The Difference Between Corporate Identity vs Branding

Every now and then we get a call from a prospect that goes something like: “I’m looking for someone to help with our branding.” We’ve had enough of these conversations to know that we need to probe a little further to understand what branding means to that person, and you’d be surprised at how often we learn that to them, branding means simply a logo, colors, and business cards. To set the record straight, here’s our take on the difference:

Corporate Identity

According to Wikipedia, corporate identity is:

“The overall image of a corporation or firm or business in the minds of diverse public, such as customers and investors and employees.”

Okay, that sounds an awful lot like how we’d describe a brand. At Designworks, we would argue that your brand IS your identity, but let’s put semantics aside for a moment. Many design firms say “corporate identity” and mean the visual expression of a brand such as logos, colors, business cards, fonts, etc. While those things are certainly important elements of brand building, there’s so much more that goes into building an identity. From our perspective, corporate identity is just one subset of the brand.

Branding

If we were to spell out a definition of branding, the one used for corporate identity above sounds about right. Your brand is what defines you as a company. It’s the culmination of what you do, what you stand for, the people you have on your team, and the tone at which you communicate your message. A brand creates an emotional response from your audience. Sometimes positive. Sometimes indifferent. And hopefully not negative. When done properly, a brand can instill confidence and loyalty in the hearts and minds of your audience. It can stand for credibility and can motivate your audience to buy your products or services, invest in your company, or influence the broader ecosystem. In the simplest of terms, your brand is your reputation.

So if all of these things are your brand, then branding is the process of building this deliberate image. That means that you have a plan for the reputation that you intend to build and decisions about what you say, how you say it, and how you express those ideas visually are part of this process. This is why we say that “corporate identity” is a subset of branding, because your logo, fonts, and colors are all parts of the visual expression of your brand. If you want your reputation to be fun and energetic, you choose colors, fonts, and imagery that express this. If you want to be professional and authoritative, you would probably choose a different set of visual.

Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight for most companies and the overall impression of your brand is merely influenced by marketing. How your products or services work, how you treat your employees, and how you handle support or adversity also shapes your brand. This is why the best brands have learned that branding impacts the overall culture of a company. It impacts who they hire, how they support their customers, and generally how they make decisions about which priorities are important in their business. Branding takes a deliberate and consistent effort in which the message, tone, and visuals need to follow the goals of the reputation you’re trying to build.

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