Branding vs. visual identity: what’s the difference? 

12 October 2022 | 3 min read | Digital
Emma Oliver

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It’s a common misconception that ‘branding’ simply refers to a company’s logo, slogan and brand colours, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Sure, they’re typically the three most prominent aspects of a brand, but this is only the tip of the iceberg – the part that consumers can physically see, and are most likely to commit to memory.

Below the surface, your brand is built on five pillars:

  • Purpose – why you carry out the work you do
  • Perception – how others perceive your brand
  • Identity – what makes you recognisable
  • Values – what underpins everything your business does
  • Experience – how customers remember interacting with you

Each pillar carries equal importance, but it’s the way in which they are skilfully interwoven that will determine the effectiveness of your branding. Of course, visual identity is part of your branding – and it’s a fairly large part, I’ll admit – but it works in tandem with the meaning behind your brand.

Two types of ‘identity’

You might’ve noticed that ‘visual identity’ wasn’t listed as a brand pillar – it was just ‘identity’ – and no, that wasn’t an error! In terms of brand pillars, we’re actually talking about brand identity, which is all about your brand’s personality, mission and tone of voice.

Visual identity, on the other hand, is how we effectively communicate brand identity. We do this through colour palettes, typefaces, photography, iconography, and illustration.

Why a strategic approach to visual identity matters

Without clear, well-defined brand pillars, there’s really no point investing the time, energy and money in developing a new visual identity – you may as well just pick your favourite colours, and whichever font you land on first.

Establishing those all-important brand pillars is easier said than done, but we’re huge advocates for beginning with a messaging workshop. You can read all about that here, but in short, this should explore your mission, vision, values, competitors and target audiences, as well as strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Following the workshop, you’ll need to distil your findings into a report, summarising everything that was discussed and determining which aspects are relevant to each brand pillar. You’ll then have a solid foundation upon which you can begin to build your visual identity.

So, in conclusion, what are the differences between branding and visual identity?


  • ‘Branding’ is an all-encompassing umbrella term. 
  • ‘Visual identity’ focuses on what you can see.
  • ‘Brand identity’ refers to what you can’t see.

Ready to refine your brand? If you’re looking for a fresh perspective, or a total overhaul of your branding, we can help. To arrange an initial chat, or book a messaging workshop, simply get in touch.