A logo is not your brand, nor is it your identity. Logo design, identity design, and branding all have different roles, that together, form a perceived image for a business or product.
There has been some recent discussion on the web about this topic, about your logo not being your brand. Although this may be true, I haven’t seen any clarification of the differences between ‘brand’, ‘identity, and ‘logo’. I wish to rectify this.
What is brand? – The perceived emotional corporate image as a whole.
What is identity? – The visual aspects that form part of the overall brand.
What is a logo? – A logo identifies a business in its simplest form via the use of a mark or icon.
To explain this in more detail, let’s start at the top –
• The brand
Branding is certainly not a light topic – whole publications & hundreds of books have been written on the topic, however, to put it in a nutshell you could describe a ‘brand’ as an organization, service, or product with a ‘personality’ that is shaped by the perceptions of the audience. On that note, it should also be stated that a designer cannot “make” a brand – only the audience can do this. A designer forms the foundation of the brand.
Many people believe a brand only consists of a few elements – some colors, some fonts, a logo, a slogan and maybe some music added in too. In reality, it is much more complicated than that. You might say that a brand is a ‘corporate image’.
The fundamental idea and core concept behind having a ‘corporate image’ is that everything a company does, everything it owns and everything it produces should reflect the values and aims of the business as a whole.
It is the consistency of this core idea that makes up the company, driving it, showing what it stands for, what it believes in and why they exist. It is not purely some colors, some typefaces, a logo and a slogan.
For a more thorough understanding of branding, in simple terms, I recommend Wally Olin’s: The Brand Handbook which I quote is “an essential, easy-reference guide to brilliant branding”.
• What is identity design?
One major role in the ‘brand’ or ‘corporate image’ of a company is its identity.
In most cases, identity design is based around the visual devices used within a company, usually assembled within a set of guidelines. These guidelines that make up an identity usually administer how the identity is applied throughout a variety of mediums, using approved color palettes, fonts, layouts, measurements and so forth. These guidelines ensure that the identity of the company is kept coherent, which in turn, allows the brand as a whole, to be recognizable.
The identity or ‘image’ of a company is made up of many visual devices:
A Logo (The symbol of the entire identity & brand)
Stationery (Letterhead + business card + envelopes, etc.)
Marketing Collateral (Flyers, brochures, books, websites, etc.)
Products & Packaging (Products sold and the packaging in which they come in)
Apparel Design (Tangible clothing items that are worn by employees)
Signage (Interior & exterior design)
Messages & Actions (Messages conveyed via indirect or direct modes of communication)
Other Communication (Audio, smell, touch, etc.)
Anything visual that represents the business.
All of these things make up an identity and should support the brand as a whole. The logo however, is the corporate identity and brand all wrapped up into one identifiable mark. This mark is the avatar and symbol of the business as a whole.
• What is a logo?
To understand what a logo is, we must first understand what it is for.
A logo is for… identification.
A logo identifies a company or product via the use of a mark, flag, symbol, or signature. A logo does not sell the company directly nor rarely does it describe a business. Logos derive their meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around – logos are there to identity, not to explain. In a nutshell, what a logo means is more important than what it looks like.
To illustrate this concept, think of logos like people. We prefer to be called by our names – James, Dorothy, John – rather than by the confusing and forgettable description of ourselves such as “the guy who always wears pink and has blonde hair”. In this same way, a logo should not literally describe what the business does but rather, identify the business in a way that is recognizable and memorable.