It’s a common mistake: Get a logo, choose a palette and some fonts, maybe design some fun visual elements you can play with on your letterhead and presentations, and call it a brand.
It is, of course, nothing of the sort.
I mean, actual usage of the word varies. If you want to get confused about what brand means, try looking it up on Wikipedia. The contributors who wrote that article can’t decide whether a brand is a product, a name, a company, a logo … what? Which makes perfect sense, because it’s neither.
In the old days, your brand was the mark you burned on your cattle or shipping crates to keep people from more or less accidentally stealing them. But unless you have a lot of free range cattle, or you worry that someone is going to mistakenly run off with all your stationary if you don’t put your name on it, that’s not a use case you need to worry about much anytime soon.
So, to be clear, when I say what a brand is, I’m not talking about what the word means to any given “expert” you’ll come across on Twitter – we can discuss that until the branded cattle come home. I’m talking about what a brand must be if it’s going to have any meaning in the marketplace and be of any use to you, its owner.
A brand is a promise.
It is a largely unspoken promise, but it holds everything – absolutely everything – the world expects from the people and products representing it.
The visuals are important. I’m not denying that for a second. Good visuals convey the promise in a split second. But the visuals do not make the brand any more than your wardrobe, makeup and jewelry make your personality. It is so much more than that.
Your brand is the quality of work and the level of service people expect. It is the way they are treated on the phone, and language in the email they get. It is their certainty that you can deliver on budget, by deadline, and the money they’re willing to put on the table in the first place.
Your brand is the exact feeling people have when they deal with you – often infinitely specific and nuanced in ways that there is no language for. And to those people it does not just exist in their perception of you. It is a commitment you have made.
But did you notice the twist?
Your brand is not the promise you would like to give, and that you intend to give. It is the promise that you will live up to the expectations people actually have to you – regardless of whether you meant to set those expectations, and regardless of whether you’re actually ready to meet them.
Every graphic designer knows it, but many often conveniently forget it when they design for themselves: The visual identity is not a brand in itself, but should project the brand you are building.
Then begins the hardest part of the brand: Living up to your own highest standards and ideals that should go into the brand, and making sure the world knows it.
Let us know if you need any help with that.