The Brand Iceberg: Understanding why Both Strategy + Visuals are Key
“Branding” is a confusing word and gets defined in many different ways. But it can be understood by how you make people feel, what makes you unique, and how you serve your people. Through both language and visuals, all of these are answered and help clients understand what a brand stands for. Branding cannot exist with only copywriting or logos – both pieces are integral to the overall puzzle of branding. Your brand is a great novel and your logo is just chapter one.
Let’s think of a large global brand revered for its strong branding; Nike. When you think of Nike you imagine its signature swoosh symbol along with the phrase, “Just Do It”. They exist together and serve as a strong example of why a brand needs more than “just a logo”. But let’s go a step further and also think about how Nike answers those questions talked about above:
How does Nike make people feel? Powerful, motivated, strong.
What makes Nike different? Nike is innovative, a leader in the athletic apparel industry.
How does Nike serve its people? By providing the tools to get active. Nike democratizes sports and encourages anyone to “just do it” while raising up champions and leaders in all different sports.
The Brand Iceberg
When approaching branding, I like to think of it as a whole. Branding is one large iceberg that contains components that are visible to others and components that are beneath the surface.
I break down this iceberg comparison for branding into two parts:
Above the surface (Design)
Below the surface (Strategy)
Everything above the surface is external, it’s what the rest of the world sees too. This is anything that is part of the brand’s visual identity that’s outwardly presented to the public, including your logo, your fonts, and your colors. This can also extend to collateral items like packaging, business cards, menus, physical advertisements — the list could go on forever!
And then there is the stuff below the surface — the juicier, more internal elements that comprise a brand. This stuff is harder for the rest of the world to see it, but they can feel it when it’s done right. Just like we feel powerful when wearing Nike and inspired by other athletes who do the same. This includes things like your brand mission, your brand why, and your ideal customer — what they think, how they live, and what they value. Even though others can’t see it and it’s less obvious, it’s foundational, necessary, even vital for a healthy brand. Study any of your favorite brands and you’ll start to see a pattern of not only strong visual elements but also powerful non-visual branding.
The Brand Funnel
A lot of people begin by building “above the surface” elements of branding. We can understand it, right? Logos carry so much weight for a brand and they are seen as the “face” of the company. But when the visual assets are developed without any depth or meaning behind them, this leads to messy results and confused clients. Basing the visuals merely off trends or pure design without any strategy behind it won’t serve a brand in the long-run and usually results in re-brands.
For brand longevity and a true connection with the ideal customer, we should begin with the below the surface branding elements. When flipped, our branding pyramid actually becomes a funnel, with all of the heavy-hitting foundational information at the top. Meaning that all of the foundational elements should influence the visuals. Instead of basing our visual designs off of current trends or broad design inspiration, the logo is influenced by deeper meaning concepts like a brand’s vision, mission, attributes, and long-term goals.
If your foundation is weak, the house will not stand.
The same goes for branding. A brand whose visuals are based on nothing besides visuals is less likely to produce brand recognition or longevity. But a brand built on a solid foundation of strategy rooted in deep questions that dig deep at the essence of the company and their overarching why, will find that their visuals stand for something greater than visuals — they stand for the macro vision of the company and will last much longer.
So let me ask you, are you building the whole iceberg? Are you focusing on only the “above the surface” level stuff? Really sit with those questions and do some introspection on how you arrived at your current branding or, if you’re a designer, how you’ve developed brands in the past.
If you are a brand designer and you’ve felt a bit lost and frustrated with your clients and design process in the past, implementing brand strategy could be an important next step for you. If you want to start building stronger, more rooted, and grounded brands for your clients, watch my free video training where I am unveiling my brand strategy process so you can create more impact for your clients.