• Greg Elliott

Logo Design is not Branding: Understanding the Differences



I happened to be watching my son play football with some friends the other day and I struck up a conversation with another dad. Inevitably, the “So what do you do?” question came up. I replied that I was a branding consultant. He responded, “Oh, so like designing logos?” Well…


Honestly, many clients come to me with the idea that branding and logo design are essentially the same. They use the term branding or rebranding when in essence, all they want is a new logo. And although the two processes can be interwoven, they are distinctly different. Branding is the process of building your castle; your logo is the flag of your kingdom.


I touched a little on this in an earlier post, but I believe that many designers are responsible for furthering the confusion. Maybe it’s an attempt to oversell a designer’s finite skillset. Maybe it’s unfamiliarity with the complete branding process. Either way, by continuing to conflate logo design with branding, designers overemphasize the importance of a logo in the overall success of a brand.


Branding, Logo Design, and Visual Identity – What’s the Dif?


Let’s start out with some basics.


A Brand is amorphous. One of the best definitions I’ve see is this: A brand is the way in which a company, organization, or individual is perceived by those who experience it. Or according to David Olgivy, the Father of Advertising, "a brand is the intangible sum of a product’s attributes.” It’s the emotional connection that a product or business has with its audience.


Branding is the process and the tools that are created to help the audience understand the brand and help build affinity. Branding uses physical and emotional cues that are designed to inspire a (usually positive) response. The first step is positioning, which is a topic for another blog post. But beyond that, branding includes Logo Design, Visual Identity and Brand Identity.


Logo Design is the process of developing a logo. Duh! What I mean, is that it shouldn't be seen as an artistic endeavor. A logo is not a piece of art. The process requires an understanding of the client and the client’s customers. It requires asking questions and getting feedback. A logo has specific meaning for a specific audience. The objective is creating something that is true to the client and resonates with the customer. As Paul Rand puts it,

The principal role of a logo is to identify, and simplicity is its means… Its effectiveness depends on distinctiveness, visibility, adaptability, memorability, universality, and timelessness.

And the logo is just one component of a visual identity.


A Visual Identity is the compilation of all of the core visual elements that bring understanding to your brand. Some key elements are: The primary logo and/or wordmark, secondary and tertiary logo variations; full color palette including PMS equivalents, CMYK, RGB, and HEX formulas; primary and secondary type fonts; typographic treatments; relevant graphic elements and usage; photographic or illustration direction/examples; Web elements and examples; signage; and environment examples. Often these elements are outlined in a brand standards guide (manual).


A Brand Identity is the comprehensive toolbox that help create brand recognition and affinity. It includes items like your name; tagline; mission or values statement; brand statement; website URLs; hashtags; messaging tone of voice or personality (for example, relaxed and conversational versus professional and technical); distinctive sounds or jingles; advertising; packaging; pricing strategy; corporate work environment; affiliations; in-store experience and more - in addition to everything included in the visual identity.


So, is your logo still important?

All of this is not to suggest that an organization’s logo is unimportant. It is! In virtually every instance other than your name, your logo will be the single most familiar element of your entire brand identity. It is often the first visual cue that stakeholders encounter. It will be used on, or in conjunction with, most every other touchpoint. It helps one easily identify the brand and remember those other cues. It helps create visual consistency. It clarifies brand promises and expectations. It strengthens emotional connections to the brand. These points highlight a logo’s importance. And when combined with well-researched positioning and a comprehensive brand strategy, a distinctive logo can serve as the visual foundation of your brand. It can be a tool to help you effectively connect with your target audience and create a strong, lasting brand affinity. But it is only an identifier of the brand, not the brand itself. Without that cognitive connection, the logo has no meaning.


Paul Rand


Remember that Paul Rand quote from above. Well, he also said, “If a company (brand) is second-rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second-rate.” So, invest in creating a formidable brand. Understand what motivates your customers, and reinforce how you are uniquely capable of meeting those expectations. Only at that point will a logo have any value for your kingdom.


If you’d like help creating a remarkable brand, or just a logo, contact us. We'd love to talk.

#LogoDesign #YourLogoIsntYourBrand

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