Is branding just about the colours, patterns, icons, and all the visual details?
In a way, YES. One of the most important ways your customers perceive your brand is through their eyes. They see your brand by looking at your Instagram photos, packaging, company stationery (among many others).
But this visual identity is the result of branding. You don't start with the visual identity first.
When we want to do branding, we don't go into it blind. We can't just pick a colour palette and hope for the prettiest look.
Of course, you can design the visual details first and assign meaning to them later. "The yellow represents... Ummm... Sunshine and growth!"
But it will make it so much harder for you to expand your business and attract the customers you want to be selling to.
Related article: 6 Reasons Why You Should Only Sell to One Customer
The design that has no basis will be so ingrained in your business that you might find it near impossible to change. A reputation that has stuck could force you onto the same unprofitable path month by month.
Helter-skelter branding will not produce the brand that YOU will feel happy about.
But enough about that. I'm not trying to scare you into branding. It's just that with two prior businesses under my belt, I'm seeing all the things I've done wrong. I focused on the visual identities without thinking about the way I wanted to position my brands in the market. Sounds like a bit of soul-searching, doesn't it?
I should have sat down and mapped where I want my business to be 2, 3 or even 5 years from now. I should have dug deep and analysed why I wanted these brands to exist.
So the other answer to the question is NO, branding is not just about the looks. It's not meant to be shallow or one-dimensional.
Branding = Meaning + Visual Identity. Without Meaning behind your Visual Identity, there is no branding.