Branding glossary

If you’ve ever sought guidance on “creating a look for your business” or “developing a visual identity,” you already know what branding is. But do you know the ins, outs, ups and downs?

If the answer is no, don’t worry. We’ve put together a comprehensive glossary to help you understand how to build your brand identity and apply it to your marketing products.

Brand-related terms

Brand

The term “brand” has two meanings. First, it refers to one subset of a larger corporation (e.g. Sprite is a brand of the Coca-Cola Company). It also refers to the perception that people have about a company or product line. This perception can come from a variety of sources, including firsthand experience, word of mouth, advertising, and other brand expressions (logo, colour scheme, writing style, etc.) Essentially, a brand is what people think about your business. And while it’s not a tangible thing, it’s one of the most important things to consider when running a small business because it helps create customer loyalty and allows your business stand apart from the competition.

Example: Coca-Cola’s brand is about inspiring optimism and happiness across the globe. Everything they do from community service to advertising helps to build that perception.

Brand identity

A brand asset is used to identify your company. Often, these are images, logos or words that tie directly to your business. For example, the Nike “swoosh” and the tagline “Just do it” are both brand assets of Nike. It’s important to keep your brand assets organized and easy to access – you never know when that big break will come and you’ll need to send a high-resolution image of your logo.

Brand identity

This term simply means value. What value does your brand hold? The more positive associations your brand has, the higher its equity. This is obviously difficult to quantify, but relatively easy to explain via examples. For instance, Sprite’s brand is obviously more valuable than Tab’s, although they’re both subsidiaries of Coca-Cola.

Brand identity

Brand positioning, like many of these terms, contains the definition right in the term. It’s how a company chooses to position itself within a given industry to help it stand apart from the competition. A good brand positioning consists of three basic parts:

  1. Target audience: Who is the brand for? (Moms, teens, creative types, etc.)
  2. Benefit: How will the company make the audience’s life better? What’s in it for me? (Peace of mind, save money, look/feel better, etc.)
  3. Differentiator: Why choose this brand over others in the industry? (No contracts, advanced technology, superior design, etc.)

For example, General Motors has positioned Cadillac as a luxury brand while Chevrolet is an everyday brand. Cadillac’s target audience is drivers with a higher household income—people who are looking for a top-quality automobile with all the bells and whistles. Conversely, Chevrolet targets a more middle-class driver, and touts dependability and ruggedness as selling points.

There’s an unlimited number of ways you could position yourself against the competition, but it’s important to pick out what your business’s strong suits are and focus on those.

Branding

Branding is the action that you take to separate your business from everyone else’s. You can do this by applying visual and/or audio cues to products, services and other places where people interact with your brand (packaging, website, store layouts, commercials, print pieces, etc.). For example, a can of pop takes on a much different meaning when it has the Coca-Cola branding on it as opposed to your local supermarket’s branding.

Design-related terms

Now that we’ve discussed some branding terms, let’s get into the details of your brand’s design.

Colour palette

This is the main set of colours that a business uses. The most obvious example of a colour palette comes from UPS, who even makes mention of it in their tagline “What can Brown do for you?” Many businesses hold trademarks on certain colours in order to distinguish themselves in their industry, like Home Depot and John Deere.

Logo

Your logo is the mark that represents your business. You know the iconic ones: the McDonald’s golden arches, the Nike swoosh and the NBC peacock. Logos can be comprised of any combination of graphics, images and words.

Brand identity

Your visual identity is the outward expression of your brand. Your brand assets, taken together, constitute your visual identity. When branding, it’s crucial to first determine what you want the perception of your business to be, so you can create a visual identity that gives off that perception. Many of the best businesses have a very coherent visual identity—one in which everything that the company produces is similar in its look and feel.

Wordmark

A wordmark, or logotype, is simply a type of logo made up only of text. Examples of logotypes include the Coca-Cola logo and the Google logo.

Advanced design-related terms

Now for the fun stuff. Here are some terms that you might not be familiar with, though they’ll certainly come in handy when thinking about and designing your brand identity.

Asset migration

This term refers to the process of moving your brand assets between different formats or locations. It’s a fancy term for a simple action, but it’s worth knowing, mainly because you need to make sure that your logo, images, and other visual assets are all saved and used in their highest-quality format.

Dynamic logo

In design, two terms that are often put in opposition to each other are “dynamic” and “static.” Static means stationary, the same, or unchanging, and dynamic means just the opposite. One of the newer trends in design is to create a dynamic logo—one that can be shifted and altered to reflect current events, company news or anything else you need.

Pixel

A pixel (short for “picture element”) is the smallest individual part of an image or graphic when viewed on an electronic screen, like a computer or TV. The more pixels that an image has, the better it will be able to represent the image, because the higher number of pixels will allow for more detail. The number of pixels in an image is often called the “resolution” of the image.

PPI and DPI

These two acronyms refer to Pixels Per Inch and Dots Per Inch, respectively. These terms have different meanings depending on what they’re referring to. When discussing an image, PPI refers to the number of pixels per inch in the image. However, when discussing an output for the image (such as a printed page, computer monitor, digital camera image sensor or TV screen), the terms differ. PPI measures the number of pixels per inch available on the electronic outputs, and DPI measures the number of dots per inch that a printer can print onto a physical page. Generally speaking, images with more pixels per inch are good, as they will be a higher quality image when printed.

Raster vs. vector

These two terms refer to graphics—raster graphics (sometimes called bitmaps) are images where the colours and lines are represented as points on a rectangular grid. If you enlarge a raster graphic, it gets “pixellated,” which means you can see where the individual points are in the original image. These are usually saved in forms like .jpg, .gif, and .png. Vector graphics are the opposite of raster graphics, in that they can be shrunk or enlarged indefinitely without losing their sharpness at any size. The most common way to save a vector file is in .pdf form.

Scalable

Most often used to describe an image or logo, this term refers directly back to the discussion of raster vs. vector. Scalable means that the image or graphic you’re using looks good at any size, so it will be as recognizable and clear on the front of a brochure and as the main image on a banner. In order to make your images scalable, they should most likely be in vector format, or at least have a very high PPI number. Below is an example of the difference between a scalable and non-scalable logo.


The logo on the left is scalable, while the one on the right loses its sharpness at a larger size.

Print-related terms

After you’ve designed your brand identity, you need to translate it to your marketing materials. This is where the fun begins, but it’s important to know a few terms from the printing world to ensure you successfully navigate the designing and printing stages.

Bleed line

This is the very edge of the product that you’re creating. If your product has a background image or colour that you want to extend all the way to the edge, make sure that it goes right up to the bleed line to avoid any potential white space after the product is cut by the printer.

Safety line

Remember when you were a kid and you were told to colour inside the lines? This is the adult version of that. This line marks the point at which your product (business cards, postcards, flyers etc.) might get cut, so make sure everything that you want printed stays fully inside this safety line.


The left card keeps all the content within the safety line, while the right card doesn’t.

Trim area

This is the area between the safety line and the bleed line. Due to tiny imperfections in printing processes, this small area of your product is where the cut will occur.

It’s all about your brand

Whether you’re a one-person operation—and happy to stay that way, a start-up with huge growth aspirations, or something somewhere in-between, your brand is your business identity and how you will be perceived. This is your opportunity to determine who you are and what you want people to think of you.

We hope these terms and definitions will get you on the road to creating and optimizing your perfect, unique brand.

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