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Ch 3: Defining a Brand Identity

Logo vs. Brand

The first thing most people think about when they hear the phrase “brand identity” is the logo. While the logo is (in the best case) an instantly recognizable symbol of all other elements of the brand, the logo is only one piece of the total brand identity.

The complete brand identity is everything the company or organization says, does, shows, or creates. This includes all products and/or services, and all distribution, marketing, and advertising of these products and services. The brand is all communications and publications (in all media), all environments (if your organization has stores or other spaces that you build for customers to enter), and all ways that employees present themselves to the public. The brand is everything the consumer experiences.

As a designer, you should attempt to be as comprehensive as possible in defining a brand. Remember, however, that the brand identity elements you create, even for your own studio or agency, cannot fully define a brand. Ultimately, a brand identity is the result of customer’s perceptions. One of the most well-known definitions of brand says “Your brand is the promise you keep.” Or as designer and brand consultant Marty Neumeier points out, “Brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” (The Brand Gap, 10)

Starting the Brand Standards Manual

The brand standards manual is primarily a guide for designers, but it’s also a guide for anyone who is associated with a company or organization. To this end, it’s helpful to use the opening pages of the manual to define and explain the importance of brand standards. The initial pages of a standards manual may also be used to state organizational values, which presumably provide the foundation for brand identity and customer experiences.

So, before the designer starts to sketch ideas for a logo, and before the copywriter begins to make notes for campaign messages, these professionals and the other members of the branding team must agree on the elements of brand identity.

An effective brand identity statement clearly expresses what is distinctive about an organization or a product, and gives the creative team a starting point for all of their efforts. As Alina Wheeler states, “Compelling brand identity presents any company, any size, anywhere with an immediately recognizable, distinctive professional image that positions it for success.” (Designing Brand Identity, 11)


The brand identity begins with the organization or product name. If you’re part of the team that’s responsible for the product or organization name, points to consider include:

  • Examine the name in relation to your competitors
  • Conduct a legal review to be sure the name is not already owned
  • Determine if the name, or a reasonable derivative of the name,  is available as a web address
  • Review all ways the name will be viewed and heard (including its meaning when viewed and pronounced outside the U.S.)

Vision, Mission, and Values

Frequently, key elements of brand identity are expressed in statements of a company’s vision, mission and values. These positioning statements should be included in your brand standards manual, as an explanation of your organization’s purpose and the characteristics and ideals your brand represents.

Vision Statement

The vision statement describes the long-term aspirations of your company or organization, and how you want to be perceived in the future. Often, a vision statement is intended to inspire employees or organization members so they will help achieve these goals.

Vision Statement Samples

“Year after year, Westin and its people will be regarded as the best and most sought after hotel and resort management group in North America.” (Westin Hotels)

“To become the number one produce store on Main Street by selling the highest quality, freshest farm produce, from farm to customer in under 24 hours on 75% of our range and with 98% customer satisfaction.” (Farm Fresh Produce)

“Our goal is simply stated. We want to be the best service organization in the world.” (IBM)

Mission Statement

The mission statement should describe in precise terms the fundamental reasons that your organization exists, including the daily focus of your business activities. A well-crafted mission statement should explain exactly what the company or organization strives to achieve on a daily basis, and should endure for many years (unless the organization makes a dramatic change in the nature of the business). Aside from the Mission Statements below, other links to Mission Statements may be found in the Resources section of this site.

Mission Statement Samples

“FedEx is committed to our People-Service-Profit Philosophy. We will produce outstanding financial returns by providing totally reliable, competitively superior, global, air-ground transportation of high-priority goods and documents that require rapid, time-certain delivery.” (Federal Express)

“To give ordinary folk the chance to buy the same thing as rich people.” (Wal-Mart)

Values Statement

The Values Statement should set forth the organization’s priorities and guiding principles for interactions among employees, and with customers, suppliers, and other members of the community. A clear, concise values statement provides direction for employees’ actions as they carry out the mission and strive to implement the vision.

Values Statement Sample

Mission: To preserve and improve human life.” (Merck)

Values: At Merck, “corporate conduct is inseparable from the conduct of individual employees in the performance of their work. Every Merck employee is responsible for adhering to business practices that are in accordance with the letter and spirit of the applicable laws and with ethical principles that reflect the highest standards of corporate and individual behavior…

“At Merck, we are committed to the highest standards of ethics and integrity. We are responsible to our customers, to Merck employees and their families, to the environments we inhabit, and to the societies we serve worldwide. In discharging our responsibilities, we do not take professional or ethical shortcuts. Our interactions with all segments of society must reflect the high standards we profess.” (For more, see Merck)

Positioning Statement

Some organizations use a positioning statement in addition to the other statements described previously. A positioning statement has some elements in common with a mission statement, but it also identifies the target audience and explains clearly what sets your product or organization apart from the competition. A positioning statement also identifies one (or maybe two) significant considerations that you want your customers to remember.

In some instances, a short positioning statement might be used as a slogan or tagline; in other cases, a more detailed positioning statement is used only by members of the organization to clarify business goals.

Marty Neumeier, author of The Brand Gap and other guides to brand success, recommends developing positioning statements using a method called “The Onliness Statement.” (Designing Brand Identity, 15)

To create an “onliness statement,” six components must be defined for the organization:

  • What: the only (category)
  • How: that (differentiation characteristic)
  • Who: for (customer)
  • Where: in (market geography)
  • Why: who (customer need statement)
  • When: during (underlying trend)

An example of a completed “onliness statement” for the Harley Davidson company is:

  • What: the only motorcycle manufacturer
  • How: that makes big, loud motorcycles
  • Who: for macho guys (and “macho wannabees”)
  • Where: mostly in the United States
  • Why: who want to join a gang of cowboys
  • When: in an era of decreasing personal freedom


A slogan or tagline is a short statement that encapsulates the most distinctive elements of a company, product, or service, or expresses a key customer benefit, or expresses a customer aspiration.

Slogan/Tagline Samples

American Express: Don’t leave home without it (customer aspiration)

Apple: Think different (distinctive element/customer aspiration)

Burger King: Have it your way (distinctive element/customer benefit)

DeBeers: A diamond is forever (customer aspiration)

Energizer Batteries: Keeps on going and going and going (customer benefit)

Fox News: Fair and balanced (distinctive element)

Heinz: 57 varieties (distinctive element)

Ivory soap: It floats (customer benefit)

Kix cereal: Kid tested. Mother approved. (customer benefit)

McDonald’s: You deserve a break today (customer benefit/customer aspiration)

Microsoft: Where do you want to go today? (customer aspiration)

Nike: Just do it (customer aspiration)

The New York Times: All the news that’s fit to print (distinctive element/customer benefit)

UPS: See what brown can do for you (distinctive element/customer benefit)

Other elements of brand identity [additional text forthcoming]

– Voice (for spoken organizational messages)
– Spokesperson/Character
– Style & Tone (for written organizational messages)
– Sounds (e.g., Intel chip music, AOL “you’ve got mail”, website “sonic branding”)(Wheeler p. 134)
– Motion (e.g., avatars & animated logos like GE, MTV) (Wheeler p. 136)
– Aroma (e.g., “new car smell” & other signature scents)

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