Branding & Brand Identity - Terms Defined

There is so much out there about branding that it’s enough to boggle the mind. Googling “small business branding” is likely to leave you more confused than when you started, with a slew of terms swirling around your brain. In addition to the words "brand" and "branding", you’ll find brand identity, brand strategy, brand equity, brand standards, branding system, brand consistency, brand vision, brand experience, brand ambassador, and brand recognition, to name a few. You can add to the list: logo, wordmark, visual identity, niche, style guide, graphic elements, messaging, and more.


In fact, the term branding itself is often misused, and many people think it’s something it really isn’t. Whether that’s a good thing or not isn’t for me to say. What I can say is that I don’t think it’s necessary to be able to clearly define every brand-related term to launch a successful small business.

I do, however, think it’s a good idea to have a handle on a few basic terms that will make things easier when working with a graphic designer to develop a brand identity for your new business.


First, let’s talk about what a brand isn’t. It’s not your logo, your visual identity, or your marketing collateral (website, stationery, brochures, etc.).

Your brand is what your customers think of when they hear your business or product name. It’s what people expect to get when they interact with your products or services. Your brand comes from who you are, who you want to be and who your customers perceive you to be. It’s what you stand for and what sets you apart from your competitors. 

@@Your brand is what other people say about you
when you’re not in the room. 



Branding is the act of establishing your company's reputation. It’s partly what happens day in and day out when customers interact with your business, product, or service. It’s also the process of consciously shaping how people perceive your brand through visual elements such as your logo, identity and website.

@@Branding is the art of aligning what you want people to think about your company with what people actually do think about your company. And vica versa.

-Jay Baer, Convince and Convert Author with Amber Naslund of The Now Revolution@@


Your brand identity is the visual representation of your brand. It’s one way businesses influence public perception of their brands.

It includes the following elements:


A logo is a graphic symbol that represents your brand. Ideally, it is simple, memorable, timeless, appropriate and unique, and when people see it, they immediately think of your business or product. A logo can be a mark, usually accompanied by your business name (unless your brand is so well known that you don’t need the text anymore - think Target or Shell). Alternatively, it can be a wordmark or logotype, a text-only typographic treatment of your business name (think Coca-Cola, FedEx or Google).


Your visual identity is how your logo is used and what colors, fonts, illustrations, patterns, photographs and other graphic elements accompany it on materials like your website, stationery, brochures, social media profiles, etc. 


A Style Guide helps maintain consistency throughout all of your business materials. It offers guidelines for the use of your brand identity and all of its elements, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you need to develop a new piece.

Style Guides can be as simple or complicated as you want, but they should provide guidance for any situation you might come across when using your brand identity. For instance, what do you do with your logo when it’s on a light background or a dark background? What variations of your logo exist and when should they be used? Which versions of your fonts should you use for headlines vs. body copy? When should you use your additional graphic elements and what colors should be applied? 


Branding, with all of its terminology, can be downright confusing and overwhelming, but it doesn't have to be. No one is going to test you on your Brand IQ, but it is a good idea to understand a few key terms before taking off on your small business journey. Hopefully, these will get you off on the right foot!