The Difference Between a Brand and a Visual Identity

by | Oct 4, 2019

Ever noticed how easily people toss the word “brand” around in conversations? “You must build your brand!” “I just re­branded my business!” “Do you do branding?” It rolls off the tongue as a muddled, overarching word meant to describe everything about a business.

But what does the word “brand” actually mean?

What I’ve noticed is that many people use “brand” and “visual identity” interchangeably. Maybe it has something to do with the images that come to mind when we think of the word “brand,” such as a rancher searing a logo into the haunch of his cattle. At a glance, everyone knows whom it belongs to. It’s extremely visual, right? But is that little symbol the epitome of what he’s worked his entire life to build? Is the brand his “brand?”

What’s the difference between brand and visual identity, anyways?

I wanted to get well­rounded feedback on the question, so I turned to the wise corners of LinkedIn. Here’s what people told me:

  • A brand is the “big picture.” It’s the personality, the voice, the character, the unity, and the visual identity of a company.
  • Compare both “brand” and “visual identity” to a person. How is he or she presented to the world? What are the external identifying factors? This outside presentation is the visual identity. On the flip side, how is the person perceived and judged? What associations do we make with the person, with their “essence?” That is the brand.
  • A brand is the personality and visual identity is the tangible expression of that personality.
  • A brand incorporates the elements of a visual identity (website, logo, social media imagery, packaging, stationery, email headers, etc.) and uses it to express values, style and unique messaging.
  • Visual imagery such as logo, letterhead, color, composition, and layout comprises the initial vibe of a business. The brand is more of an emotive concept. How does it make a person feel?
  • A visual identity helps a brand create cohesion and consistency.

So we know the two terms are distinctly different, and yet one element is not complete without the other. Let’s dig a bit further into what creates a brand.

  • A brand is the experience that a business conveys to its people. Coca­Cola does this masterfully. Their logo, instantly recognizable due to their longevity, only scratches the surface. Your personal encounters with their product is what makes their brand beloved.
  • A brand is based on “touchpoints.” Every interaction determines a feeling. People form a story inside their heads based on how you make them feel and the values they believe you have. They create it. They experience it. A brand is their perception of your company’s soul.
  • A brand is earned. Over time. Through a consistent presence and evolving story. Because of your promise and how you keep it. BOOM. Like my friend Dennis Conforto says, “A brand is a promise kept. Whatever you say the brand is or what the brand will do, it must do.”

Does your business need a compelling visual identity? Abso­freaking­lutely. The look and feel of your business is what will initially attract people to you. They’ll resonate with your colors or vibe or style or voice. Strong brands are built on a strong foundation of messaging and design. After that, the way you answer the phone to how you follow up after a business transaction (and everything in between) determines how your brand will show up in the world.

What are your thoughts on brand vs. visual identity? Still confused about what you should focus on? We’d love to lend a hand. Contact us today for a complimentary chat about your business.

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