So many times I’ll check my DMs and see messages from fellow small biz owners saying they’ve been in business for a while, but need help building their “brand”. Or they’ll ask about my services, wanting me to “brand them”. Now, this is absolutely fine, I LOVE chatting with other business owners in the DMs (it really does go down in the DMs, ya’ll, lol!).
But I noticed long ago, that there is a disconnect between what they’re SAYING and what they actually WANT. SO many entrepreneurs don’t TRULY know the difference between their brand, branding, and brand identity. Nine times of ten, what they’re really after when they message me, is brand identity design, not a “brand”.
Here’s a shot of truth straight out the gate, if you’ve been in business for at least a year, whether you’ve hired a professional designer or not, you ALREADY have a brand!
If that statement has your head swirling a little bit, stick around, this post is for you!
I’m going to break down the real deal Holyfield (should out to my elder millennials who got that, lol!) differences between having a brand, branding your business, and leveraging a solid brand identity design.
Your Brand Solves A Problem
Steve Cook, Co-founder of Intuit, said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is– it is what consumers tell each other it is.”
And I couldn’t agree more. Listen, don’t worry too much about whether or not you are “branding yourself correctly, Simply adjust your lens. Drown out the Instagram business guru noise and let me provide you with some relief!
At its core, a brand solves a problem for other people.
Companies or small business owners transcend into becoming a ‘brand’ over time. As you continue to serve, become profitable, and gain influence, your brand takes shape. The ‘brand’, just like the business it originated from, has one sole purpose in the world, to meet a need, aka, solve a problem. It accomplishes this through services, products, coaching, or consulting. So now we know that the INTENTION behind building your brand is much like the intention of starting a business. A brand’s intention should always be to solve a problem for others. Great!
This is something you have total control over.
Now, the way the world receives your brand is, much like with a real person’s reputation, NOT within your control. How people emotionally receive what your business puts out into the world (products, services, content, etc.), is what will actually shape the definition of your “brand”.
A branding giant, Marty Neumeier, has said that “a brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”
So if other people’s gut feeling about your brand is what defines it, what are they basing their definition and perception on?
Well, that my friend is something you CAN control!
This is where big buzzword terms like, ‘branding’ and ‘ brand identity ’, briefly enter the chat. You leverage things like branding and your unique brand identity design to help influence the way people think and feel about who you say your brand is.
But more on those 2 in a bit.
How Other People Define Your Brand
First I want to quickly share with you a few of the kinds of things that your audience will consider when they’re forming their definition of your brand in their minds. These are the things that either drive them towards being a raving fan and thinking your brand is amazing or towards thinking less than amazing things about who your brand is.
Some factors that come into play when people form opinions about who your brand is:
- Did your service or product ACTUALLY solve the problem?
- Could they relate to your business’ style, personality, or language?
- Did they experience a lot of ease, efficiency, or timeliness in their time with you?
- Were you helpful and quick to fix any wrongdoings or mishaps?
- Did they see you consistently talking about what you do online–reinforcing their trust in who you are and what you say you do?
Now I know what you’re thinking.
“How fair is it for you to do all the work of launching this business and nurturing this brand’s development, for OTHER people to control SO much of its future impact?”
Well, if you REALLY look at the types of factors listed above again, you’ll realize you STILL have a degree of power. Essentially these factors are quite, REACTIONARY. Meaning, they are reactions to something your business did or a way it behaved.
For example, the first one, ‘did your service actually solve their problem?’.
Well, you have control over this on the front end. How?
You make sure you do things like:
- doing your due diligence in testing out your solution SEVERAL times before taking it to the marketplace
- gathering feedback from beta testers of your products–seeing how you can improve
- learning stellar processes that will help you do your work better
These things are totally within your control. By making sure you consider every avenue of greatness possible initially, you clear a path for people to receive and brand define your brand in the way YOU want them to!
Of course, these examples aren’t the final list of what people consider when they’re deciding how they feel about your brand. But they are some pretty standard ones! So try to pay attention to the quality and consistency of everything your business puts out into the world. Because that output determines who your brand is!
Your Brand Is Felt, NOT Seen
So by now, I hope I’ve beaten the dead horse that a brand is what forms in people’s minds when they think of your business.
It’s not a tangible thing!
A brand is a collection of other people’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences with your business. They get to define your brand based on their emotional reactions when they see your products, hear your name, or consume your content.
Your brand is for you to own and others to experience.
Because we now know the true definition of the term ‘brand’ we can conclude that a graphic designer can not ‘brand you.’’ What they CAN do is give you the kind of strategic design that will help influence how others define your brand.
A lot of times, entrepreneurs, especially service providers, will go about their day-to-day, conducting business as usual. You know, creating content for social media, hustling for new clients, and trying their best to serve the ones they already have. Then, they’ll come across some branding experts, business coaches, or online gurus talking about ‘growing their brand’ or that they need to ‘brand themselves.
This type of content, although with good intentions, adds to the confusion on what a brand truly is. Again, I say, if you’ve been conducting business for a while (at least 1 year), you already have a brand!
You Already Have A Brand
I want to drive how the fact that the moment you started offering a service, selling a product, or marketing your company, you had a brand. Albeit, maybe not an intentionally designed one, but you had one, all the same. Whatever results or happenings that have stemmed from your business have left an indentation on people’s minds & hearts about who THEY think your business is and what THEY think you’re about. And if you’ve left them with unsatisfactory results or experiences, it’s NEVER too late to change that!
The Goal Of A Brand
The goal of a brand is to solve a problem or meet a need. Your brand is should solve a problem for people.
A quick summary to remember here:
How the brand behaves is something you can control, but OTHER people define it.
Your Brand Identity Reminds People that You Solve the Problem
Now that we’ve clarified what a brand is, let’s define a brand identity.
A brand identity design is actually what entrepreneurs are referring to when they ask me to “brand them”. They actually want a set of cohesive visuals strategically designed to attract and convert their dream audiences. Keep in mind, unlike a ‘brand’, a brand identity CAN be seen. It’s a collection of visuals we commit to as a business. We commit to using them consistently to help draw the RIGHT people INTO our brand and repel the wrong or less than ideal audiences, AWAY from our brand.
That’s the textbook definition of brand identity.
But the DEEPER meaning of a brand identity is that it’s:
- A tool used to help people remember that YOU are the brand that can solve their specific problem
- A reflection of the energy you want your business to emit into the world
- A visual system that authentically expresses the business’ personality, so that communicating with their audience is organic, seamless, and quickly builds trust
What Makes Up A Brand Identity Design
A brand identity is, again, something we can see! It’s all the fun stuff people usually think of first when they think about branding, like the colors, fonts, logos, etc.
I want to say something here that you may not have considered when it comes to these things though.
It’s important to take the time to work with a brand designer, not just a graphic designer when setting up your brand identity. Of course, I’m not throwing shade on graphic designers, trust me they’re immensely valuable, but here’s why I say this. When you’re setting up a brand identity, you’re actually setting up a SYSTEM of visuals that are constructed from brand strategy–not just things that randomly look pretty next to each other. So you need to hire a brand designer, but they almost always know how to do proper brand strategy.
This is VITAL to the success of your visuals attracting the people you want to work with. Root your visuals in a brand strategy so that it’s easy to analyze what’s working well vs. what’s not.
Graphic designers tend to focus on design only and not many practices implementing brand identity design. However, SOME do! I will also say, graphic designers, in my experience, come in amazingly handy AFTER you have a band identity in place for your business. With this already done, the graphic designer gets to shine at what they do best–one-off designs as you need them. They can simply work directly from your strategically built brand guidelines, to ensure you stay consistent with the identity.
This is an example of a brand identity design. These visual assets ALL work together to cohesively express who my client, Mary Brown is, while also, working strategically to attract like-minded women that she wants to work with!
Your Brand Identity Will Evolve Over Time
Just like a living breathing person, your brand identity will evolve over time. Brand identity is a tool that you’ll use to reflect that evolution.
Just think about it, we’ve watched some of our FAVORITE brands evolve their brand identity over time. Brands like Coca-Cola, Mastercard, and my recent favorite Burger King, have all updated their brand identity design throughout the years. These uber-successful companies switched up their brand identity because they had a finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the world, what their target audience was telling them, and where they saw their business in the future. And we have to do the same things with our businesses!
I don’t suggest a rebrand or updating your brand identity every year. Some experts have reported that companies should rebrand every 5 years. I stand by a more organic approach. I suggest investing in a rebrand or updated brand identity for the following reasons:
- Your brand is expanding and reaching wider audiences that it wants to connect deeply with
- You have a completely different offer, product, or ideal client
- The company is changing leadership and new goals need new visuals
- Your dream audience is ignoring your business! You need some strategic design to get their attention
- You realize your outdated brand is why you’re not as competitive
These are all great reasons to update your brand identity. As your business grows, it WILL evolve.
But you can’t go changing your brand identity all willy nilly.
The reason a high-quality brand identity design is SO effective at reinforcing your brand is that it builds trust. After a while, people begin to recognize your brand identity instantly, because they’ve seen it over and over again. So they come to know what to expect. Kinda how we know we’re going to be okay when we see that Chick-Fil-A sign in a new city we’re visiting, just me? Okay, lol!
Anyway, you don’t want to disrupt that unless you know you’ve built enough trust with your audience that they’ll follow you no matter what you change about your identity! This takes a while to build, so if you’re still attracting your ideal clients with your identity, don’t rush changing it.
Related: 5 Signs to Rebrand Your Business Now
The Goal of A Brand Identity
So to recap, a brand identity is a visual system of elements that you can leverage to:
- Help people remember and reinforce the fact that YOU’RE the business to solve their problem
- Build trust with your audience by having a brand identity that’s authentic and truly reflects who you say you are
Branding Attracts the People with the Problem
Branding is a set of strategies and marketing tactics that businesses use to attract the people they want to work with or serve. Its main goal is to highlight the business’s USP or unique selling proposition to help the company stick out in consumers’ minds. It’s really as simple as that!
When you think about branding, think in terms of campaigns and tactics, not in terms of visual deliverables. Visual assets can be PART of branding, but their merely a byproduct or catalyst used to communicate the message. Branding is a verb–it’s the actions you take to help tell the story of who your brand is. When people experience your brand through your BRANDING and services, they should be able to immediately tell if your company is for them.
Branding Is Your Brand and Brand Identity In Action
You may have heard that branding is important for business, but still don’t really understand why. Here’s what I consider the most important reason businesses need GOOD branding strategies.
So many businesses do the exact same thing!
Because there are only so many innovative things you can do to make your service or product better than the competition, you have to give people something deeper to connect with to forms an emotional attachment between them and your company.
A perfect example is Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi. Now, I don’t like Pepsi, and I can 100% taste the difference. But there are SEVERAL people who swear up and down that the 2 taste nearly identical. Well, if that’s the case, what makes some consumers choose one over the other?
Coca Cola’s most loyal customers probably:
- Saw something in those commercials that resonated with them in a deep way
- Can recall seeing those big bright billboards in the stadiums where their grandfather used to take them to see baseball games
- Loves how Coca-Cola always uses people of color in their print magazine ads
Subtle pieces of the Coca-Cola brand in action by way of branding strategies (commercials, ads, etc.) make a BIG difference in how people connect with a brand. For the Coca-Cola fan, the kinds of emotional connections listed above will have them turning their noses up at Pepsi, like, ‘Um, no thanks!’
Branding strategies and tactics are extremely powerful when done well!
This is why the big boys spend millions of dollars on brand campaigns for big launches. They’re trying to strike a chord with distinction amongst their target audience. And when you have the funds to do so, there aren’t many limits to where companies will go to execute a stellar branding campaign.
Most Entrepreneurs Confuse “Branding” with Marketing
Out of all 3 terms, branding, brand, and brand identity, branding is the easiest one to misuse.
I believe a lot of online business owners are saying they need better “branding” when they are actually referring to either a brand identity OR marketing. Marketing is a part of branding, but they are not the same thing. It’s a lot, I know. But stick with me. When you’re seeking to deploy a branding strategy, you use marketing tactics to carry it out. A deeper breakdown on the differences between these 2 is a whole ‘nother blog post that I won’t dip into too much here. But here’s a quick statement from a trusty source.
Branding is the process of developing what you want to communicate to tell your brand’s story, and marketing is the act of using tactics to communicate it.
Source: Marion.com, read more about here if this is interesting to you!
The Goal of Branding Is
The central focus of branding is strategic attraction. Good branding will attract a targeted audience that will MOST resonate with your story and recognize your business as having the solution to their problem. Branding is a series of marketing campaigns that tell your brand’s story in the way YOU want people to remember it. This will ultimately help influence your target audience’s perception of your brand towards something genuine and real!
Let’s have some fun
I thought it’d be fun and super informative to take one of my favorite brands, Dove Beauty, and create a little case study. I let the images doing the talking, so enjoy the graphics, as I hope they further elaborate the differences between a brand, brand identity, and branding for you!
Tying It All Together: The Dove Case Study
The Brand: Dove’s Vision, Story, and Mission
The Dove Beauty brand is all about acceptance, transparency, and confidence. They’ve shared on their website their vision, story, and mission statement. Although we get to form our own definition of their brand, they’ve taken this extra step to INFLUENCE how they WANT us to perceive their brand. They’ll reinforce these statements through their brand identity and branding efforts.
The Brand Identity Design: Dove’s Logos, Photos, and Assets
This set of visual elements make up the Dove Beauty brand identity. Notice these visuals are in alignment with who they say they are, described in their vision, story, and mission. This cohesion builds credibility and trust whin us as consumers for the brand.
Branding: Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign
This viral branding campaign is the PERFECT example of branding done well! This campaign is a reflection of exactly what the Dove Beauty brand stands for, while also serving as an attraction piece for their target audience.
Clarity Is What Leads to A Successful Brand
And at the end of the day, what your audience FEELS about your brand matters more than what you SAY.
It may sound unfair, but it’s quite legitimate. Here’s an example.
If I walk into my favorite place to throw away money, aka Target, and they fail to meet my needs on a consistent basis, my definition of their “brand” will NOT be good! Of course, Target would say, “I’m amazing! Don’t stop shopping here, it wasn’t our fault!” But Target doesn’t shop from Target, I do. So as the person having a shopping experience with them, I get to define the brand based on my experiences.
What’s awesome about this is that when done RIGHT, this can take your brand to its next level of greatness! If a collective group comes together, compiles their fantastically similar experiences with your business, then soon a cult-like loyalty forms. The brand is solidified as “golden” amongst the majority, i.e. like the fandom that is Apple culture. However, when done wrong, businesses adopt the reputation of being a stagnant, unresponsive, or inattentive brand–and people drop like flies!
Back to my beloved Target. The reason my perception of Target is A1 is that they show up consistently with what I’ve identified as excellence. This leads me to trust them. Because I trust them I evangelize their awesomeness. I tell the world how “That’s my spot!” Now, as an entrepreneur, don’t you want people to feel the same way about your brand? I sure do.
We can take some control over this by:
- investing in an authentic, top-notch brand identity design, and
- Making strategic branding actions that will attract the audience whose problem we solve
THAT, my friends, is how branding, brand identity design, and a brand are different–but all matter for the success of your business!
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