brands people crave

How is a logo different from a brand?

If you’re wondering how a logo is different from a brand, you’re not alone. Many business owners and even designers get the two confused. But it’s essential to understand the difference if you want to create a brand and a logo that stands out and attracts customers to your business.

What is a brand?

Branding is much more than the logo.

A brand is the emotional connection and the overall impressions, experiences and knowledge a consumer has about a product, service or company. 

Marty Neumeier gives a great definition for a brand in his book, The Brand Gap: “A brand is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service, or organization.”

You’ll notice that a brand is about feelings and perceptions about your products and services rather than the actual features or benefits of your products or services.

So how do you create a great brand? It starts with the understanding of what you’re trying to communicate.

Like an actor needs to understand a script in order to perform it, a brand needs to be understood by all those involved in its creation in order to effectively communicate. Those choices need to be evident in the design, and the design itself needs to be clear and focused.

Example: Starbucks’ brand

If you’re a fan of Starbucks, you probably feel a sense of comfort when you think about going to a Starbucks coffee shop. You might associate going to Starbucks with relaxing or getting work done. A specific set of feelings and ideas arises as soon as you think about their brand.

The Starbucks brand is just that — the feelings, experiences, and knowledge you have about their company.

A brand is created through brand identity.

Question: If a brand is the feelings, experience, and knowledge a customer has about your company, how do you create that brand?

Answer: By intentionally crafting your brand identity.

Your brand identity is the design and messaging that influences how people feel about your company. 

Your brand identity may include:

  • Logo
  • Fonts
  • Colors
  • Written messages (a.k.a. copy)
  • Images
  • Product packaging design
  • Store design
  • Interactions with customers

In order to create a brand identity that makes people feel the way you want them to feel about your company, you go through a process of defining who you are, what makes you different, and what unique value you offer and then make that tangible for people.

The easiest way to explain what a design is to a non-designer is that it is a series of decisions. From the broad (“what is this thing?”) to the minute (“should this be one pixel closer?”), every decision shapes the final product. The difference between good and great design often lies in the strength of and commitment to those decisions.

When those decisions are based on a clear understanding of your brand, that’s when you can create a truly memorable brand identity.

Starbucks’ brand identity

In the example of Starbucks, their iconic green and white logo is just one part of what you associate with their brand. Other thoughts and feelings that come up when you think about Starbucks might include:

  • The taste of their coffee drinks
  • The delicious smell of coffee wafting through their stores
  • The warmth of their white cardboard cups in your hands on a cold day
  • The welcoming attitude of the baristas
  • The cushy chairs in the corner of the store

Each of these elements of your experience of Starbucks, a.k.a. elements of their brand identity, are intentionally crafted to give you a certain impression of Starbucks.

What is a logo?

A logo is a graphic and/or typographic mark that identifies your organization. Logos are also known as a marks, brand marks, trademarks, wordmarks, logotypes, symbols, or brand icons.

When a customer sees your logo, they will mentally connect that symbol with all of the experiences they’ve had with your brand, and based on those experiences, they will choose whether or not to engage with your services or products.

For a logo to be effective it needs to be simple and easy to remember, while effectively expressing attributes of your brand. It is the first impression you give your customer.

It’s important to remember that rather than representing your brand in its entirety, a logo expresses the essence of your brand, a visual shorthand. Put another way, you can’t pack everything about your brand into your logo, because a good logo is simple. But your logo should convey the central feelings and perceptions you want your customers to associate with your brand.

Logos are a tangible way to express some of the essence and characteristics of your brand, but there’s no way a logo can represent or illustrate everything about your brand. Your logo serves as a visual shorthand for your brand.

Logo design follows the same principle as the rest of your brand identity. When a logo doesn’t have a strong rationale, if the corporate colours are chosen because it’s the colour of someone’s bedroom, that’s when branding fails.

Starbucks logo

Let’s go back to Starbucks, shall we?

Starbucks’ logo is a depiction of a siren. In Greek mythology, sirens lured men to them, just like the Starbucks founders wanted people to be lured in to their coffee shops.

While the logo has experienced 4 different iterations since 1971, the concept has remained the same. You’ll notice that it’s different than any other coffee shop logo. Instead of showing a cup of coffee, the Starbucks logo depicts a symbol that embodies the way the founders wanted people to feel about the Starbucks brand.

When you see the Starbucks logo, you automatically think about your experiences with Starbucks. If those experiences are positive, you will be more likely to go in and buy a drink. It’s important to note that the logo itself doesn’t have meaning until it’s associated with your other experiences of the brand.

Brand, brand identity, and logo

To sum it all up:

  • A brand is the feelings, experience, and knowledge a customer has about your company
  • Your brand identity is the design and messaging that influences how people feel about your company. 
  • The logo is the typographic or graphic image that identifies your company

Many companies dive into the logo creation process without doing the necessary work to define their brand first. The resulting logo may be beautiful, but it’s not a true representation of the company’s vision, value proposition, and the way they want their customers to feel. Instead of being the deeper strategic change the company wants, the new logo is simply a new graphic.

Smart companies see their logos as the tip of the brand iceberg — rather than merely a nice design, the logo is supported by the much larger part of the iceberg under the water — a clearly defined and articulated brand.

While having a nice logo is important, it’s far more important to go through a careful process of defining your brand’s vision, values, story, and how you want customers to feel when they interact with your brand. Once you’ve done that work, you (or your designer) can create a logo holds the power of a clear and unique brand.