The Entrepreneur's Guide to Eight Common Branding Terms
>>Updated! Thanks to some great suggestions this is now a guide to ten common branding terms instead of eight. Keep em coming!<<
For years I went to the same hairdresser. She was awesome, knew exactly what I meant when I said my hair was just “hanging there” again, and understood that I only like layers until my next haircut. I loved her.
But one day, as things go, I couldn’t go see my normal lady. I needed a haircut and I had to go to a salon I wasn’t used to and talk to a person I didn’t know. I’m not a girly girl, and my hair is about as low maintenance as you get, so even though it may seem silly to some people hair is a language I don’t speak fluently.
Anyway, I go to this new salon and the girl is very nice. I tell her that I need an inch or two cut off the ends of my hair and that it’s time for my layers to come back. She asks me whether I prefer long layers or short layers. Now, granted, I should have asked a follow up question like “Huh?”, but I was young and easily embarrassed at the time. Instead I quickly replied “Oh, long layers please!” like I knew exactly what I was talking about. Her next question was to ask where I wanted my shortest layer to start.
Fast forward an hour and I’m driving away from a salon on the verge of tears because I look like the result of a one night stand between a mushroom and Billy Ray Cyrus. I once cut all of my hair completely off, which is not a good look on me, and it looked better than this cut.
Now, am I blaming the stylist? Not entirely. Looking back from the perspective of a professional who works with clients with different levels of experience I realize she probably should have made sure I knew what I was asking for, because the cut I got was… special. But I also realize that had I known the difference between long and short layers the outcome would’ve been much different.
The moral of my hairtastrophe (Hah! Get it?) is that we all communicate better if we have a solid foundation to work from, and understanding some of the basic terms that the other person is using can make a world of difference in how well a project goes.
I'm always happy to teach my clients as we go because I don't expect them to know my industry just as I don't expect to know theirs. Part of the reason I write for you every Thursday is because I believe it's important to share what you know without making anyone feel less than, which sadly isn't always the case, especially in techy fields.
So, without further ado, here are eight of the most common branding terms I hear misused around the interwebs. Feel free to ask about others in the comments or add your own!
This is the process of creating a brand identity for a company, product, or service. That process includes everything from choosing a name, picking out brand colors and fonts, deciding what the brand’s voice will be, narrowing down an ideal target audience, and settling on focus keywords. This is the most general of all the terms we’ll talk about, and ends up being used as a catch all for all things brand related.
A brand identity is the sum of all those parts we talked about in the branding description above. It’s how a business, product, or service chooses to be perceived by consumers. Every brand develops an identity organically as a result of how they present themselves to the world. A well thought out brand identity is carefully crafted to create certain feelings in consumers.
Your logo is one part of the visual representation of your brand identity. It’s a very important part of your brand, and may be the very first interaction a potential customer has with you, but it’s not the only part of your brand.
Submark / Alternate Logo
Sometimes called an alternate logo, sometimes called a submark, this is just a variation of your main logo design. It's usually a bit smaller and contains a more simple graphic representation of the full logo. This is often used as a favicon (see below), watermark, or in place of the full logo on some documents if it's fairly complex or the business name is super long.
The favicon is the little graphic that shows up in the browser tab or address bar of your browser when you visit a site. Mine is a teeny tiny dreamcatcher... see it up there? These are also used as larger graphics when browsers list bookmarks and recently visited sites.
This is another aspect of your overall brand identity, but it’s much less concrete than the visual parts like your logo, which means it’s also commonly overlooked. Your brand voice is the intentional tone and writing/speaking style your brand uses when communicating with consumers. In even simpler terms, your brand voice is how you speak to your customers and potential customers, on social media, your website, your emails, at trade shows, anywhere you have a point of contact. Consistency in your brand voice is massively important in establishing trust.
Marketing is a high level word similar to branding. It can be a catch all for So. Many. Things. But in it’s simplest form it’s the process and actions involved in promoting, making people aware of, and potentially selling a service, product, or brand. Advertising and branding are both forms of marketing.
This is a specific, defined set of actions used to promote a specific product, service, or brand. The keyword here is specific. You are actively campaigning to promote the awareness of a specific product, service, or brand.
A mood board is a collection of photos that are compiled with the intent of visually representing a certain mood or feeling. This is used by branding designers as a way to communicate the desired “feel” of a brand with a client before beginning logo sketches or choosing colors. I generally pull my mood board images from Pinterest by searching for the tone words I want to convey.
A brand board is a compilation of all the visual elements of your brand and their suggested usage. This may also be referred to as a brand style guide. For example, when I finish a branding project I send my client a PDF brand board with their logo and its variations, swatches of their brand colors along with the HEX and CMYK codes, examples of any fonts I’ve chosen for the brand along with recommended usage for those, and any other graphic elements or patterns that round out the brand design.