• Tortuga Creative Studio

Branding vs. graphic design: the coral reef analogy and your outdoor business

Updated: Jun 10


We're guessing that you've never thought about branding and graphic design in the same brainwave as a coral reef, but surprisingly, the two have a lot in common.


Of course, we love that our analogy is ocean-themed (did you expect anything less?), but it is also the perfect stage for us to guide you in understanding the difference between branding and graphic design and how your ideal community echoes that of a natural ecosystem.


First let’s consider the ideal coral reef – a flourishing ecosystem full of vibrant, beautiful and integral creatures. Coral polyps, sponges, algae and rocks make up this ecosystem and invite a variety of sea creatures, from starfish to clownfish.


This complex ecosystem is much like your ideal outdoor business—anchored yet purposeful, stable yet ever-growing. To build a loyal community of outdoor enthusiasts, look to the coral reef for inspiration.


In this post, we’ll cover the difference between branding and graphic design and how to build an ecosystem for your outdoor brand.


The ecosystem your outdoor business needs

So what makes a coral reef a thriving ecosystem?


The start of every good coral reef is a set of solid and steady rocks that form the foundation of what will one day become a flourishing reef ecosystem.


These rocks are much like your business's branding, which is made up of two key components:

  • Brand strategy. Brand strategy involves understanding who your brand is, what you stand for, who you serve, and what makes you different.

  • Brand personality and visual identity. Your brand personality and identity are made up of the human personality your brand displays and the core visual elements that make up your identity (your logo, colour palette, fonts and graphic styles)

Together, your branding becomes the foundation for your business's “ecosystem” or community— a community of outdoor enthusiasts, loyal customers, and brand ambassadors.


However, as much as your brand strategy and core identity rocks are essential for a coral reef to begin growing, you need to first set your business up for success with the right foundation.


Why branding strategy comes first

What happens if you try to start a reef or community without a solid foundation? You can try dumping beautiful corals into the water and hope that they find somewhere to anchor, but more than likely, they will just float around the ocean.


Don't get us wrong, those floating corals would be beautiful, and they will likely attract some pretty cool fish for a little while. Still, eventually, those fish will realize they don't have a home in those floating corals, and they will head off in search of a stable, trustworthy reef that supports all their needs in the long term.

The same is true for your business.

If you try to grow your business with only visuals and no foundational branding, you may get a stunning brochure and a beautiful logo that attracts a few good customers, but you won't keep them because your designs are not anchored in branding. They may look incredible, but they will not mean much to your audience or contribute to the community surrounding your business.


You need a branding strategy first, so you can create a solid foundation as a home for your target audience—outdoor enthusiasts who love nature as much as you do!


Attracting customers with visuals

Think of your visuals as the corals of your outdoor business. Branding gives your corals a safe place to anchor and begin to grow.


Once you have a foundation of branding strategy, you can start adding beautiful and vibrant graphic design to your business and its touchpoints. Your reach with these initial touchpoints might start off small, but because they are anchored to rock-solid branding, they will eventually make up a strong core for your business's ecosystem.


Although corals start small, they will one day become the centre of the entire reef ecosystem, attracting all manner of life to them. Much like your graphic design will become recognizable and drive your community to grow.

Like the coral reef attracting new fish, with graphic design, you’ll create a welcome environment for loyal, long-lasting customers.


Grow your own outdoor branding ecosystem

We live in an ever-changing world. The community you attract—consumers, businesses, clients, or the general public —are becoming much more aware of a business’ inner workings, ethics and values.

These inner workings are essential to who you will do business with, what your impact on the world will be, and what type of ecosystem your business will build.

Your branding is not only fundamental but the key to growing your own successful coral reef ecosystem.

So now that we know branding is your rock, and graphic design is the coral anchored to the foundation from which your community will grow, it’s time to ask yourself, maybe the most important business question you may ever receive:

Are you going to float, or are you going to anchor?

PS. Deciding on who your brand is can be daunting at first, so if you’re feeling unsure of where to start putting down that anchor, you can book a free discovery call with us and let us help you start to build your reef...we mean brand.