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Business or Brand?

Brand identity, packaging design, and messaging for Locoil and Farm Fresh Canola Oil

This is a comprehensive visual identity system for a small business that will do an effective job of influencing this company’s brand perception. Yet it’s still not a brand.

Words like “brand” and “branding” get tossed around pretty loosely these days, even by experienced creatives. But the reality is, unless you’re forcing the molten end of an iron rod into the backside of a steer, you’re not “branding” anything. Businesses create and control their visual identity. But customers create and control the brand.

When someone says they’ve created a brand or are branding a company, they most likely mean they’ve created a visual identity system. And through those elements (logos, symbols, color, messaging, etc.), they may communicate, influence and nurture the perception of that business.

So while concepts like brand, identity, and logos can get confusing, it’s very important to understand the difference so your business can clearly communicate, differentiate, and grow sustainably.

A custom "Hand-crafted in Wisconsin" mark on aged barn wall for Farm Fresh Canola Oil

The sustainability of your business will determine the strength of your brand.


A business is the sum of tangible elements that allow it to operate: the products and/or services, employees and customer service, visual identity, advertising, location, legal documents, etc.

A brand, on the other hand, is intangible and ultimately best summed up in these statements by brand master, Marty Neumeier:

“A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.”

“A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product or service.”

“A brand is an invisible layer of meaning that surrounds a product or service.”

Farm Fresh Canola Oil packaging

Colors, shapes, textures, and photography all play a part in creating a mood and eliciting feelings, which can help dramatically influence the perception of a business. Yet they still don’t constitute a brand.


Everyone has different perceptions of a business based on their experience with a particular product or service, what they hear through word-of-mouth or read in online reviews, or how colors, shapes, and messaging make them feel. So in that sense, a brand really is an emotional, “invisible layer of meaning that surrounds a product or service.”

When enough people form the same opinion or feeling about a company, only then is a true brand (positive or negative) created. Rarely is a new business considered a brand, unless they make a quick and dramatic impact on the marketplace. A good example of this might be Chipotle Mexican Grill.


Years of building trust through quality craftsmanship, consistent customer service and messaging, and fair prices are some of the things that build strong brands. But a negative brand is much easier to achieve.

Take Chipotle again, for example: one of the most popular, casual fast food restaurants in recent years, who pride themselves on quality, fresh ingredients, had an outbreak of salmonella a few years back. They managed to solve their problem, but it was wide spread enough that it made many people across the country second-guess their next visit.

That’s a difficult perception to overcome, but clearly possible with the right strategy and messaging. Personally, I can say that Chipotle’s response was quick and effective, because I still consider them one of my favorite restaurants.


Even with good intentions, no person, business, or brand is perfect. And all deserve a chance to redeem themselves. So it could be argued that a strong and sustainable brand is really based on how well it handles adversity or doesn’t. Much like an individual’s character. Imagine that?

The take-away from all of this? In the beginning, you’re a business. How you form and maintain your visual identity, messaging and marketing, and truly understand your customers needs, will determine the strength and authenticity of your eventual brand perception.

So if your in this for the long haul, start with a solid business plan to determine if your vision is viable in the marketplace. Then create a brand plan to influence and sustain your business in that market. Good Luck! And make sure to reach out to Phonographik if you seek directions.


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