Your logo is not your brand.

Image of knife, fork, plate, love heart. Your logo is not your brand

What comes to mind when you think of your favourite restaurant?

Is it the service, the food, a great experience? Picture it. Can you see it? Can you hear the sounds of the kitchen, of conversations? Can you smell it? what was that last tasty dish you had? Perhaps it wasn’t even the food – maybe it was the company you were with that made it memorable. Picture the environment, the decor. Close your eyes and go there.

What’s the name of that restaurant? Close you eyes again and think about the name – can you see it? Good. 

What does the logo look like? Do you know? Can you picture it? Can you describe it? Draw it – go on. Take a moment now, if you can recall it. 

If you can’t recall what the logo looks like but you can recall the name, then that’s fine. Draw that. Just write the name down on a piece of paper. Trust me.

Now, thinking about that restaurant and why it’s your favourite, picture it again in your mind. Big and bright. Really get in tight on the details, the sounds, the smell, taste, the conversation, the service, the price, the value, what ever it is that draws you back there. Take a moment to go there again now.  

What was easier for you to recall? The experience, sounds smell, taste, or the logo? Chances are, it was the former. You can enjoy an experience, but it’s not very easy to experience that same kind of joy with a logo. At least, not until you’ve been touched by the brand that the logo represents.

A logo is also referred to as a brand mark. That is to say, it is the visual mark of the brand. It is not the brand.

Upon first encounter with a logo we can admire it visually, if it is beautiful to look at, but it doesn’t trigger a sensation, or recall a memory until we’ve interacted with the company that the logo represents. This is branding. The things that come to mind, or that people say, about a company based on what they’ve experienced or what they’ve heard. Even what they promise. I like to define branding as “what people say about you when you’re not there”. This goes for personal branding, too. What do you stand for?

My wife and I once ate at one of Adelaide’s best restaurants and boy did their brand take a beating. We were excited to be eating at this ‘establishment’ and two things happened that have left us with a very stubborn memory and opinion of the place. Firstly, the waitress was extremely rude. Secondly, the serves were so small that we had to stop on the way home to buy something else to eat. Now at this point, who cares what the logo looks like, the experience I had with their brand was a negative one and this is now what I think of when I hear the name of that restaurant. My experience was negative. If I see that logo again, then it well trigger a recall of that experience, so now that logo, to me, represents a negative.

So what, Dan! Get to the point.

Okay. A logo is not a brand — it represents a brand. It represents an experience. So, that experience better be good or the brand suffers. It doesn’t matter how good the logo is, if the service is poor then it is less likely to create a repeat sale. So where does design fit in? Well, this is another whole article, however, in a nutshell, design makes information user friendly. Design also separates one brand from another, in the form of logo, brochure, website, stationery, and so on. Think of design as visual language. It communicates for you, when you can’t. Consider wine packaging. When we don’t know what we’re looking for, we often pick up the bottle that appeals to us most, then perhaps we select by style or price range, also. I wrote about this in a recent article – The best design and marketing campaign won’t save you …. A great label will help facilitate a sale, but if the experience with the product isn’t satisfying — that is, we don’t like the taste — then three things will happen. Firstly, there will be no repeat sale. Secondly, the consumer will not recommend it (give it a bad referral) and thirdly, next time the consumer sees that bottle or hears the name it will trigger that dissatisfying experience.

Everything counts.

The logo is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s game on. Not game over. It goes without saying, that good brands know to manage that logo and all its assets across every medium and touch point. Across web, print, vehicles, advertising, packaging, stationery, etc. Customer service, value, price, quality and communications; they all contribute to the experience that defines a brand.

Let’s consider Apple. What does the actual logo mean? You may recall its original version, with rainbow stripes. What does a picture of an apple with a bite taken out of it have to do with computers? And rainbow colours? Was it a reference to colour dot matrix printers? Who cares! Steve Jobs sold the concept of design, typography, graphics and user experience with so much passion that the Apple personal computer for the home user exploded onto the market. His vision and relentless passion for innovation built Apple into the most powerful brand in the world. It’s not about the logo any more. It’s what the logo represents. 

Another great example of good design coupled together with excellent branding is Telstra. I wrote about this in Branding, culture and the little things. The design agency did a fantastic job or reinventing the Telstra brand. But, if Telstra doesn’t deliver with an equally impressive customer experience, then it falls flat on its face. Culture culture culture.

The almighty disclaimer.

I am not suggesting that logos don’t matter. Good design is still essential, for all the reasons I’ve referred to above. Particularly to engage a potential customer who has not had an experience with that logo’s brand before. Or to invite a customer back, and say “Hey, we’re different now, come and see for yourself!”. I am suggesting that a well designed logo, and supporting branding material, has a greater chance of growing a brand than one that has poorly designed logo and branding material. For one reason, because first impressions count. However, as I described in the wine example; if the delivery, the promise and the experience don’t live up to expectation set by the logo, or in this case the wine label, then the well designed logo can become a misrepresentation of the experience that the customer is about to receive.

Confused? Don’t be. Here’s a solution.

  1. Decide what you and your brand stand for.
  2. Document it. Vision, Mission, Customer Service Charter, Brand Promise, Your Point of Difference.
  3. Set a budget for creating a logo and essential branded material such as stationery, website, uniforms, email signature, etc. 
  4. Write a brief. What does the logo have to do? What does it represent? What do you want people to think when they see the logo. Describe the interactions that your customers will have with the logo and your business.
  5. Rewrite the brief. A great mentor once said “A wishy washy brief equals a wishy washy outcome”.
  6. Research designers and look for examples of work that fit with what you want to create. 
  7. Get 2 or 3 quotes, and ask for an explanation of why the fees vary. What are you getting with one designer, or design agency, that you might not be getting with another?
  8. Negotiate to have a style guide included. Also known as a brand manual, think of it as the rule book for how your logo is to be used. Ignore it at your own risk. 
  9. Engage the designer that feels like the right fit. I caution you not to make that decision only based on price. You really do get what you pay for. If you don’t know what you are paying for, then ask more questions.
  10. Think ahead and list all the marketing material that you might need to support your sales. Ensure the designer is aware of this list. Engage them for the follow-on work, if they have the expertise, and you’ll have a higher probability of a consistent set of well designed sales and marketing tools. On the flip side, if you engage ten different designers for ten different components of your new brand, and you don’t have a style guide, then your message begins to become diluted as the fonts, colours and messaging start to vary. Read more about this in Three of the biggest design and marketing mistakes and what to do about it.
  11. Once you’ve engaged a designer and kicked off the project, stay involved in the project. You’ll get a better result.
  12. Finally; what is your brand worth? What do you want it to be worth? Invest accordingly, in the essential things first.

So, next time you see a logo, notice what thoughts or emotions it triggers. More importantly, next time you have a need for a logo, consider what you want it to represent, and who you want your brand to be.

Dan Kuss

About Dan Kuss

Twenty years in the design industry can do one of two things – drive your love affair with all things design, or drive you nuts. We’re pretty sure Dan hasn’t gone nuts. What does drive him nuts is agency-centric solutions.


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