Brand ethos, visual identity, branding, marketing - what's what?

Brand identity, visual identity, branding, marketing - these labels can get pretty tricky. Let's peek under the hood and see what's going on. 


Brand identity is king. It is the foundation upon which all the rest is built. It is the most important asset of your company because it is the why, the raison d'être. Brand identity is not unlike your own identity - it is a distinguishing factor that sets your brand apart because of its unique philosophy and special set of values. Customers perceive brand identity as a general aura or vibe around a brand, and that aura is communicated to them via visual identity, branding, and marketing. 


A brand's visual identity is much more than a logotype - it is a comprehensive set of strategically implemented graphic symbols and elements that communicate the brand's philosophy to the client in visual and tactile ways through physical and digital media. 

It is important to understand that visual identity is derived from brand identity, i.e. it does not stand on its own. Without a brand philosophy to represent, visual identity would be mere decoration. Usually, however, brands are built around robust philosophies that need to be quickly and efficiently communicated to the world, and this is where a good visual identity is paramount. 

Visual identities are meticulously crafted by designers who use semiotics (the study of signs), strong design principles, and the ever-evolving visual language to create positive and specific associations with the brand in the mind of the client. A carefully designed visual identity is critical because it is involved in all customer-brand interactions and therefore largely determines the client's expectations and, by consequence, his level of satisfaction with the brand. 

By highlighting the brand's identity and establishing the first impression of it, visual identity lays the foundation for branding and marketing. 


If brand identity and visual identity are rather static because they are long-term assets, branding and marketing are very dynamic because they are targeted actions designed to meet the customer's expectations about the brand and to generate sales. Good branding and marketing mobilize the potential energy of brand and visual identities to create explosive momentum. 

Branding is very similar to marketing, yet there is a distinction to be made. Branding is a company's effort to educate its existing and potential customers about the company's brand identity, and also to fulfill any of their expectations created by branding itself and by the visual identity. Branding begins as the active use of the visual identity in the context of a functioning enterprise and reaches as far as website copy and customer service. Overall, branding encompasses all in-person and online interactions between the brand and the customer and ultimately determines the client's personal experience with the brand. Branding stands on the shoulders of a strong brand identity and a carefully executed visual identity.

Meanwhile, marketing is a branch of branding that relies on target audience research, strategy, and timing to get the client to purchase the goods or the services offered by the company. Its only goal is to make sales. 

It is hard to distinguish between branding and marketing because they always work in tandem and often perform very similar actions. The way I like to think about it is this: branding is the continuous effort to educate clients about the brand's position and evolution by creating great communication and creating an excellent customer experience, while marketing is the carefully targeted communication through various advertising and social media tools the goal of which is, specifically, to make sales. If branding is the "preparation" of a potential client for marketing, marketing is the final touchpoint with that potential client before he is converted into a paying customer. 

Successful marketing depends on carefully carried out branding, which relies on a strong brand identity expressed effectively through the visual identity. As you can see, everything is tightly linked. The needle analogy below illustrates this more clearly:

All of the elements comprise one single, powerful tool, commonly referred to as simply marketing. Take one of the elements out of the equation and this tool stops working. No brand identity -- nothing to offer. No visual identity -- can't deliver the offer. No branding -- the potential customers don't know what your brand is about. No marketing -- no conversion of onlookers into customers.


  • Brand identity is the reason why a brand exists. It comprises its fundamental philosophy and values and serves as a base from which the rest of the business is constructed. 
  • Visual identity is a visual system custom-designed for a brand to instantaneously communicate its raison d'être to the world.
  • Branding communicates with potential and existing clients both in-person and online. It educates people about the brand and its evolution, and determines how the brand's actions are to be carried out so that they meet the standards determined by that brand's identity. 
  • Marketing is the carefully timed and targeted call to action that does everything it can to culminate in a sale.

This wraps it up for today. Let me know what you think in the comments!

In a future post we will take a closer look at visual identity to see what it does, and how. Stay tuned!