Branding: The Basics

March 28, 2020

The three elements you need to know

Imagine with me for a moment that you’re walking through your local mall with a friend (it’s ok if you stop off at Mrs. Fields and grab a cookie – we’ll wait) and something catches your eye as you meander through the slow-moving crowd: a huge, lit-up sign in the shape of an apple with a bite taken out of it. Your gaze follows down to the large plate-glass windows and behind them you see people wearing casual blue t-shirts with lanyards, interacting with mall shoppers. You turn to your friend.

“Want to go to the Apple store?” you ask her.

“Sure!” She replies.  “I love Apple stuff.”

In this very short interaction we’ve given an example of the three core elements of a brand: the brand itself, branding, and brand identity. Let’s take a look at all 3 in-depth.

Element 1: Brand

“Sure!” She replies.  “I love Apple stuff.”

Your friend doesn’t hate Apple, just like them or feel indifferent. She loves Apple.

This describes the brand. The brand is how people feel about the company. Now, that may be a difficult concept because it encompasses a whole lot, but that’s why brand is such an important aspect. Some people (like your friend) love Apple; some despise them. This is because the brand is also the personality of a company. It’s the sum of all of its parts – mostly what they do and say.

The easiest way to think about it is in the context of a person. Let’s take a moment to turn the tables and ask you why your friend is your friend? Why is she special? What makes her different from all the other people on the planet who are strangers instead of being your friend? You’d probably answer something like “well, she’s got a great personality.” And you’d be right; over the years she’s been there for you when you needed her help (and even when you only kinda needed it). She’s funny, smart and likes the same things you do. In short, it’s because of the things she does and says that shapes your perception of her.

Brands are the same. Apple takes a lot of care in properly crafting their brand. Some people like Apple and some people do not. Just like a person, some companies have a personality that just doesn’t jive with their personal beliefs or values or goals. What’s important is that a company builds a brand that generates a positive outward image that speaks to a large amount of people and that they say and do everything that is consistent with their brand.

Element 2: Brand Identity

“something catches your eye…a huge, lit-up sign in the shape of an apple with a bite taken out of it. Your gaze follows down to the large plate-glass windows and behind them you see people wearing casual blue t-shirts with lanyards, interacting with mall shoppers.”

Uniforms, logos, typography, colors, packaging…they all play a role in shaping a brand. The brand identity is easiest to understand because it’s essentially everything you can see that pertains to the brand.

Your friend has her own brand identity. What clothes does she wear? How does she do her hair? Her handwriting style? These things make up her ‘brand’ (personality).  Everything that you can see (tangible) comprises your friend’s brand identity.

Apple’s brand identity is simple to spot. Their font? San Francisco. Colors? Mostly neutral  – Silver/gray/black, white, and blue (store uniforms). Even the elements of their store design (clean lines, minimalism) echo the simplistic nature of their products. Every part of their brand identity is consistent and true to their overall brand.

Design should also speak to your brand identity.

It’s also worth mentioning that design plays a huge role in the brand identity process. Making sure that designed elements speak your ‘brand language’ and are consistent visually and emotionally. Example: the MacBook. Sleek, minimal, Space Gray in color, Apple logo. Everything Apple does, down to the MacBook’s body design and product dimensions, aligns with the personality and message of the brand.

Element 3: Branding

To call branding an ‘element’ of a brand is somewhat of a misnomer because it’s not necessarily a facet of a brand itself, but it heavily pertains to a brand. Branding is the process of creating or building a brand. Brand and brand identity are the products of the branding process. I wanted to add this in here though, so you are aware of the distinction when they hear brand vs. branding. 

A Final Word

Hopefully this helps clear up some things about brands and the terminology around them. Companies who successfully launch and maintain a clear and consistent brand will most certainly be set up for marketing glory. If you own a small business, and are planning on tackling the branding process by yourself, do your research! Study successful companies and take a look at their brands. What do they do right? If you decide to leave it to the professional marketers and brand strategists, make sure that they can tell the difference between these concepts as they are unique in their own right and should be treated as such. Remember, your brand is how people feel about your company, so you want to make sure it’s done correctly right off the bat!