More commonly known as a “brand identity”, your external brand consists of the visual and tangible touchpoints that collectively communicate your mission and purpose.
If your internal brand is like the blueprint, your external brand is the actual structure—it is what makes your customers able to see and recognise you and what you stand for. The internal brand is essential for determining your purpose and telling your brand story, and the external brand then expresses and makes these intangible things visible.
Simply speaking, each element of your external brand is meant to communicate your Internal Brand in a particular way so that you give potential and current customers/clients the ability to recognise and connect with everything your Internal Brand contains.
This one is a bit easier to understand, because if you’re like most business owners you recognize that you need to have things like a logo, colors, menus, labels to communicate with your customers.
However, the thing we need to focus on now is that your external brand doesn’t just mean your logo, or your label (for a food product), or your sign (for a restaurant), or your website. Each of these things are one aspect of the External Brand, but it’s important to have an overarching visual toolkit of elements that you can then apply to each of these individual cases.
Does that make sense?
So an external brand gives you the ability to consistently express the mission and story of your brand. It’s like a carry-all bag full of different tools for you to use and guidelines for how to use them. Yes it contains a logo; but equally importantly, it shows you how to use it, what fonts to use with it that support your brand culture, guidelines for how to establish your brand’s voice in a way that connects with your customers, and so much more.
The primary distinction I would make between a brand identity and an external brand is that the external brand contains not only the individual elements of an identity, but also a plan and overarching structure for implementing them!
For our purposes here, we’re going to be focussing on your “brand identity” (rather than the “external brand”) because this in itself helps us visualise this concept in a more useful way.
When you take the time to develop your brand’s mission, purpose, vision and all that fun stuff that goes into your internal brand, you’re coming up with your purpose for existing as a business and your goals for your brand. But unless people are able to see this it won’t do any good except for you internally.
The power of your brand identity is that it gives you the ability to show your customers/clients a glimpse into what they are part of when they work with you or buy your products. It does this by translating as best as we can the mission and heart of your business into a visual medium that people can see and experience. Pretty amazing, right?
Okay, so humans need and crave “belonging”. We need families, communities, and—as Seth Godin would put it—“tribes”. Fundamentally this is a non-commercial need, yet in previous generations, our commercial enterprises had community built into them.
Think about it: the butcher and the grocer in past ages were an integral part of their community—and the transactions while necessary for sustenance, were so much more, because the individuals were deeply enmeshed in a unity based on their locale.
The fact that we no longer have this tight-knit connection with our providers of even the most basic necessities (food) is in itself a problem, but that’s a question for another day. ;-)
However, the opportunity here is to recreate this deeply personal connection and experience through the power of a brand. And this can be done on a local or virtual level. And in doing so, you’re not only providing people with the basic stuff of life (coffee, bread, wine, etc), but you’re giving them the gift of a mission to be part of.
The thing that’s important here is that it has to be genuine. You can’t be doing this to put up a front for the sake of making sales—you have to genuinely believe not only in your product or service, but also deeply care about your customers/clients and how you can serve them.
At the end of the day you both “win”, and that’s where the sweetspot is: when both parties in a transaction are better off for it.
I’ve written before about your brand being like the personality for your business. If we were to get deeper into this analogy, strictly speaking the internal brand would be the personality; while the external (or identity) would be the face. Just as it implies—brand “identity”—the visual elements of your brand provide a way to identify the personality that your customers have come to know.
Just as with a person, you can learn about them, their story, what they like, what they look like, how they act, what they believe in, but if you don’t see their face you have an incomplete picture of their whole being.
Just to wrap up, a brand identity expresses your internal brand (remember: this includes your mission, your story, and the invisible aspects of your brand), and in doing so, gives your customers a way to visually recognize your brand and in turn adopt your identity as a little part of their own.
And when they’ve done this, you no longer are competing on shelf-space, price, convenience, but you have loyal customers for life who will not only happily buy whatever you produce, but proudly tell all their friends and family about you.
Having a strong brand identity helps potential customers immediately know if they want to support your brand; and gives current customers all the reasons to be a customer for life.
By expressing who you are as a business through your visual identity, you provide this human connection in a commoditized world, and enable your customers to become part of your story, and in turn, share your story with others.
What would it look like for your business if you created not just a logo, but a brand. If you invested in a solid and thorough identity that enabled you to make your business more than just a commodity or transaction? And in turn, you created not just a business, but a community?
If you’re curious to learn more, take a look at the story behind M.Ryland Co, and learn more about our philosophy on branding, read some articles on our blog, and follow along on Instagram and Pinterest for more advice to help you grow your brand!
And in the meantime, thanks for being here, and have a lovely day!