Show it and say it: how brand copy and design work together

How do your favorite brands communicate with you? What do they sound like? It’s kind of a weird question, but it’s an important one to answer if you’re building a brand. Every brand has unique messaging, and brand copy is how they communicate this messaging. That specific tone of voice they use in their messaging is known as their brand voice.

Brand copy fits into a brand identity alongside other elements like the color palette and logo. It can be easy to think of copy as something adjacent to design, but actually, it’s most effective when it’s woven into a brand’s visual design. In fact, poor copy can hurt otherwise great design, and subpar design can sink sizzling copy. As you assemble your creative dream team, make it a priority to hire an A+ copywriter as well as top-notch designers.

What is brand copy?

Brand copy is the text that communicates a brand’s tone and personality to its audience. Think of it as the text equivalent of a brand’s logo. Although brand copy communicates brand messaging, the term isn’t interchangeable with “brand messaging.” It’s also not the same as marketing copy, direct response copy or content.

It can be confusing, we know. So we’ll break it down for you.

Brand copy is not the same as…

Brand messaging

Brand messaging is the unique value proposition you’re offering your audience. Let’s say you’re a tutoring service that focuses on elementary school students. Your brand messaging communicates to buyers (parents) that you provide a unique value (better grades, more confident students, mastery of school subjects) and that you deliver this value in a way that differs from your competitors (holistic approach to tutoring; teaching students how to study and approach schoolwork instead of prioritizing higher test scores).

Through brand copy, you communicate these ideas.

Marketing and advertising copy

Brand copy is not the same as marketing and advertising copy. Marketing and advertising copy tends to have a more direct purpose or call to action for the customer. Though the copy will typically follow the brand copy, ensuring the tone and personality of the brand comes through the marketing and advertising copy. Take a look at these kinds of copy in action:

Direct response copy

Marketing copy attracts potential audiences by building intrigue and creating opportunities for engagement. Advertising copy directly asks viewers to take action, which usually—but not always—means to buy something. This kind of copy is often referred to as direct response copy.


And then there’s content. Copy and content are not the same thing. Content is long form pieces of text, like blog posts and advertorials. Content doesn’t promote or otherwise tell readers about a brand; it provides value by being entertaining or informative and facilitates a positive perspective of the brand by doing so. Copy, in contrast, is shorter, more direct and promotional in some way, even when it’s not an advertisement. Take a look at these two examples of infographic content:

As you can see, all copy is not the same! And as a business owner or content creator, you’ll probably employ all (or at least most) of these kinds of text in some way.

Brand copy sits at the center of these other kinds of text and gives them direction on how to communicate your brand values. For example, while direct response copy is punchy, how punchy your ad should be depends on how punchy you are as a brand. A skilled copywriter can translate your brand’s personality into the perfect level of punchiness, using your brand copy as a guide.

The importance of copy and design in branding

Brand copy can work very hard and do a great job communicating your brand’s value on its own, but like any other hard worker, its efforts go further when it’s part of a team.

Brand copy’s natural partner? Design!

Copy explains the design, and design illustrates copy. Just like prose and illustrations work together to tell stories in children’s books and graphic novels, copy and design work together to tell your brand story.

Facebook banner ad showing food flying out of a refrigerator

Facebook banner ad by Milica Mašić via 99designs by Vista.

Compare these two pieces of brand copy:

  • The hottest looks for day and night
  • Versatile styles we know you’ll love

They communicate a similar idea: go-anywhere clothing that the brand promises the buyer will love. But see how they have wildly different connotations? A brand that uses the first tagline most likely wouldn’t also use the second, and vice versa.

It’s no different from a brand that has a black and silver color palette and uses lots of flame imagery and spiky fonts opting not to release an ad featuring soft purple and blue pastels and text in a rounded bubble font.

Copy and design: a dynamic duo in action

Brand copy is often employed alongside other types of copy, like direct response copy. Generally, brand copy communicates its company’s unique selling proposition, also known as a unique value proposition. This is a concise statement that communicates:

  • The benefits of your offer
  • How you solve your audience’s needs
  • How does your offer differ from competitors

It’s not always easy to fit all of that into a short statement. That’s where visual design comes in to help make the message clearer. Take for example the Frank Body website below, everything about their website from copy to design conveys their brand tone and personality: cheeky and fun.

pink and white website with photos and brown text

Via Frank Body

Kind Socks is a brand that really makes their copy sizzle with great design and makes their design pop with great, on-brand copy. Their brand brings together two things: being environmentally friendly and fun. Their bright and vibrant website and product design convey exactly what they want: fun and funky! Along with their visuals, their copy focuses on being kind, both to your feet and the environment. As a user, we continue to interact with this persona through copy and design throughout their website.

plain website with a yellow header, photo of windmills and text

Via Kind Socks

Challenges when copy and design collide

With a clear understanding of how copy and design work together in branding, remember that it’s not always a match made in heaven. Meshing copy and design can be a difficult balancing act, and when they aren’t in sync, you can find yourself facing one (or more!) of these issues:

The copy/text doesn’t fit

We mean this literally. When there’s too much text for a specific design, it can spill off the side of the image or require the designer to size it down so small that it’s impossible to read. In either case, it’s not a good look.

image of a red tag with white text

Via PhilanTopic

Getting the copy to fit onto an image can mean playing with the font to find one that’s legible at an appropriate size. This is one big reason why your graphic designer and copywriter need to be in regular contact with each other—if the font you choose is tough to read at a small size, your copywriter needs to be aware of this so they can keep their copy concise.

Disconnects between brand voice and visual look

red and black impact text


You describe your brand as “exciting.” Your copywriter understood that to mean “hopeful,” “happy” and “fun.” Your designer understood it to mean “dynamic” and “surprising.”

Uh oh.

Neither of them is wrong, but they might not be right about what you had in mind. And that could mean you end up with a busy, high-energy banner overlaid with copy talking about looking toward a bright tomorrow.

And then there’s the issue of design or copy that just doesn’t work. We don’t mean copy or design that has nothing wrong with it and technically could work with some adjustments; we mean copy or design that’s just flat-out wrong for your brand and your specific goals.

Airline ad showing a beach photo and text

Via Cheezburger

This kind of disconnect can stem from poor communication, poor skills matching between your designer and copywriter, a bad fit for your brand or a lack of clear direction.

Goals get misinterpreted and misaligned

Just like a lack of communication between departments can mean copy that doesn’t work with your design, it can also lead to both creatives pursuing different goals. Making your goals clear to all parties is your job. If you’re vague about your goals, the people you hire might feel they have to figure it out on their own… and they might not all reach the same conclusions.

Remember, even though you’re not doing any of the creative work, you’re still part of the creative team—if your direction and feedback are nonexistent or confusing or you can’t answer the questions your team asks, you’re hindering their ability to deliver a finished design that matches your vision. Be proactive and responsive with your team and don’t underestimate your role as the design’s driver.

Sometimes even if the goal was set out at the beginning, things could change along the way. Interpretations can change after doing some research, or an idea takes your designer or writer down another path. What will end up happening is two different, misinterpreted and misaligned goals. This is why it’s so important that both your designer and copywriter are part of the process.

Harmonizing copy and design

Communication is key when you need copy and design to not just work together, but elevate each other. Here are a few tips that make harmonizing copy and design a breeze:

Sit in the same room

In most cases, this will be figurative, not literal. In today’s world, your copywriter and your graphic designer could be on different continents. But regardless of how far apart they are physically, setting up a workflow that recreates them sitting in the same office is setting your branding up for success.

bold, colorful illustration of people working together with gears

Illustration by Alona Shlapak via 99designs by Vista.

The concept of the copywriter and the visual designer “sitting in the same room” goes back to Bill Bernbach, a groundbreaking advertiser who revolutionized ad design in the 1960s. When Bernbach coined this phrase, he meant that the designer and copywriter should be in constant communication with each other, working together from the moment of a project’s conception. If literally sitting in the same room is out of the question for your team, apps like Slack or any video conferencing tools can mimic this dynamic.

Match and complement skill sets

Just like you wouldn’t hire a web designer to create your logo, don’t hire a blogger to write your brand copy. When you’re vetting creatives to develop your brand identity, hire people who have experience with the type of project you’re doing as well as your industry. Ideally, they’ll also be people who have experience collaborating with other creatives in this industry.

It’s also important to avoid creating a dynamic where one creative is the other’s supervisor. Copy and design are two distinct, equally valuable skills, and facilitating a working relationship where the designer and the copywriter are on equal ground is your clearest path to great results.

line illustration of a coffee cup, a rainbow, music notes and a pencil

Illustration by Megamax727 via 99designs by Vista.

Design with copy in mind

If your designer knows—or at least has a good idea of—what the copy is going to be before they start designing, they can design according to the copy’s precise tone and vocabulary. Every word has nuance, so the more specific you can be with the copy you provide, the more closely your designer can complement it in visual design.

Write with design in mind

Writing with design in mind is just as important as designing with copy in mind. When your copywriter begins a project with an idea of what the final design will look like, even if the design isn’t finished or finalized yet, they can size up how much space they have to work with and the overall tone of the message they’re crafting.

Great design? Copy that

The most effective way to guarantee great design is to approach design holistically. Don’t just think about one image or one specific layout design; think about your brand’s entire look and feel when you search for the designers and other creatives who will bring your brand to life.

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Author: Lindsay Kramer