The ultimate branding glossary: 14 terms every entrepreneur should know
There are a lot of words thrown around in terms of branding. Most of the time, I think non-marketing/creative/branding types really don’t have any idea what the differences are between some of these terms, OR even what most of them mean.
Listen, I get it. At the beginning of my career, I did a lot of smiling & nodding- pretending like I knew EXACTLY what everyone was talking about. It was my introduction to the fast-paced agency world, and 1) nobody had time to explain ANYTHING to the new girl, and 2) I was trying my best not to look like the dumb one in the room. I muddled my way through, figured things out, and 15+ years later here I am with all sorts of branding know how to pass on.
I certainly don’t ever want you to look or feel like the dumb on in the room either (at least when it comes to branding- I can’t help you out with those “sick” dance moves), so I compiled a glossary of branding terms every entrepreneur should know. Let’s dive in!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: A brand is not a logo.
A brand is much more esoteric than that because it’s not actually a physical thing. It’s how all the other things on this list come together to create how people think or feel about your brand. It’s a living entity- as Micheal Eisner says, the thousands of small gestures over time that create your Brand with a capital “B.”
If a “brand” is the noun, then “branding” is the verb. It’s the process or synthesis you go through to create a brand to share with the rest of the world.
Brand or Visual Identity
This is where things get a little confusing sometimes. A lot of industry people (myself included) use the term Brand Identity to describe all the visual "stuff" that makes up your brand: Logo, Color Palette, Fonts, Patterns, illustrations, photographic style, etc. A simpler and more straightforward thing to call it is Visual Identity. Use whichever one floats your boat.
These are the tangible things that are created for your brand beyond your core visual identity. Collateral pieces can vary broadly and include things like: business cards, stationery, thank you cards, ebooks, packaging, stickers, price sheets, pdf downloads, etc. Collateral is oftentimes an internal facing term used between designer and client.
Exactly what it sounds like: all the things that a designer will deliver to you at the completion of your branding projects. This would include the elements from your visual identity along with any additional pieces of collateral you’re having designed.
Touchpoints and collateral are very similar, and some people use them interchangeably, but I like to think of touchpoints and all the things your customer will come into contact with as they experience your brand. It includes all the collateral pieces mentioned above but also spans marketing content, blogs, interactions on social media, email newsletters, store displays or communication, and in-person experiential events.
How your customers' perception of your brand comes together with all the brand touchpoints to create an experience in your customers' minds. Ideally, you want your customers to always have a great experience with your brand. That’s why it’s so important to consider every last detail. I’m sure you’ve experienced going to a new restaurant everyone is raving about. The decor is spot on, and the food is impossibly delicious. Heck, you were even lured in by the beautifully designed website when you made your reservation. That’s all part of a great brand experience. But then...the waiter was slow, or rude, or messed up your order. That’s bad brand experience and can undo all that other good stuff.
A mood board is a collection of pre-existing visuals to create well, a mood for your brand when you’re in the beginning stages of your branding. Most designers start here and share mood boards with clients to make sure they’re on the right track before designing anything.
I love using mood boards for loads of other stuff too, like creating a cohesive visual voice on Instagram. You can read more about that here.
Brand Board / Style Guide
Brand boards are a one-sheet where you can collect all the elements of your visual identity for easy reference. It’s generally one of the final deliverables you’ll receive from a graphic designer. Brand boards are what you see all over Pinterest when looking up “branding”. (See mine here as an example.) Again, this is where things get confusing because some designers refer to this as a “style guide.” This is perfectly acceptable, but generally speaking, a style guide is much more in depth. It lays out rules or guidelines for how and where elements of your visual identity can be used- both alone and in conjunction with each other. A style guide like this is essential for businesses that are growing and need to hand off assignments to marketing or pr agencies.
Voice or Brand Voice is how you communicate with your audience and customers. This is both written words (blog posts, tweets, IG captions, email newsletters, etc) and spoken words (video, live streaming, speaking events, etc.)
Now we’re getting deeper into some of the intangibles that make up a brand. In simplest terms, values are the 3-5 words that convey what your brand stands for. Things like: Efficient, Honest, Reliable, Open-minded, Innovative, Courageous, or Adventurous.
Also called the “Mission Statement”, the easiest way I differentiate this from Vision (below on the list) is by thinking of Mission as the “what & who” of the brand. It’s what drives your business TODAY. Questions to ask when developing a mission statement look like this:
What do we do?
Who do we serve?
How do we serve them?
If the mission is the “what & who”, vision is all about the “why”, and it focuses on the FUTURE. It’s aspirational in nature and gives your business purpose. It fosters innovation and provides direction for brand and business growth.
Questions to ask when developing your brand vision look like this:
What are my/our hopes and dreams?
Who am I/ are we inspiring to change?
What problem am I/ are we solving for the greater good
Personas or Ideal Customer Avatars
When thinking about who your business is serving, it’s important to create Personas or Ideal Customer Avatars (ICA for short). These are very specific and go much deeper than general demographics (female, age 25-40). Often times, they can have an actual name and will list personal details, likes, dislikes, aspirations, fears, etc. (Emily, married to Sam. They have 2 kids ages 3 and 7. Lives in Austin. Loves remodeling shows like Fixer-Upper, drinking iced matcha lattes, and practicing yoga before the kiddos wake up in the morning.)
ICA’s are essential in nailing how you want your brand to look, sound and feel. If you think your ICA will love it, you’re probably onto something!
Alright, that does it- 14 common branding terms explained. Hopefully, this list has given you a little more clarity and a lot more confidence when talking about branding with others. Is this a helpful list for you? Maybe there are some terms I left off that you’re still confused about? Let me know in the comments below!