog Entry – Test post from Blogo for preview =-.

  23. 32

    Nice article! It’s difficult when your clients don’t understand that quality must be consistent and carried through the entire process. We can try to explain but unfortunately can only afford to do so much hand-holding.

  24. 33

    Amazing article. Thank you for putting this all together!


  25. 34

    It’s not all positive James. The next time you post an article like this Im going to punch you in the face. In public. For real.

    • 35

      Max, what a coward you are.Did you know that a coward is perhaps one of the most humiliating tags to be labeled with. Yet, if we look seriously at our own behavior and reactions, we will realize that more often than not, we exhibit our cowardly temperament many times in a day. Criticism about someone to others is the most common form of cowardice we display and each of us reading this post, is definitely guilty of this cowardice. The fact that we are unable to stand up and express our criticism to the person who is being criticized poses the classic dilemma for many cowards.

    • 36

      Haha, I don’t quite understand why, but feel free to come by sometime and I’d love to sit down over a cup of coffee. Just contact me at my site and we can find a time that works for the both of us. ;-)
      .-= James Costa´s latest Blog Entry – Test post from Blogo for preview =-.

  26. 37

    Good Article!!!. In marketing, the BRAND is the intangible value that has any business. What it is BRANDING? simply to establish the positioning of this “brand” in the minds of potential customers, either through DIFFERENTIATION or LEADERSHIP in a particular category.

  27. 38

    Looks cool and reads well!

  28. 39

    Great article, good job James!
    .-= Mihai O.´s latest Blog Entry – Over 100 Blogs Which You Should Follow =-.

  29. 40

    explained very simply, i want to read something more about creating a brand form the scratch

  30. 42

    “How is your business different that your competitors?
    What do you strive to provide to your customers better than the next guy?”

    When I’m in the Information Gathering phase of any work for a client, I always ask questions similar to these. Although sometimes you get the old “Well, we work hard, we respect out customers..” type answers, I’ve really been pleasantly surprised just as often.

    I think too many of us DO forget the difference between Branding and Logo Design. Thank you for refreshing my thoughts!
    .-= Ryan Cowles´s latest Blog Entry – Amber Stevens New Website Launch =-.

  31. 43

    I enjoyed reading your article.

    A brand is based on a number of factors that are all different depending on the industry, whether it is B2B or B2C and more. But the one thing they all have in common is that retention is key to a profitable brand and profitability should be the ultimate metric to determine the success of a brand and not awareness, reach or other irrelevant terms.

    Many brands actually lose money on the first sale. But once a prospect becomes a customer of say Apple the logo is pretty much irrelevant. What is key is the emotional, economic and experiential value the product gives that customer and it is the same with all brands.

    You can read my full definition of what a brand is here http://brandconsultantasia.wordpress.com/2009/05/03/definition-of-a-brand/
    .-= Marcus Osborne´s latest Blog Entry – Malaysian and Asian SMEs should look at communications when building brands =-.

  32. 44

    Here are some questions we ask

    Who are our customers? Are they consumers? What type of consumers?
    Are they businesses? What types of businesses? Who do we need to talk to in those companies?
    Are we prepared to lose customers to focus on those with the greatest potential?
    Do we know who are our unprofitable customers? Are we willing to jetison them?
    What do our good customers value? How can we improve that value?
    Why do customers buy from us?
    Why do they buy from the competition?
    Why did we lose a customer?

    Thanks to Peter Drucker for the inspiration
    .-= Marcus Osborne´s latest Blog Entry – Malaysian and Asian SMEs should look at communications when building brands =-.

  33. 45

    I love your custom designs. Very useful post!
    .-= Paulo Miranda´s latest Blog Entry – EN-V Concept: Excelent eco solution to the cities in the future =-.

  34. 46

    Thanks for the clear explanation of how brands and logos differ and relate. So often people think that a logo is the end point for a brand, when really it is just one small portion of the overall brand image.

  35. 47

    the best single post design :) great post congrats James
    .-= logolitic´s latest Blog Entry – Twitter weekly follow recommendations #4 =-.

  36. 48

    Of course the brand is a great part that almost every business spends too much time to build it up.
    .-= Jennifer R´s Latest Entry – Make Google index your new post faster with PubSubHubbub =-.

  37. 49

    You should probably should fix the typos in this article. You have a big audience…they deserve it.

  38. 50

    Thanks for your article, i not only like but appreciate you on your article. actually i want to write more but this time i am busy on collect the material about testking a+ for get knowledge more and more. I also offer you to contribute with me for this.
    have a nice day

  39. 51

    Wow, great information, thanks for the tidbits. Branding is an incredibly important process and something that you can immediately see the benefits from your labor. I was able to work with a logo and brand development team in Sydney, DPM Creative Group, who helped create a beautiful logo and in turn brand and it has helped my business immensely.

    Thanks again for the info and inspiration,



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