An Introduction to Branding
Before jumping into the Brand Identity Design process, we must first ensure a common understanding of what a Brand is and how Branding works.
What is a Brand?
A Brand is a collective representation of an Entity. How people feel about something the interact with; What is that something; And, how is that something different from all other related things.
A Brand is made up of three inter-connected parts: (1) Brand Entity, or “how a business actually is”, (2) Brand Identity, “who the business says it is”, and (3) Brand Perception, “how the public feels the business is”.
A Brand Entity is the source of a Brand. “Something that has separate and distinct existence.” The Entity could be an individual, an institution, a non-profit organisation, a business, a division within a business, a service, or a product; But, most commonly, it’s a business. So, the term “Brand Entity” would entail how the business operates internally (how are the products made? how are the services performed? how is the company managed? what is the work culture like for the employees?).
“Brand Identity” or “Brand ID” refers to the distinguishing character or personality of a Brand. How a business chooses to communicate their products and services. The specific words they choose to use, the Brand Name and Logo they choose to differentiate themselves in the marketplace, the colours on their website, business cards, email signatures… These all are part of the Brand Identity.
The Brand Perception is the resulting emotional response of the public upon interacting with a Brand. How many people are aware of your business’ existence? Are prospective customers attracted by your product/service offer? After purchase, are customers satisfied? How would the general public describe your business?
It’s normal to find a discrepancy between the Brand Entity, the Brand Identity, and the Brand Perception. A business, naturally, wants their Brand Identity to represent their best aspirational ideals, perhaps you want to communicate only the best traits of your products and services, while hiding the flaws; perhaps, you might even be inclined to oversell your product and promise customers more than you will actually be able to deliver. Businesses are accountable for setting realistic expectations and being reliable about that Brand Promise. However, besides of being an ethical duty, the Brand Promise helps narrowing the gap between the Brand Entity, Identity, and Perception.
Brands are everywhere. Your personality, your signature (or logo), the way you choose to dress, and even the things you choose to say assign you with a personal Brand; a Brand which the people you interact with might like or dislike at different rates.
Even countries, social movements, and religious institutions, such as the catholic church have a Brand. Featuring a flag or a cross as a representative Logo, and taking a stance in different socio-political issues which people might agree or disagree with at different rates.
Every medium where the business interacts with its public is known as a Brand Touchpoint; This includes services, products, social media, emails, websites, customer support, sales, retail shops, and many more. The Touchpoints allow the Brand Identity to reach the public and therefore generate a Brand Perception in response.
While the Brand Touchpoints are the medium used to connect with the public, each connection can be called a “Brand Interaction”; This includes each time that a member of the public uses a product or service, or when they see a social media post from your business, or they read an email from your business, or when they write an email to your business.
A Brand is constantly evolving with each Interaction between the business, the public, and the cultural environment. For instance, people change the way they feel about a certain product once they have tried it and not liked it; However, they are also likely to change the way they perceive a Brand even if they haven't tried the product, but have heard that most people dislike it.
Or imagine, if you will, walking past a bakery and being attracted by the sweet smell of freshly baked artisanal pastries. Even smell can interact with the public and communicate the value of a Brand.
What is Branding?
Branding is the process of developing a Brand. In other words, it's the process of associating certain feelings and emotions with a business.
Branding is multisensory (this means that it can be prompted by something we see, hear, touch, smell, or taste), multidisciplinary (professionals from different disciplines are involved), continuous (it never stops), and collective (includes every member of the public).
It is important to note that designing a Logo for a business, for instance, is only a minuscule portion of the Branding process, which additionally includes how the business operates and interacts with its customers, and even how current and historical events may affect the image that the public has of such business.
The Branding process is not necessarily a conscious effort to actively design an appealing image for a business. Whenever a potential customer is talking to a sales person, for instance, the business is undergoing a Branding process.
The same can be said about any other situation where a person is exposed to information that would shape the way they think and feel about a business. If you hear on the local news that your favourite restaurant is under investigation for poor hygienic conditions, that restaurant won't be your first choice the next time you're planning to go out for dinner. That, is Branding. Even if the restaurant was really in excellent conditions, associating that business with a negative experience will affect the way you feel about their Brand.
The Branding process of a commercial Brand typically revolves around the following stages:
1. Business Development
Conforming a business usually comprehends performing a market research, writing a business plan, and developing the Business Touchpoints (services and products).
2. Brand Identity Design
Choosing a name for the Brand, defining a direction for the look-and-feel, designing a logo and a Visual Identity, and the basic Brand Identity Touchpoints (Email signature, Business cards, Letterhead, Presentation slides template, Parking page, Social media profiles).
3. Brand Activation
Launching the business with an offer of services and/or products, and reaching out to the target public through Promotional Touchpoints, which typically includes establishing an online presence (website and social media profiles) and advertising the brand through different promotional channels (online ads, print ads, merch, sponsoring events, networking, etc.).
4. Brand Iteration
Measuring and analysing the Brand Perception (how the audience perceives the brand). This can be done with different marketing research techniques including surveys and interviews, web analytics, user testing, focus groups, and even auditing the financial results of the business.
Fine-tuning the Business Development, Brand Identity Design, and Brand Activation, improving upon existing Touchpoints and developing new ones.
3. What is a Logo?
A Logo is a visual representation of the Brand Identity’s essence.
A Logo could be classified as an Ideogram, Wordmark, Emblem, or Signature.
Ideogram: A visual sign that represents the Brand Identity in its minimal form. “A graphic symbol that represents an idea or concept, independent of any particular language, and specific words or phrases.” An Ideograma could fall into one of the following categories: (1) Abstract mark, (2) Pictorial mark, or (3) Lettermark.
Wordmark: A distinct typographic treatment of the Brand Name in text only.
Emblem: A sign comprised of the Brand Name along with other visual elements.
Signature: An extension of the Emblem which also includes the Brand’s Slogan as a tagline.
Logo System: The Brand’s whole family of Logos including Ideograms, Wordmarks, Emblems, and Signatures set in all the applicable variations.
A Logo is a powerful visual sign that has the power to express ideas that people love or hate. But, a Logo is not a Brand, it’s a minuscule portion of the Visual Identity system that makes up a small part of a Brand.
Apart from Logos, there are other Trademarks which act as distinctive identifying traits of a Brand. These could include the Brand Name, Slogan, Logo, and Package Design amongst others.
You may find that different sources and authors use a different terminology for some key concepts related to Branding. Here are some examples and the "why" we prefer to use some words over others.
Branding vs. Brand Identity Design: We believe that "Branding" includes every interaction between a business, its public, and its cultural context; While "Brand Identity Design" is only a small portion of the larger Branding process. For instance, if a person walks into a shop and talks to the sales-person, that is part of the Branding process, since it's directly connected to how that person feels about that Brand; However, Brand Identity Design is a conscious effort on behalf of the business to have an appealing image.
Corporate Identity vs. Brand Identity: "Corporate Identity" is a term often used when referring to the Branding process. However, Brands are not only for corporations; Brand Identities can for instance represent an individual person, a small business, a non-profit organisation, a social movement, or a religious or educational institution.
Audience vs. Public: The origin of the word "Audience" comes from audio listeners. Most authors refer to a Brand's Target Public as "Audience"; However, Brands communicate not only through audio, but also through visuals and other mediums.
Branding vs. CX: Customer Experience or “CX” is a popular term lately. Although, for us it’s mostly a synonym for Branding. So, we could say that a “CX Designer”, or “CX specialist”, is someone who focuses on Branding. Which is more commonly seen as a title, as opposed to “Brand Designer”.