What is a brand? And how is it different from a logo? It’s not a stupid question. Even designers and agencies seem to be confused about this critical distinction, so I’m not surprised when clients are confused.
Often when clients refer to “our brand” they are talking about their logo, not their brand. And a number of designers, agencies, web developers, marketing firms, and public relations firms claim they “do branding,” but more often than not they’re actually referring to logo design.
So what is a brand?
One of the best definitions of a brand is from Marty Neumeier’s book, The Brand Gap: “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.” Simple, right? And so much more than the logo on your business card.
I like to talk about a brand as the “sum total” of all of the experiences, impressions, and knowledge a person has about your product, service, or organization. It’s really about the perceived emotional and functional benefits (that gut reaction) vs. the actual benefits or attributes of your product or service.
If you’re in business and have customers, you already have a brand of sorts, even if you’re not very clear about what it stands for and even if you’re not working to define and shape it in the eyes of your customers. A brand is the basis of your position in the market and your competitive advantage.
What is a logo?
A logo (also known as a mark, brand mark, trademark, wordmark, logotype, symbol, or brand icon) is a graphic and/or typographic mark that identifies your organization. It is only one element, albeit a very important element, of your organization’s brand identity* and helps with recognition, differentiation, and recall. Logos are a tangible way to express some of the essence and characteristics of your brand, but there’s no way a logo can represent or illustrate everything about your brand.
Instead a logo serves as a visual shorthand or the organization’s signature. You can think of the logo as the “brand box” where people can mentally store all that perceptual information (both positive and negative) for later recall. It’s a means to filter and organize memories, messages, and data points over time so that ultimately a fairly simple and abstract graphic logo can embody a whole story or history.
A good logo is an important brand asset and a way to help differentiate you from your competition and communicate the essence of your brand to the market.
Which is more important?
Both a strong brand and a compelling logo are important if you’re trying to position your company and drive its growth, but it’s what people ultimately think and feel about your organization (your brand) that impacts business success more.
For example, you can probably think of a few companies that have very recognizable, maybe even very creative, logos but for whom you hold no respect either because of your own personal customer experience or something you’ve seen in the media. Likewise, there are companies you do business with that you love for their product or service, and will return to, but whose logos you’re ambivalent about.
Because the logo is more tangible it’s the place many focus when they want to change or evolve their company. But that’s putting the cart before the horse. It’s not that they don’t need a new logo. Most of them do. However, a logo should be the outcome of a wider branding process that explores an organization’s vision, value proposition, and how customer perceptions and experiences match or diverge from what the company thinks of itself internally. The idea being to use these insights to fine tune your products, services, actions, words, imagery, etc., to become more what you want your customers to think about you.
The fact of the matter is that a large majority of businesses create a logo as a fairly random esthetic exercise and then try to shore it up with meaning and strategy later. This is usually seen as a veneer instead of a compelling strategic change or new voice for the company. Most people that are considering a “rebrand,” and feel their logo is outdated or no longer fits, are motivated consciously or unconsciously by bigger issues and opportunities for their company.
So rather than brand vs. logo, it’s really more brand and logo hand-in-hand. The actual power to be leveraged behind a great logo is not simply in the creativity and design of the logo itself, but in the clarity, definition, uniqueness, and articulation of the larger brand behind it. A good analogy is that the logo is the tip of the brand iceberg. It’s the visible part above the water line, but what it represents is so much bigger.
*(More on brand identity in an upcoming post.)