What is a brand?

The definition of brand is surprisingly hard to pin down, and even professional agencies have differing opinions on how to define exactly what a brand is and does.

The elements of a brand — your logo, voice and style, colors and fonts, positioning statement, and more — all work together to define your product or service and help others identify it in the marketplace. A strong brand helps people relate to you, and understand what your company stands for. It also helps people remember your company and relate to it on an emotional level.

One easy way to define a brand is to think of it as your company’s personality. To illustrate this, we’re going to play a game along with our lesson.

Your logo: the visual mark of your brand

Many people think of a logo as a brand, but a logo is only a small part of a brand. A logo is simply a visual mark that identifies a company. Sometimes a logo is a company’s name, sometimes it’s an illustration or icon, and sometimes it’s a combination of both. A logo may say a little about a company or a lot, depending on the complexity of the logo and what the company does. But a logo is only the beginning of your brand!

Putting a brand face to a name

To illustrate the many elements of a brand, let’s start our game! We’re going to use a fictional person as a metaphor.

Disclaimer: In this game, I’m asking you to make assumptions about a fictional character based on limited information and visuals. In real life, please don’t judge a woman by her appearance, name, weight, age, or anything other than her brain and her heart.

Now that that’s off my chest, let’s learn more about branding!

Here’s how to play: First, imagine a woman named Norah. When you have a picture of Norah in your head, click the box below to see the real Norah.

Fictional Character Face for Brand Game

Was Norah what you expected? Chances are, the picture in your head was a little different. Or a lot different. The only information you had was “woman” and “Norah.” That leaves a lot of possibility.

Like the name Norah, your company’s name is just that — a name. Your company’s name may say a lot about your business, but it also may not. Either way, it can leave plenty of room for interpretation. The portrait of Norah works a little like a logo does for your company. It gives more information and helps represent the company visually. But it still doesn’t tell the whole story.

Show your personality with a visual brand

While your logo is a key identifying mark, visual elements like colors, fonts, patterns, and photography help further illustrate your company’s personality and evoke specific emotions. For example, a brand that uses a lot of pink and swirly patterns evokes feelings of femininity.

Let’s think again about our friend Norah. Like a logo, Norah’s face is only a glimpse of her true self. We can take a few guesses at Norah’s personality and style from looking at her face. But without additional detail, we can only assume. What do you think Norah’s personality is like? Click the box to reveal more of Norah.

Fictional Character for Brand Game

Well, look at that! Norah is funky, sassy, feminine, and confident. Norah’s bright outfit and power pose tell you more about her than her face. Was this the Norah you expected? Or did you visualize a tailored suit? Maybe gray activewear? What you thought of Norah may have changed completely once you saw the rest of her.

Think of Norah’s visual style as the other visual assets of your brand. These are all part of your brand messaging, and help further define what your company is all about. Your business needs these visuals to send the right message to your audience. Otherwise, your audience will define your message for you!

So much more than just a pretty brand face

After Norah’s kind face and fun style attract your attention, you’d probably take some time to get to know her. You’d learn she’s 33, married, has a 4-year-old son, grew up in Michigan and now lives in Vancouver, has an MBA, works in publishing, enjoys horseback riding, and volunteers at a senior care facility. Did you guess any of this when you first thought of a woman named Norah? (If you did, let me know and I’ll help build a great identity for your psychic business!)

Just like Norah, your brand is more than just visuals. Every interaction you have with your audience helps define your brand. And every interaction has the potential to be misinterpreted. This is why it’s important to develop a strong brand identity and strategy. 

Wrap up: a complete brand

By comparing a brand’s elements to a person’s name, look, and characteristics, we’ve discovered that a brand encompasses so much more than a logo. Your brand is how the world sees your company. Make it stand out with a strong brand identity!

Learn more about developing a strong brand identity in my next post, Brand Identity 101, Part 2: Discover Your Brand. You can also download my free Brand Identity Starter Kit for a discovery worksheet and brand board template.