On a second thought, this title could have been something like “business cards, logo, brand identity and branding; knowing the difference” as it would more appropriately reflect the progression from what clients ask for, to what brand designers and consultants would rather provide. The real debate is not about who is right or wrong, but a clear definition of terms, and how with more light shed on all sides, we might as well find ourselves on the same team.

If we take one empathetic step closer to “I need a business card” requests, we see a desire for everything that branding is about. Apart from sharing their contact info, and even though they may not always realize it, more often than not, the typical business owner wants something made just for them that looks great, so that the receiver can respect them more and remember them well whenever they see it. In a random story, she delivers her cards with a smile and hopes you can remember what she told you about her business whenever you see the card. Just that she leaves all of these expectations to a random “just come up with something nice”.

In an ideal situation, business cards would fall somewhere in between several phases and would probably form less than one-hundredth of all the things that would be prepared. But first, let’s talk about what everybody pays lip service to, the brand.

Brand and branding

The brand is the summary of what people store in their minds about a product, service, person, an entity etc. What comes to your mind when you think about Samsung? Whether right, wrong or biased, you are right. Different people have a different version of any brand in their heads, mostly biased (of course), but most of them would agree on a lot of their perceptions and memories about the brand. That sum total is the brand.

Rather than leave this to chance, companies that realize the potency of the brand undergo intentional strategizing, planning and designing aimed at influencing what people think about them — the brand. That’s branding.

Ileri Bamidele, Ayomide John and Mary Adefisayo discussing possibilities on a branding project

Fast-foods welcome you in a particular way, in a conscious attempt to make you connect their ‘brand’ with a particular feeling; sometimes welcoming, sometimes swift, sometimes both or whatever it is they have clearly narrated in their brand strategy document. The process(es) that gives birth to all of this is branding.

In one line, branding is the intentional process of influencing what a brand is in the minds of people.

Think about a teacher you liked the least back in school days. You have just walked out of his office. You are there sitting in a corner of the classroom, thinking of all the times he has put you on the spot, punished you for something you didn’t think you did wrong. There is a sum total of who he is in your mind and even though you have never been in his home before, you could have even also perceived he would be a terrible husband and father. Put everything in one piece. That’s his brand, especially if several other people think of him that same way.

The logo

While you may have been consumed with these thoughts and perceptions about your teacher for several minutes, your friends pull you from your thoughts and you all go play some football at break time. On your way back, let’s say you see him again, and the flash through your mind again. Pause. His face…, think of that as the logo. The most central unit of what you see and remember a brand. They usually come in symbols, letterforms, and sometimes like KFC, an actual face like in the example.

But what happens when you hear his voice a few metres away, or you see someone down the walkway wearing a particular type of pink shirt he likes …

Brand Identity

That’s the brand identity. It’s usually not one thing but a set or system of everything that identifies a brand, from yes, the logo (face), to the fonts (handwriting), colour (pink shirts), sound, motion style, what the communication materials look like and a whole lot more.

If it contributes to helping people identify a brand, it’s a part of the brand’s identity and should be rather intentional than left for chance, because either intentionally or otherwise, perceptions are being formed, and there is really no room for ‘playing safe’. It is hardly ever safe.

Seeing is one the strongest mediums of identifying, therefore, the visual part of identity is usually the most emphasized. Sometimes the term “visual identity” is used to specifically define that. However, brand identity goes on and on to include virtually everything, to the name of your favourite coffee shop to how the attendants smile, place your cup or hand you receipts.

Where to begin from…

You may be easily overwhelmed by the identity system of a big brand like CocaCola or Google but then it is helpful to begin from somewhere and understand that the size of company and reach of the brand also helps to determine what the most important things are.

The identity of a brand includes but is not limited to the logo, which is a key part of branding — the intentional efforts towards determining what a brand is in the minds of people. Branding in itself never ends. If the people behind a brand apply for an industry-relevant award and win, it is a big branding step as it contributes to how people perceive them. If I get to sit on a comfortable chair while waiting to be attended to in a banking hall and this makes me feel great and relieved, it is branding on the part of the bank, especially if it is intentional.

Now to the essential list. Building a brand at any level should include;

  1. Being clear on what the business, organization or product represents or stands for.
  2. Conducting some research about competitors and the market
  3. Using the information gathered to craft a strategy for what the brand should be in relation to others (its personality, tone, etc)
  4. Choosing names, taglines; designing a logo, other visual elements and their applications on letterheads, business cards, etc.
  5. Developing a guideline that will inform potential partners and third party users on how to apply the brand.

Most companies outsource the entire work above to professional brand professionals or agencies (design agencies or brand consultancies like ours). Depending on capital, some small businesses are unable to fit into their budget the cost of engaging brand professionals. However, we would also agree that sometimes it could also be as a result of a limited understanding of its importance and how it affects the bottom line, hence its lower position on the scale of priorities.

On branding projects with a small budget, the least should be that the clarity and strategy are “extracted” from the founder’s head, via the right questions. On projects like this, research gets replaced with carefully thought-out assumptions and intuition, which is never able to adequately replace it, however.

The standard process (summed up in 1–5 above) takes time but brings the best results. Where done right, you get a logo and identity system developed through a branding process, all being one part of the never-ending important work that branding is.