Untangling Logo, Identity, and Brand

April 4, 2022

A man at a whiteboard drawing decreasingly complex doodles.
Logo, identity, and brand are often used interchangeably, even though they have very distinct meanings. Let’s demystify the jargon and learn about how they fit together.

The Logo

Ideally, a logo should serve as a timeless representation of a brand, distilling what the company does, its goals, and morals into a single, relatively simple image.

Some of the most memorable logos globally came at a high cost when judged purely by the end result. However, that’s precisely why those logos prove so special. Months of effort go into ensuring everything is perfect, and these simple images go on to define what a brand is all about.

With that said, the good news for smaller businesses is that while you could spend a fortune, you don’t have to. While BP spent over $200 million on a new logo and associated marketing materials, and the London Olympics spent a cool $625,000 on “the worst logo in Olympic history”, Nike, Coca-Cola, and Google have never spent more than $35. So the chances are that you’ll recognize those companies and their branding no matter where you see it, and inspiration often beats outright spending.

So, what makes a terrific logo?

Timeless Qualities

The longer a logo lasts, the more recognizable it becomes. Many of the world’s most notable ones have been around for decades. Even when redesigned, they retain familiar elements to ease the changeover.

Take the Google logo, for example. Even counting the wordmark that served as a logo when the search engine was no more than a research project, it’s easy to understand the evolution from one symbol to the next, and even clear links between the very first one and the most recent. Of course, Google loves to change things up with its Google Doodles, but consistency in logo design over the years has afforded it this kind of opportunity.

When a company has not yet ascended to becoming a household name in that way, they can still capitalize on consistency in displaying their logo to boost their profile.

Suitable for All Forms of Media

No matter what the marketing plan is today, there’s no telling where promotional efforts might take a brand next, and the logo must be suitable. From the basics, like websites, business cards and letterheads, to social media, video promotions and TV ads, it’s vital that the logo pops, even when it’s not the centrepiece.

It Doesn’t Try to Tell the Whole Story

Iconic logos use implication and inference to tell part of the story without attempting to go into too finer detail. It’s one reason why logos primarily rely on imagery, with the company name often being the only text element. For example, consider how the Nike Swoosh conveys speed and movement, or how the smile in the Amazon logo not only indicates positivity but points out the A and Z, reflecting how it sells just about everything imaginable.

They’re easily recognizable at just a quick glance, and while they don’t represent everything a business does, they take a core component of the brand message and position it front and centre.

The Identity

Identity (or corporate identity) is the next step in a company’s visual representation. The logo forms an integral part of it but is only one component of taking control of the image a business portrays.

An extensive corporate identity has become vastly important for any brand with ambitious marketing goals, especially in an increasingly digital world. Every blog post has an image. Social media accounts have a banner. Even every outgoing email has a signature. And it all contributes to perception.

The visual identity controls how the brand is displayed through these and every other channel. Just as with the logo, consistency is vital as it enables any brand to build a narrative and goes a long way to controlling perception.

It comprises every visual element that forms part of the brand message. This includes typefaces, colours, unique icons, and anything else that contributes to the overall look and feel of marketing materials, social media, and other public interactions.

A law firm’s identity contributes significantly to how the general public perceives and identifies them. Many businesses are willing to go out of their way to own as many elements as possible. For example, the idea of owning a colour may sound ridiculous to some, but there are numerous cases of precisely that. For example, both Target and Coca-Cola own their respective shades of red. UPS has exclusive rights to brown, and Cadbury has the legal right to ensure that no other confectioner dare use purple in their packaging and advertising.

Again, it’s all about familiarity. These companies have gone above and beyond what most businesses would do, but this demonstrates how essential design elements beyond the logo itself can be for a company’s public perception.

The Brand

The brand itself is more difficult to define than either the logo or corporate identity, not least because it is often impossible for a business to have complete control. As a result, it usually comes down to perceptions of those inside the business and its customers (and even the general public once a company becomes a household name).

Naturally, both the logo and brand identity make up a significant element of the overall brand. They’re two elements of the general concept over which the business in question has complete control. However, virtually all output falls under branding, including social media posts, blog content, and even how someone deals with customers.

Successful branding involves understanding how a brand wants to be presented and ensuring that everyone from the marketing team to the social media manager gets the brief. External stakeholders are, of course, free to make up their own minds, but it is up to businesses themselves to attempt to guide the narrative around their brand.

Putting it All Together

An infographic illustrating the interplay of the logo, the identity, and the brand.
The logo is one component of the identity. The identity contributes to the perception brand. The brand is a combination of the perceptions of all the firms stakeholders  — internal and external.

Each element works together so that visuals, content, marketing materials and everything else a company produces can make the biggest possible impact. Familiarity plays a significant role in sales and marketing – 71% of people are more likely to purchase from a brand they’ve heard of before. It’s an opportunity to cultivate positive sentiment among prospective customers, distilling values and social responsibility into consistent images and styles.

Even if they don’t remember the name, a memorable logo could be the psychological trigger that immediately instils trust and a favourable opinion. Conversely, a willingness to challenge popular belief might alienate some potential customers but invoke passion for a business and its products in others.

There’s no magic recipe for successful brand building, but consistency, creativity and uniqueness are three ingredients that will always combine to help create something special.

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