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Branding Versus Brand Experience: The Not-So-Subtle Difference

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Branding and experience design have been around for years. And still to this day there are companies that specialize in a gamut of areas in between, like experiential marketing, event marketing, PR, channel specific marketing, digital, and the list goes on.

But as we evolve, so does the world around us.

With an on-going introduction of new media and a growing number of channels, the space between branding and brand experience continues to become more distant. The days where clients and businesses are in need of a standalone rebrand are coming to an end.

What’s the difference?

First, let’s understand the difference between branding and brand experience. Branding traditionally refers to the visual identity of a brand. Sometimes it can be the logo itself and, in more high profile or extensive instances, it can include everything from color exploration to typography and art direction.

But, be honest: when you hear branding, you think of either a logo design, or a cheap down and dirty online service that churns out an okay concept for $100 bucks, don’t you?

Branding has become increasingly accessible, and honestly, there are a ton of awesome designers out there who can make great logos. I get countless DMs where people say… “I just need a simple logo, nothing crazy.” Ha. [Proceeds to hit logo button on keyboard.]

If you’re a new ambitious startup or brand on the rise, this may not sound so bad. Why not just go that route?

Because there’s a catch. A brand is much more than a name or a logo. A brand sells products and or a service, and continuously has to engage and speak with a set of consumers and, ideally, continue to target new audiences. Or at least that is the goal. But if all you’ve solved for is a logo, then it is just art — an abstraction of some company name on a fancy background color. Nothing more. Nothing less. When was the last time you designed a logo and it ended there?

That’s where brand experience comes in. Brand experience is increasingly expansive. We all have our favorite brands with which he have a strong affinity. But have you ever stopped to understand why?

Brand experience is the sensory experience people have with a brand, ideally creating meaningful connections between brand and consumer. It’s the collective feeling of sensation, thought, perception, action, and experience. It sounds lofty, I know. But let me explain.

Brand experience has many parts.

Sure, a brand can start with a logo. But it’s only a very small piece of an iceberg protruding from the surface of the water. It may be your first impression of a brand, it may not. Is brand experience UX or UI? Is it a batch of social ads? Does it start at the package or even the product itself? Honestly, it could be all of the above and a whole lot more.

Brand experience includes (just to name a few):

  • Branding
  • Voice and tone
  • Art Direction
  • Strategy
  • Content Creation
  • UX and UI
  • Packaging design
  • Email strategy
  • Social
  • In-person experience
  • Video content

It’s an endless list.

Brand experience is all about purpose, storytelling, consistency, authenticity, engagement, and overall ease. This applies to every single touch point where your brand exists.

Let’s take Apple for example. Their brand experience starts literally anywhere. From the time you walk in the store, to the new landing page they just launched for their latest headphones, to that feeling of opening that vacuum-sealed box containing your brand new iPhone. How you experience the brand is consistent, and very premeditated, evoking a similar response no matter how you interact with the brand. Imagine if you went to their site and adding a product to your cart or finding your closest store was painfully difficult and slow. If even just a single part of that experience felt off, then they have instantly broken your trust. It would feel fake, and you would sense it. That then may sway whether or not you're a customer, let alone repeat customer.

The stakes are very high.

There’s a lot more to a brand than a logo.

So, when tasked with designing a brand, it’s a lot more than just a logo. How does your brand speak? What is the why or purpose of the brand? Is that being made clear to consumers? Is purchasing the product easy, whether it be in person or through a lightning-fast and intuitive ecommerce experience?

There is a lot to think about. And to be transparent, you can’t do it all at once. You have to focus on conceptualizing a direction that scales. Solve that problem first. Then, from there on out, continue to solve new business problems from the same single source of truth. That’s where exercises like design studies, design systems, and other documentation help inform overall brand direction.

I recently led a brand overhaul for an ambitious startup that has some amazing products unlike anything else in the industry. This started as a small social media pilot and we very quickly realized we had some holes to fill to make a cohesive brand experience. If we wanted to drive any impact, we had to start there. As the business began to evolve and the demands began to shift, we couldn’t have helped launch their latest product innovation without a sound approach to their overall brand experience.

The more traditional branding I do, the harder of a time I have just showing a logo in a presentation by itself. It seems to become increasingly underwhelming. It’s just art. It’s not until you start showing how the brand extends that it starts to feel real.

How does it feel in an instagram feed? What does the DTC experience look like? What about the unboxing experience? It’s hard to even evaluate brand direction without all the extra context.

Yeah, I know, I probably just shot myself in the foot with regard to creating extra work. But it’s true.

So in helping further understand the difference between branding and brand experience, my point is that brand experience has become the future of marketing and helping businesses grow. It’s not something that is a few years out. We’re here. How you consume content, purchase products, and engage with brands is changing by the minute.

You don’t need a logo. Better branding won’t move the needle for you. You need a brand experience, and a lasting connection with your consumers.

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