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Logo, Brand Identity, Brand: What Is Branding?

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase: Your logo is not your brand. This is repeated often enough that I have to guess there are people out there, who think a logo is a brand.

On the other end of the spectrum there are people arguing that a brand is so much more than a logo, that a logo is inconsequential. So I wanted to show how I define, understand and use the terms logo and brand, as well as some other related key words.

What is a logo?

A logo is the graphic symbol that represents a person, company or organization. If the logo is well-known enough, such as the Nike swoosh, you may even see a logo used without the name of the business that it is associated with. Normally, most marks have a typographic part that more clearly spells out the name of the organization.

What is a wordmark or logotype?

A logo can also be purely typographic. It is called a logotype or wordmark when only the letters of the name make up to the logo (there is no additional symbol). A great example is Coca-Cola’s red scripty type. Some people also refer to the logomark as the word portion of a logo that also has a symbol.

Sometimes the graphic symbol and typographic word mark are very separate. With other logo designs, there is not a clear separation of logo symbol from typography.

What is a brand identity?

Once a logo has been designed it gets applied to many different applications. These can be as simple as the logo placed in the top center of a piece of paper and calling it letterhead. If all you do is essentially rubber-stamp your logo onto different things, you really have not developed a full brand identity.

A brand identity is the larger, distinct visual look that is associated with a company. That is a brief overview of the elements that can be put together to make your brand’s identity more robust than just a logo.

When a brand identity really works, you should be able to recognize the brand even if you don’t see the logo. For example, Netflix’s red envelope is a simple yet powerful example of a brand identity.

Many people have heard about the importance of using their logo consistently. But there should be a consistency to elements beyond your logo.

The tricky thing is that while your logo is unfailingly unchangeable, your brand identity must have both consistency and flexibility. Creating a brand identity that is distinct yet varies based on it’s form, is a challenge but can bring big dividends in your brand’s value. The elements that can be part of a full brand identity could be fonts, colors, imagery, and even the voice of the writing.

What is a brand?

What is included under the term brand is much harder to define. It certainly encompasses the logo and the full visual position created by a strong brand identity. But it also includes many other areas that are not strictly the design side of a business. These may include your content, messaging and story telling. Customer service and the client experience also a part of a brand. The idea of reputation is a critical part of defining the word brand. Some people summarize this into the very abstract idea of a promise.

You will also hear some people (including me) use the word brand almost interchangeably with company or organization. It can be a way to talk about product or service; individual or organization; company or non-profit without getting caught up in listing all those particulars. For example, people will say: “A great way to promote your brand is using social media.”

I like to think of a brand as a combination of how you define and promote yourself and how others define and view you. You never have complete control over your brand because it is not wholly generated internally.