The fact that this question is commonly asked shows that there’s a lot of confusion about the roles of the branding agency and the design agency. The difference is best explained by first describing what the two roles are, and how you can differentiate between the two.
What is branding?
When you think of a well-known brand, you’ll probably instinctively think of a number of characteristics of it. Some will present themselves as fun and approachable, as though they don’t take themselves too seriously. Others might portray a no-nonsense, can-do attitude. And there are countless other subtle moods and personalities out there.
You might also think of a colour. Virgin is red. Barclays is blue. Sainsbury’s is orange. There are also tunes, jingles, slogans, shapes, logos … all of them are crafted to identify with the brand.
These moods will come out in their design, copywriting, advertising, high street stores, websites, brochures and any other way they present their face to the public. You could say the branding is the master brief – any piece of creative work that is carried out for marketing purposes will have to obey the branding rules.
A good example of branding is in the restaurant chain sector. Even though they both essentially sell Italian food, you would never confuse Pizza Hut with Carluccios. The way you feel about them is entirely down to branding. One you’d go to on a first date to make a good impression; the other you’d pop in for a quick bite after work. (Which one’s which depends on which customer niche you belong to.)
Finally, branding changes with time. We can all think of brands whose look and feel have changed. Just think of the way fossil fuel company BP now has a green, organic logo, a change from the old shield logo. It’s all designed to present a friendlier face in what has become a controversial industry over the past 50 years. Although the actual logo will have been created by a designer, the rationale behind the design is down to branding.