Is a brand just a logo?

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Cinematic still showing the rear view of a Roman gladiator wearing armour and carrying a sword and shield as he prepares to enter the arena, shot on Aaton 35-III Camera, dramatic lighting, tension –ar 16:9 –seed 4000

Before you read any further, it is important to understand one critical thing – a brand is most definitely NOT a logo. A logo is a single part of your brand. It is an important part, yes, but a part nonetheless. There are many additional parts that are required to create a solid, effective brand.

What is a brand?

A great brand starts from the inside. It is how you approach your work, how you make your business decisions, how you look after suppliers, how you treat your staff, how you deal with customer complaints and how you picture the future.

A brand is how you see the world around you – it is everything that a business does and stands for. These can be summarised as the brand values. A great business is the sum of its brand values.

Brand design is part art, part science. It requires the strategic ability to articulate the inner values of a business, along with the creative ability to translate this to the wider world. To be able to make this connection, you need much more than a logo, you need a comprehensive language of communication.

A visual and verbal language

An effective brand design (by ‘effective’ we mean one that resonates with your ideal customer groups) is built from a complex interaction between visual and verbal components.

Ask people to pick words they associate with products created by the business ‘Apple’ and you’ll often hear words like ‘cool, ‘innovative’, ‘designed’, ‘expensive’, ‘beautiful’, ‘experience’, ‘superior’, and ‘fun’. It’s no coincidence that these are the same types of words you can use to describe their marketing, packaging and advertising.

A great brand is able to reflect the quality of what they do in every aspect of their image. The logo is a critical part of the brand identity, if for no other reason than it appears on nearly every item of collateral a business produces. However, on its own, it is worthless. If you have a great-looking logo, but nothing else to go with it, all you have is a great-looking logo attached to a generic piece of marketing.

‘Generic’, means ‘average’, and your business will never stand out if it is labelled as ‘average’. If you want a great brand, you need every piece of the puzzle. This means having supporting visual tools that allow you to paint a more convincing picture of what your business actually stands for.

The components of a great brand identity

  1. The right strategy: If you don’t know who you are, how do you know who you want to talk to? If you don’t know who you want to talk to, how will you ever be heard? Brand strategy helps you to better understand your business and its place in the world. Once you know that, the brand development process evolves from intelligence, not guesswork.
  2. Typography: You can’t send a letter without writing a word and your brand can’t write messages without a well-chosen typeface. This is not just your logo font, these are the fonts that appear on your leaflets, business cards and end-of-year bonus letters. They become as much a symbol of your brand as they do any other visual device.
  3. Colours: Colours play a pivotal role in a brand’s identity. This is not just the colours of your logo, although that is obviously important. It is the colours that the logo interacts with on document covers, website buttons, link colours, and signage. In every application, colour plays a vital role and it is essential you choose appropriately.
  4. Images: ‘A picture paints a thousand words’. Pictures are fundamentally important to the overall brand. Whether you choose photographs, illustrations, graphic shapes or icons, the shape, colour, cropping and style of the images you use all play a huge role in building your brand personality.
  5. Textures and patterns: Textures and patterns are a hugely powerful visual signal, just ask Orla Kiely. They can be bold, vibrant, refined, subtle, quirky or crazy. The type of patterns your business chooses must be appropriate and consistent with your worldview.
  6. Tone of voice: The words you choose and how they interact with your brand visuals play a huge role in brand perception. Imagine substituting ‘Just Do It’, for ‘Every Little Helps’, whichever way you flip it, the effectiveness of the message for the target brand loses all relevance. Straplines, descriptions and key messages always demand careful consideration.
  7. Materials: Physical materials play an important part in how your brand is perceived. The way something feels evokes a highly emotive response. A great brand pays careful attention to the materials used so that the overall message isn’t compromised.
  8. Logo: Last but not least, we have the logo (or brandmark). It is a cornerstone of your brand and should hold all of the other visual elements together. But it should not be indispensable. The best brands are instantly recognisable even without the presence of a logo. If you’re unconvinced, just picture a blue and yellow carrier bag and ask yourself, which shop does it make you think of? You see, there’s a lot more to a brand than just a logo.

About the author

Dave Holloway is a highly experienced brand designer & strategist based in Leeds (UK). For 16 years, he ran a multi-award-winning creative agency working on a diverse range of projects for world-class clients. He now works in collaboration with creative agencies and directly with clients. Whether setting the direction through intelligent brand strategy, or tactical execution through digital and offline channels, he helps businesses of all sizes to communicate more effectively. If you have a branding or web design project you’d like to discuss, please get in touch.