What is a brand?

And why do I need one?

The simple answer is that you already have a brand so the question should be:

What is my brand? And  is it saying the right thing about my business?

Three not One

There are three words that are key to this question and often get muddled or misused. They are:

  • Brand

  • Identity

  • Logo

A brand

Is quite simply what your customers, well anyone, feel about you. It is their gut reaction when thinking about you. This may not be easily vocalised but everyone has a split second feeling when they see, hear or touch anything to do with your business - which could be you, if you are the business, or it could be a product or service. Every business has ‘touch-points’ these are the point at which people come in to ‘touch’ with you - it may be a website, packaging, flyer, brochure, business card, sales rep or even Alexa app.

Ok so with that in mind the important question is now  How do I make sure my brand is saying the right thing?

To find out what your brand is saying, you need to talk directly to the people who are in contact with it; your customers, prospective customers, staff, even strangers and with a questionnaire, interview or informal discussion find out what that gut feeling is.

Brand Identity

Also known as Corporate Identity

An identity is the tangible assets that a business uses to influence their brand in a positive and reflective way. An identity is the look and feel of those touch points - your website, packaging, etc.

An identity is created, usually by a designer, and is a set of style guides to be used for all marketing material created for the business. This would be :

  • Typeface styles

  • Colour palette

  • Image style

  • Icon style

  • Typography (or Semantic) style, ie; headings, quotes, links, body text, etc

The process of creating an identity will start with a period of discovery, this is understanding your business, your customers, brand position, culture, association, promise,  personality, values, tone of voice, driving force and message.

It is drawing out what your brand says about you at the moment and what it needs to say about you moving forward.

A quick note; a false brand - saying something that you are not - will become quickly apparent, gut reactions are nothing if not accurate.

Logo

The next stage of this process would most likely be creating a logo, the logo needs to embody the brand identity and be an ambassador for the business.

A logo is your name written in a style dictated by the identity usually with an ident, emblem or some sort of visual clue to enable it stand out from the competition.

So when I get asked by a small business if they really need a logo the answer is similar to do I need a brand. In that if you write your name, then you have to all intent ‘got’ a logo. There is no harm in creating a ‘wordmark’ that is just your name written in a typeface dictated by the identity.

I liken an identity without a logo or wordmark to a body without a head. You can look the part, dress the part but if you’ve not got your head screwed on you will find it harder to start a conversation.

The decision on logo or wordmark is one to have with your designer, but remember what your brand is to say about you and that in a crowded market we want to be remembered, a logo does this.

Use cases

I need a website, but I don’t have a logo

I work with many small businesses and it isn’t completely unusual that a small business or sole trader will come to me asking for a website. I ask if they have a logo, or identity across other forms of media, to which they reply no, and then say, do I really need one?

The answer is well, if I design you a website I am creating an identity as I can’t design the website without first looking at the style of the elements to reflect who you are and what you do. If I design this then to have any form of cohesion and thus brand power across all your other forms of media, they need to conform to this same identity so would benefit from this style guide as well. To do this we need to start with a design discovery meeting and if we are creating a brand identity it would be logical to create a logo or wordmark from which to hang this on.

Try and imagine for a moment, a professional, representational, well designed website for your business that at the top in Arial said MY BUSINESS (put in your name). I think immediately you would realise that this would skew any ‘gut’ reaction to this particular touch-point thus making the whole exercise obsolete. Again head without body.

Interestingly I have tried to design a website with no logo or identity style and maybe this is just me but I have found it impossible without first creating the business style and a logo or wordmark from which to hang that style off

I don’t think I need a brand identity as the content should speak for itself

Well yes, in fact I wouldn't work with you if it didn't, but in this day and age we don't have the luxury of a prospective customer spending the time to read the content before making a decision as to whether they want to give over their time to build a relationship with us. So we need the visual aspect to, like a book cover, give a flavour of what is inside to ask these busy people to commit to our brand promise.

I don’t need a brand, I don’t notice anyone else’s anyway

Hmmm, when we talked about split second gut reactions, it is just that. If you don’t notice someone's brand it is most likely as it fits - not jars - with you, so you have already subconsciously made the decision that their values may be in line with yours. Now of course some brands work to stand out, which is where a strong logo comes in, and some work to fit in -  think professional services such as law or finance where their business model is generally about being inline with their industry and behind the scenes for their client. Either way, a logo will subliminally help to cement the brand identity in your client or prospective customer’s mind and if seen again and again will start to form familiarity which in turn forms a relationship. Whether we like it or not, what seems familiar to us seems more trustworthy.

On the flip side

I work with large businesses who are all about the brand, they have departments who's job is solely to manage the brand, using a strong identity and consistency across all media touch-points to reinforce the brand message at every opportunity. Be that through social media, a website, app, or offline at events or point of sale. Working the brand identity to influence the brand in a positive way creates relationships which in turn create sales and long term custom

Now just before you go…

There are a few more words to think about and that is when someone talks about branding:

Branding

The process of creating an identity to build a brand.

Branded

Like on animals, it has been marked to belong, ie; branded media means that the identity style has been applied to this touch-point, to reflect the business and reinforce the brand.

And finally…

So the question is not do I need a brand or do I need a logo it is instead :

Is my brand working for me or do I need a designer to help me take control, create memorable awareness and present my business and services in a positive and reflective light. And if you are already talking to a designer about designing an aspect of your identity - like your website - then I would say the answer is most probably yes!

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Abi Fawcus is a freelance UX Consultant, Website Designer, Logo Designer and Graphic Designer based in Woodbridge, Suffolk. Contact me for more information.