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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

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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

    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!

  2. 2

    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.

  3. 3

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

  4. 4

    Appreciate your efforts in putting this together.

  5. 5

    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.

  6. 6

    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! :)

  7. 7

    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’

  8. 8

    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.

  9. 9

    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.

    • 10

      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.

  10. 11

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

    Very nice article.
    Thumbs up!

  11. 12

    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.

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    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.

  13. 14

    Amazing article. Thank you for putting this all together!


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    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.

    • 16

      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.

  15. 17

    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.

  16. 18

    Looks cool and reads well!

  17. 19

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

  18. 20

    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.

  19. 21

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

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    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

  21. 23

    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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