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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 … More about James

What's Brand?

Quick Summary

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.

Table of Contents

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).

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I really like the way that Brian Hoff defines brand in his interview 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:

  • 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

  • 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?

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?

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

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

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?

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