Branding, identity design, and logos: what’s the difference?

Business magazines and websites are sprinkled with terms like branding, brand identity, logo design, identity design, corporate identity, and brand strategy. Different terms can describe the same thing. Sometimes the same term is used to describe different things. Confusing!

As an identity designer, I want to be clear with my clients about what I do (and also what no designer can do for you.)

Brand Identity thought bubble connecting the dots

Brand

A brand is the perception of a company

Your brand is what people think of when they think about you. It’s your reputation. It’s influenced by your values, your products, your marketing, your customer service. It’s shaped by magazine articles about you, how your stores smell inside, and what your neighbor’s mom said about you at the grocery store. And yes, it includes your logo, website, and business cards. Everything people encounter when they interact with your company adds to their perception of you: your brand.

Branding is the effort to influence this perception. You can’t control what your neighbor’s mom might say. But you can do your best to make the right impression.

Identity

An identity is a brand’s set of visual elements.

A subset of a brand is the brand identity (also called corporate identity or identity system). The key word is identity. Just like with people, checking an ID proves you’re you and not somebody else. The tangible elements you can see when a company communicates with you make up its identity design:

Logo, colors, fonts, icons, letterhead, business cards, envelopes, websites, packaging, uniforms, office aesthetics, promotional swag, social media, email blasts, signage, messaging.

A brand style guide is a document that records this identity. It keeps everyone on the right track, using the right fonts, colors, and more.

Logo

A logo is a symbol that represents a company.

Of all the visual parts that make up your identity, your logo is the strongest point of recognition. It doesn’t have to tell the world everything you do: it’s a quick tag or identifier. A red bullseye doesn’t reveal all the clothing, housewares, and food you can buy at Target but it works as a stand-in for everything you know about Target. And if you knew nothing about Target, you could still make some guesses about the personality of the company by looking at the logo.

What do identity designers do?

Identity designers set the direction for the visual elements that make up your brand—your logo, color palette, typography, stationery, website, and future collateral. These should be unique to your company and help illustrate your brand. An identity designer isn’t going to make the conveyor belt in your plant run faster or tell you which employees to hire. But we can influence the public’s perception of you by creating an appropriate look and feel.

Benefits of hiring an identity designer for your small business

Maybe you’re a small business starting from scratch. Or maybe you’ve been growing for a little while, and you’re wondering whether you should update your existing brand identity. Is it worth investing in better design?

For businesses that get all their customers from neighborhood referrals—and they’re satisfied with that—it’s probably not worth it. Think of plumbers, mechanics, or dentists. As long as their service is excellent, nobody minds if their visuals are less than stellar. But if you’re in an industry where aesthetics can increase your visibility or revenue (think food and beverage, hospitality, fashion, arts, financial services, health and wellness, etc.), you can benefit from hiring an identity designer. Great design can help you to:

BE MEMORABLE

Strong identity design sticks in customers’ minds. After seeing it a couple times, it becomes instantly recognizable as yours, and familiar is comforting.

LOOK ESTABLISHED

Even if you’re new, there’s no need to look like you launched yesterday. Great design can give your business depth and gravity and establishes authority.

LOOK BIGGER

Elegantly designed materials and lovely printing convey that you’re prospering. Customers want to work with successful companies.

CREATE DESIRE

Customers are drawn to attractiveness and a company who clearly gets them; we humans like to tie our identities to powerful and iconic brands.

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