a guide for creative business owners
by Brittany Taylor
published December 1, 2016
updated June 5, 2018
¶ I don’t have a goofy story to start this post with about a near-catastrophe when I used the word "branding" when I ought to have said "brand."
In fact, I’m gonna let you in on a secret: Where brand vs. branding is concerned, there is no such thing as a catastrophe. This is not a make-or-break situation. Nobody’s gonna die if you use the wrong one.
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I should know. I do it all the time. That’s why I don’t have a story for you: I’ve slipped in “brand” where I should have thumb-typed “branding” hundreds of times. I’m not alone, either. Just about every branding and non-branding creative professional I know has said one when they technically meant the other.
Whoops. But still, you know, nobody died. Phew.
The brand vs. branding word-swapping is both not-a-big-deal and a-thing-worth-talking-about at the same time. Let’s spend a little time talking about why before we talk about what a brand is and how it’s different from branding (and logos and color palettes and all that other stuff).
Deep breath. Ready to dive in? Ha! Like you have a choice. /push
When you are the person in charge—even if you’re only in charge of yourself, like I am—you don’t have spare time to waste fiddling about. You need to proceed directly from establishing your goals to crafting an action plan to doing the work required to be successful.
Understanding the semantics of brand vs. branding is a part of that. When you can separate the two concepts in your mind, you’ll be able to streamline your to-do list so that you can more efficiently and effectively achieve your desired results.
The difference between “brand” and “branding” comes down to parts of speech. “Brand” is a noun. “Branding” is a verb.
Think of it this way: You are a rancher. You’re holding an iron brand wrought in the shape of your ranch’s logo. In front of you is a cow. The act of placing your red-hot brand on your cow’s booty is branding.
See? The brand is the thing. The branding is the action.
With businesses, though, it becomes a little more complex.
A business’ brand is the cumulative client or customer experience created by you, the creator, and your motley crew of awesomesauce people.
This brand is the result of branding, just as it is on a ranch.
Branding is the work you do to create your business’ ideal client or customer experience. It’s not something that just happens. It’s a thing you actively and continually develop.
When people talk about a brand, they’re giving public recognition to the branding work that has been done. When the brand the public perceives lines up with the goals of the branding work you undertook, you have branded successfully—that is, you have created the brand you intended to create.
A brand is an experience—we’ve established that already. An experience has scads of pieces to it, whether it’s a trip to Disney World or a wedding reception or a cocktail hour at a boutique hotel.
For an online business, the elements that comprise that experience are a little bit different. Typically, it’s less about tactile elements and more about what you can see, both from a design and communication point-of-view. The ones I’m listing here are an incomplete list of the most talked-about brand elements for creative online business.
A visual representation of your business’ name
The distinct set of colors used by your brand and exactly how they are used in different situations
Anything associated with your business that is not a logo.
An online home for your brand that is styled to be an extension of your brand
The words and phrases you use to talk about the work you do, the people you serve, and the things you believe in.
The beliefs your brand holds.
¶ As you can see, the work of branding involves a slew of different pieces—and processes. The ones you use are often dictated by what part of branding you’re working on (think: visual, like a logo design or website, or story-oriented, like writing a tagline or an about page).
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I use a few phrases that make sense to talk about here. Onward!
I am not a designer. I don’t create logos or build color palettes or websites for my clients. When the online business community talks about brands or branding, however, most assume that the discussion is purely about visuals—logos, colors, and websites.
But it’s not. I work on the other side of branding, the story side. To distinguish the brand storytelling work I do from the visual work my design colleagues do, I use the phrases “visual branding” and “story branding.”
A brand story creates a narrative around your business. It’s one-part origin myth, detailing where you came from and how you got to be where you are now. It’s one-part manifesto, explaining what you believe in and how you’re acting on those beliefs. It’s one-part vision, exploring where you want to take your business in the future. And it’s one-part dating profile, appealing to your target audience and giving them personal insight into you, in return. The words, phrases, and ideas included in your brand story are all part of your overall brand.
This is how you want to be perceived by your adoring fans. It’s your reputation, sometimes called your “brand reputation.” When I talked earlier about setting brand goals to work toward in your branding, the brand identity is that goal. It’s how the brand you create is thought of by the public.
Keep your branding on-track with these 16 questions
My name is Brittany, but my friends and clients call me "Britt." Online small business owners hire me to create content strategies and write their blog posts, email newsletters, and social media updates. I work with bosses around the world from the marshes of Charleston, S.C.