Brand strategy vs. brand design: What’s the difference?

Feb 24, 2020 | Branding, Business

We’ve all heard the term “branding” before, but what exactly does it entail? Branding is an umbrella term that encompasses both strategy and design. However, branding, brand strategy, and brand design are often used interchangeably, which can cause some confusion around what’s what. Throw the term “brand identity design” into the mix and things get even more confusing. In this post, I’m breaking down what these different terms mean so that you can hopefully gain some clarity around what exactly you’re investing in and how it impacts your business.

Breaking down branding

As Jeff Bezos so concisely put it, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Branding, in a nutshell, is a conglomeration of all the traits, characteristics, and qualities that make up a brand. The way I like to conceptualize this is to think of a brand as a person–it has a voice, personality, and look. Just as every person is unique, so is every brand. Branding is what makes your business recognizable.

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Jeff Bezos

We often think of branding in visual terms, but there’s much more going on than meets the eye. Branding is also a feeling. It can be a scent, taste, and sound. Remember that infamous AOL dial-up tone? Or what about that sickly sweet waft of perfume that engulfed your senses every time you walked by Abercrombie & Fitch at the mall? (Can you guess which decade I grew up in?) Whether you’re conscious of it or not, these characteristics stir up some sort of feeling or thought that is tied to the brand.

Brand strategy

Brand strategy is step one of starting a business. It determines what you sell and how, to whom, and why. The more clarity you have around your brand strategy, the more successful you will be. Why? Because if you don’t know who you’re serving and why, you’re basically just flinging spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. A solid brand strategy helps ensure that your business idea is viable and has a place in the market, in turn setting your brand up for success from the get-go.

Brand design

Brand design encompasses all the visual elements that make up a brand. Ideally, before you even start thinking about your visual brand identity, you already have a solid brand strategy in place. In fact, I require that my brand design clients have at least a basic foundation for their brand strategy in place before I start working with them. The way I do this is to have my clients fill out a comprehensive brand questionnaire after they book with me. The questionnaire forces them to think about their strategy, even if they hadn’t previously worked on it. We then review their answers on a call to help fill in any gaps.

A lot of people still confuse logo design and brand design. A logo is not a brand. Logos are important, but they’re only one piece of the branding puzzle. A logo without a strategy behind it is just a graphic–it doesn’t say anything about who your brand serves and why.

Brand identity design

The terms “brand design” and “brand identity design” can be used interchangeably and often are. If you want to get really specific, you could say that brand identity design refers only to the visual aspects that define a brand, such as a logo or color palette. Whereas brand design could also encompass collateral elements like social media templates, business cards, icons, and so on.

What to take away

I hope this post gave you a little more clarity around the differences between branding, brand strategy, and brand design. You might be left wondering what you need to invest in to build a profitable business. The short answer is that it depends on your budget. In an ideal world, you’ll work with a strategist first to create your business plan, and then hire a designer to bring your new strategic brand identity to life. There are some branding experts out there that offer both strategy and design. And of course, there are marketing agencies that will take your brand all the way from point A to Z for a pretty penny. Another option, if you have the time and patience, is to DIY your strategy and then hire a designer, or vice versa (as a designer however, I don’t recommend that you DIY your brand visuals–it usually shows and first impressions are so important for your brand).

If you like the sound of working with a strategic brand designer, get in touch to learn more about how I can support you in bringing your dream business to life through intentional design.

Related post: Rebranding checklist: How to rebrand your business in 7 steps

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Steph Corrigan Design Blogger

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