Confusing Brand with Brand Identity

By Steve Gilman

I recently attended a “branding session” where I, along with other participants, was asked by a consultant to “brainstorm a brand”.  This was surprising to me on two levels.  First, the consultant in question was billed as a branding expert.  Second, what she was asking was basically impossible.  Why?  The reason has to do with a basic (and very common) confusion over the difference between brand identity and a brand.

“Brand” is the promise and expectations that live inside each customer’s mind about a company, product or service.  It is not something that can be “brainstormed” in a session – it already exists, and is oftentimes carefully built over years or decades. People are loyal to brands – they love them, identify with them, buy them, and believe in the superiority of the brands they choose.

“Brand” also reflects a wide range of marketing decisions – such as competitive positioning, target audience selection and, in some cases, even pricing – all of which influence consumer associations with a brand.  All of these factors taken together contribute to what a brand represents.

“Brand Identity”, on the other hand, relates to the brand mark (logo) and other materials that identify the source of a product and distinguish that product from those of its competitors.  Ideally, a brand mark is memorable, and provides emotional and functional differentiation.  Brand identity also includes many other elements (sometimes depending on industry) such as associated logos, slogans, graphic designs, packaging, etc. Some familiar examples of brand identity elements are:  specific words or “brand names” such as Nike or Apple; logos and designs such as Nike’s swoosh or Starbucks’ siren; slogans or taglines such as “Just do it”; or sounds and music like the Intel audio “signature”.

I’ll post more branding definitions in the future, as branding and the development of brand identity is a complicated and detailed practice.

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