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Creative & Design

Unpacking Branding

Unpacking Branding

Kelly Wrather

Vice President, Marketing Services

February 10, 2022

What do you think of when you hear the word brand or branding? The terms have come to connote both big picture strategy and very tangible component parts at the same time. Many people shorthand brand to mean logo: the outward representation of a company. But it’s so much more than that. 

At Manual Labor, we like to think about a brand’s identity as both visual and verbal: what you see and what you say. Both elements and their component parts are equally important to creating the capital B, Brand. The complete essence of “brand” paints the picture of who you are as a company, how that identity is expressed to both internal and external stakeholders—the sum of your visual and verbal identity—and how the market perceives and interprets that identity. Ultimately, what a brand stands for represents a promise to customers, clients, and employees. It’s who you are and what people can expect, not what you do or sell. 

The branding toolkit can contain many assets. In this post, we’ll walk you through the most critical elements required to develop a brand identity.  

Conduct a Brand Audit 

In building any brand—whether launching something new or undergoing a rebranding process—you must start with research and context setting. To define who you are, you need to understand where you come from and what others' perceptions of you are. It is important to examine this context from two lenses: your internal team, including leadership, employees, and board of directors, as well as external stakeholders including customers, prospects, partners, consumers (if relevant), industry analysts, and yes, even your competitors.

This type of research undertaking is no small feat. Oftentimes, companies hold inherent biases of legacy names and positioning, and it can be difficult to break out of these existing assumptions to truly conduct a balanced brand audit. This is where a third party can provide valuable outside-in perspective to guide this level of research and evaluation. 

Once you establish the baseline of perception and understand the market in which your brand sits, you can start to see the trends emerge to inform how to approach your brand identity. It helps to start by making a list of your brand’s characteristics. These are the elements that inform your brand’s personality. It is helpful to approach this exercise by listing the words that define your brand as well as articulating what your brand is not. By doing so, you create clear guardrails to build your brand identity.

Brand Elements

There are several critical elements Manual Labor sets out to define for our clients when we are establishing the brand identity:

Purpose: This is the big “why” – your internal north star. Your purpose should identify why you exist, inspire employees, shape your culture, and inform the remainder of your brand positioning. 

Vision: If you think of your brand as a map, the vision is your destination. It’s where you want to go. It should be aspirational but attainable. It likely shows up in high-level marketing materials and assets — like your “about us” or analyst or investor presentations.

Mission: If vision is your destination, your mission is the steps you take to get there. A mission statement describes how you approach what you do and expands on how you support and live out the vision. 

Values: Your values are your guiding principles, defining what you hold to be true. These internal guideposts often get articulated as core values that guide the business and employees. 

Voice: Your voice, or tone, is the way your brand gets expressed and communicated and applies across all channels, internal and external. It shapes how you are perceived, creates emotional connections, and brings clarity and consistency to your communications. 

Positioning: Positioning is really what sets you apart and encompasses the one sentence description to define the company and the full boilerplate. When getting into deeper layers of positioning, this includes value prop and benefits statements and product positioning and differentiators. 

In concert to developing these, you can start to translate the brand’s personality to visual principles that will inform your creative direction. This is not limited to just your logo; it includes the color palette, fonts, iconography, and use of imagery – the entire design system. Visual identity truly is the style of the brand, and oftentimes, triggers the first impression of audiences. 

The lexicon of the visual identity is typically summarized in brand guidelines or a brand style guide: the guidebook to create consistency for how the brand will be expressed. 

Verbal and visual identity are the brand’s yin and yang. They help establish tone and tell the story. A brand strategy cannot exist without both and each component makes the other better. 

They provide the foundation for many other critical marketing, communications, and product marketing strategies and deliverables.(We didn’t even touch on personas! Or integrated marketing! Or websites!)

By parsing out the elements that truly make up a “brand,” you can better understand where your own company stands and what it stands for. And the next time your leadership suggests it’s time for a “refresh,” you can guide your team down a path to analyze your current brand and determine the best route to ensure your brand represents who your company is now, what you want to be known for, and where you want to go.

Key Takeaways 
  1. To understand what a brand is, you must first articulate the brand identity: the verbal and visual identity that address what you see and what you say. 
  2. There are six critical brand elements to define your verbal identity: Purpose, Vision, Mission, Values, Voice, and Positioning.
  3. Your visual identity is more than just your logo – it’s your entire design system. Your brand guidelines explain this system and connect it to the verbal identity.


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