Branding vs Design: Why Understanding the Difference Matters

What is branding?

There is a lot of miscommunication around the word “brand.” Some design agencies further the confusion by claiming to do “branding” when they are really referring to logo design.

So, to understand the difference between branding and design, we need to define “brand.”

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Your brand is your reputation. It is not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is. It is how you’re perceived. Your brand is made up of the sum of your customer’s interactions.

“Branding” should be thought of as the actions that build your reputation in the mind of your customers.

As an owner or decision maker, having clarity on this topic will help you discern where to best spend your money and make the strongest impact.

Your reputation is the most valuable asset in your business. You can have all of the personnel, buildings and equipment in the world, but if your reputation is bad, you will fail.  

How Design Affects Your Brand (Good and Bad)

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Design is influential in determining your brand, but it’s merely a tool working towards something greater. Our minds form a deeply motivated perception purely on visual presentation.

  • Through design, you can connect with or alienate certain age groups and demographics.
  • Through design, you can catch attention and communicate feelings.
  • Through design, you can invoke trust, or do just the opposite.

These are just a few examples, but it’s easy to see how design can shape how you’re perceived.

Now, let’s look at some examples to better understand the relationship between branding and design.

An example of branding without design:

Running a radio commercial that explains why listeners should choose your restaurant the next time they are asked to cater the next office event by explaining why everyone would love your restaurant food. This would not include any “design,” but would certainly work to build your reputation in the mind of the customer.

There are many ways in which you will build your reputation that don’t include design.

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An example of branding through design:

Making takeout packaging that speaks your brand message, but is also so visually pleasing that your customers hesitate to throw it away. Maybe through a cool pattern or graphics you can capture attention and then communicate your value.

Practical Takeaways

While you don’t want to be constantly redesigning things, investing in branding should never stop. If you’re going to be remembered, you’ve got to say the right things to the right people consistently.

  1. Clearly define a brand strategy. If you have never gone through a communication strategy workshop, like the ones we host at Longitude, then that would be the first step. This is the foundation of everything you do and will influence every aspect of the business for years to come.
  2. Use design to communicate your brand strategy. Is your visual design communicating properly? Does it align with the perception you want people to have? Whether or not you need to go through a full redesign or not will depend on what you figure out in the strategy workshop. But make sure your design is working for you and not against you.
  3. Be consistent by following guidelines. If you don’t have a brand guidelines document in place, there is no way you’re going to achieve consistency. I encourage working with a branding expert to get yours developed.

Has it been a few years since you evaluated where your reputation and the contributing factors to your brand? You need to regularly gauge where you’re at, and how to move forward.

By Dustin Myers, Industry Expert