What Is a Brand?

What is a brand? A brand is not an object; not a name, icon, symbol or mark. A brand is an experience. It is a wholistic set of materials and real-world experiences attempting to embody an emotion or a core mission.

When one thinks of a brand, they think of a logo, a symbol. While the principle of a symbol is critical, it is in fact the extension of that brand into the world that is its key to success. A brand is a collection of products, touchpoints, interactions, spaces and words. In fact, a brand does not start with a logo, but rather ends with it. The logo is the embodiment of the wholistic brand experience––a summary of these interactions.

The key to developing a brand is gaining a full understanding of the array of possible interactions between the brand and the public and “designing” them. Concepting a brand requires a high-level strategy and visioning, far beyond the act of designing a set of marks. A company or organization seeking to invent or transform a brand must first find the common themes, emotions and goals for their company, product, services and employees, and their connection to society––socially and experientially. The act of aligning all of these variables toward the same core mission or experience is the initiation point of brand development.

A strong brand leverages these collectively visioned interactions. The primary goal of a brand is to highlight and amplify these integrated brand experiences, while becoming an element of its own. “Design” is not siloed in the realm of graphic design as it interacts with all areas of a company and product––but it is through graphic design that the brand comes to life in the world. Whether the brand is for a corporation, a product or a restaurant experience, the key question that drives branding is universal: what experience do we hope the user/client to have when they interact with this brand? 

The answer to this question is complex and varies drastically for different industries and client types. This is where the designer comes in. An effective brand design strategy forms the hub of interconnection of all of these elements, and hence the necessity for the role of creative designer. Every detail, from the creation/selection of typography to the formation of a color palette, to the detailing of the logo/mark, to the feel of print and packaging materials, to the selection of words in the tagline should all be focused on the generation of a cohesive brand experience. The imagining and designing of a brand identity system is, in principle, the core challenge for the design team. Yet, identity design is as much a creative management project as it is an inventive, artistic practice. A team must work with all levels of a client’s company and an array of vendors to invent and manage every critical detail of the production and realization of the overall experience. In fact, designing “everything” is the essence of branding.