The messy language around brand, brands, branding, brand identity and logos

Jason Cooke

There’s a book on branding design that lists fifteen definitions of ‘branding’ side by side on a double page spread*. All of them are different. None of them wrong.

Thats a pretty confusing state of affairs. To help out newcomers meeting this messy language for the first time I’ve tried to make simple and relatable some of the main terms. Let me say it’s by no means an attempt at defining these words but rather a quick guide using everyday language to help navigate the lingo.

Firstly, let’s get the most common misconception out of the way. Your logo is not your brand. Related yes. The same thing. No. I'll get back to the logo.

So what is your brand?

It might be simplest to think of your 'brand' as your reputation; what is being said and has been said about you in the market. Note that I didn’t say what you are saying about yourself. This is because your brand, much like your reputation, is generated by your customers. To quote Marty Neumeier in his brilliant book ‘Zag’ - ‘Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.’ Therefore when developing a brand the obvious goal is to establish and then maintain a good reputation and and ultimately become known as the 'go to' for your particular enterprise.

Your brand isn’t what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.

Marty Neumeier


The day to day use of ‘brands’ refers to the recognisable names in a genre. These are established, well known and where they are positioned in the market is broadly understood (eg. cheap vs expensive or everyday vs prestigious).


Think of 'branding' as all the activities an organisation does to establish and influence its reputation (brand). It can be quite expansive. Of course there are the obvious visible aspects of branding such as advertising, websites, logos and packaging etc. However there are also the less visible influences such as company culture, operations, human resources. Furthermore there are the activies that blends both the visible and invisible, such as social media and customer interactions etc. All these aspects contribute to a commonly understood reputation.

Brand Identity

Brand identity is the part of ‘branding’ that helps distinguish you from competition and for customers. Essentially this is referring to the visual language, graphic design, taglines and soundbytes which an organisation will consistantly use to differentiate itself, and to maintain that distinction. If your brand is your reputation, then your brand identity is the face and character of that reputation. It’s how you look, speak and carry yourself. Look after it.


And that brings us back to the logo. A logo can be thought of as a signal. This signal summarises the knowledge and reputation of a brand for all those familiar with it. For those unfamiliar, it’s a signal of expectation, a feeling of what one can expect from the company behind the logo. A logo that consistently measures up to the promise of a great product or service can become very powerful.

Putting them together

As your reputation (brand) is owned by your customers... you must work at influencing that reputation. You gain a respect, trust and the loyalty by delivering on promise (branding). You package that reputation with your ‘brand identity’. As part of this identity, your ‘logo'  may occassionally signal your entire brand. When starting out you might believe that you don’t have a reputation yet… don’t be silly. Package the reputation you aspire to and grow into it. Do it well enough for long enough and you may become one of the ‘brands’.


*Branding in five and half steps by Michael Johnson

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