What is a Brand?
Every day we’re confronted with hundreds — if not thousands — of brands. In the supermarket, for instance, we’re faced with dozens of different choices of water.* How do we decide between these multiple brands of chemically-identical product? Enter packaging: a deliberately designed material format intended to communicate differentiation and value against a product’s shelf neighbors. This is just one example of branding in action.
So, what is a brand?
Branding isn’t just a label or logo. It isn’t just a color palette. It isn’t just a story we tell potential customers. It’s the sum total of all of these elements, plus others. And in the eyes of Two Labs, great branding is achieved at the intersection of form and function — form being how it looks, and function taking into account a multitude of influences — in a way that leverages brand elements and mission in a manner that is visually appealing and verbally appropriate. It is the meeting point of what you do, who you are, and how you do it.
It is therefore imperative to take into account the strategic positioning of a brand, before even developing logo concepts or wireframes; and we’ll explain why in just a moment. But first, let’s quickly define some terms:
- A logo is the key brand element, typically around which all other brand elements are built.
- A brand identity is the collection of brand elements such as the typography, color palette, imagery, voice and tone that represent who or what you are.
- Branding is the action you take to activate your brand identity elements.
- A brand is what and how others perceive your product or company to be.
The Creation of a Brand
How is a brand created then? How do brands come to convey what we call Positive Visceral Value?
Branding, according to writer, educator, and designer Debbie Millman, is deliberate definition. “[which] is the result of intentional, strategic positioning,” says Millman, and “…when I talk about strategy I mean the classic Michael Porter, Harvard Business School definition of strategy, which is really one of two things: It’s either to choose to perform activities differently or to perform distinctly different activities than do rivals.”
Thus, a crucial part of the branding process is strategic positioning. Strategic positioning relies on a variety of influences, such as:
- Competitive landscape: Where and why a brand fits within an industry space against its competitors; what are its differentiating factors
- Perceived value: Why do people need this particular product/service? What value do they place on it in an economic and/or emotional sense
- Cultural anthropology: What historical and cultural factors past/present/future could influence a product or company and its relevance and success
- Context: More now than ever, brands depend on context to get their story across. Where will their ads live? On Instagram? In a newspaper? In a quarterly print and digital magazine? Who is the audience and target market that will be interacting with the brand? What are the historical precedents that relate to the product or company name, product itself, and the values that must be considered? Is the timing of a brand launch not only culturally relevant but also aware of what is happening within sociocultural movements? Consequently, if context is ignored, it must be recognized that it can harm a brand. (Think Pepsi and the Black Lives Matter movement, for example)
- Behavioral psychology: How and why would people engage with this brand? What might they see and how might they react? Also, look into relevant predictable human behavior
- Creative difference: The amount of visual miscellany we are exposed to each day is overwhelming. Designers have to intentionally craft imagery that cuts through the clutter and makes an honest impact.
All of these considerations, when taken together, can help a team of brand strategists (such as ourselves) set specific criteria for a brand’s development and its eventual success.
If you’d like to know more about our process of crafting deliberately differentiated brands, we’d love to hear from you! Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*We don’t encourage buying disposable plastic or bottled water. Try a reusable water bottle or canteen. Either way, stay hydrated out there folks!