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Branding, identity design, and logos: what’s the difference?

Business magazines and websites are sprinkled with terms like branding, brand identity, logo design, corporate identity, and brand strategy. Different terms can describe the same thing. Sometimes the same term is used to describe different things. Confusing!

As a brand strategist and identity designer, I want to be clear with my clients about what I do (and also what no freelance designer can do for you.)

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What is a brand identity?

An identity is a brand’s set of visual and verbal elements. A subset of a brand is the brand identity (also called corporate identity or identity system). The key word is identity. Just like with people, checking an ID proves you’re you and not somebody else. The tangible elements you can see when a company communicates with you make up its identity design: Logo variations, colors, fonts, taglines, photography style, illustration style, patterns, icons, messaging. ​ A brand style guide is a document that records this identity. It keeps everyone on the right track, using the right fonts, colors, and more. Applications, or places where this identity can be “applied,” include websites, business cards, brochures, signs, packaging, vehicles, and more.

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Simple brand style guide book documenting an identity

What is a logo?

A logo is a mark that represents a company. Of all the parts that make up your brand identity, your logo is the most visible point of recognition. It doesn’t need to tell the world everything you do. It’s a tag or identifier. A red bullseye doesn’t reveal all the clothing, housewares, and food you can buy at Target. But it works as a quick mental trigger for everything you’ve learned about Target over time. And if you knew absolutely nothing about Target, you could still make some guesses about the style and personality of the company by looking at the logo.

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Logos by Push Start Graphics

What do identity designers do?

Brand identity designers are creative professionals with an expertise in branding. They use strategy to create the elements of your brand. Your logo variations, color palette, typography, image style, tagline, voice, and tone should be unique to your company. They help illustrate your brand. As brand designers/strategists, we help companies and clients develop a brand identity that conveys a specific idea or feeling to it's customers. Our duties encompass developing and overseeing a wide variety of advertising, marketing, and content creation strategies, including website design and social media. Brand designers also design logos and other graphics as well as in-store branding such as merchandise displays and packaging.

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Full Service

Branding Package

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Brand Identity Package

Benefits of hiring an identity designer for your business

Maybe you’re a small business beginning from scratch. Or maybe you’ve been around for many years, and you’re wondering whether you should update your existing brand identity. After all, it’s gotten you this far! Is it worth investing in better design? For businesses that get all their customers from neighborhood referrals—and they’re satisfied with that—it’s probably not worth it. Think of plumbers, mechanics, or dentists. As long as their service is great, nobody minds if their visual branding is less than stellar. But if you’re in a competitive market or an industry where aesthetics and messaging can increase your revenue (think food and beverage, hospitality, fashion, tech, financial services, health and wellness, etc.), you can benefit from the work of an identity designer. You might need a brand refresh if your mission has shifted, your audience has changed, your products and services are different, you have new competition, or you want to change your reputation. Maybe your old identity design is dated, and consumers are no longer responding. You need to signal the start of a new era.

Great design will help you:
Spark desire

Customers are drawn to visual appeal and a company who clearly gets them.

Be memorable

Strong identity design differentiates you from the other choices. You stick in customers’ minds.

Look established

Even if you’re new, there’s no need to look like you launched yesterday. The right brand identity design can convey stability and longevity.

Create Loyalty

When your design fits your company and is associated with a good experience, customers form a lasting emotional connection.