Why brands go where logos fear to tread

Over nearly 20 years in the design and branding business, one common misconception we find time and time again is the belief that a brand starts and ends with a corporate logo. There is no doubt a logo might be a (in some cases, exceptionally) strong visual representation of a brand and help to elicit a certain degree of emotional of psychological commitment to a brand. But, it is the brand that makes a promise to a customer and it’s ultimately the brand that feels the impact when one of its component parts, logo or otherwise, lets it down.

A load of old Swoosh?

Some would no doubt point immediately to Nike’s ‘Swoosh’ symbol as the embodiment of a successful brand. But it’s not. Nike itself is the embodiment of a successful brand that uses it’s a great logo to represent itself, in conjunction with a strap line ‘just do it’; a multi-million pound advertising campaign; solid products and customer service; and a rigorous global brand strategy.

Nike Swoosh

In our modern highly competitive global economy, the brand is one of the most powerful tools a company has in its arsenal. In a crowded market, a company’s brand may be the only thing that clearly differentiates it, yet, so many companies still fail to take advantage of, and maximise their investment in, one of their most powerful assets. When asked their brand strategy or what their brand stands for, they simply point to a logo. The truth, however, is something rather different.

All body, no motor . . .

Without a clear brand strategy, logos are the equivalent of a sports car without a motor. Great colour, nice design but that’s it. There is no substance. And without a strategy - a ‘motor’ to drive It, or a base fabric around it to support and hold it together, the logo becomes as one dimensional as a cardboard cutout at a supermarket – look behind it and there is nothing.

A logo in itself, without any brand messaging or strategy attached to it and driven into the market as part of a co-ordinated plan, offers no more than an oblique and ill-defined concept that may or may not hold a passing relevance to the company, product or services it is related to. In short, a logo alone does not define your product, service or company.

For example, there is no natural correlation between a man in a white suit with glasses and a goatie beard and chicken. It is the brand that has developed this relationship in our minds through constant reinforcement, so that when you see the logo, you think of ‘The Colonel’s secret herbs and spices and chicken’. A comprehensive brand strategy has achieved this over many, many years. The logo has simply served as an association technique to reinforce through visual means the emotions and assumptions the KFC brand strategists want you to feel and make.

Nike Swoosh

Think about what draws you back to your favourite product or service, whether that be your trainers, fast food, favourite holiday destination or something else. Sure, a logo may have helped spur your initial interest in the product, but it is your total experience, all the part of the big brand jigsaw that keep you going back for more.

Customers must recognise that you stand for something.

So, a brand is the entirety of your experience – the name of your company, the proposition it makes, the visual appeal of the logo, the values the company holds, the quality if the product, the level of service you receive, the emotional attachment it offers you . . . and the list goes on.

Good brands survive and prosper because they continually and consistently recoginse the critical importance of building a comprehensive strategy to take their brand and its key messages to the market. As Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks said: “Customers must recognise that you stand for something.” So, in the absence of you defining what you and your brand stand for, customers will draw their own conclusions of which you have no control.

Logos are for little companies, brands are for big companies . . .

But what price and/or value should we put in a brand over a logo? Much has been made of the phrase ‘brand equity’ over recent years. Type it into an internet search engine and you’re as likely to find site listings for accountants as you are for branding and design agencies! Why? Because brand equity is big business, and it continues to grow in importance and recognition in the global economy. But the beauty of brand equity is that it is an opportunity open to all companies, irrespective of size, location or product.

Franchises are an excellent example of the strength brand equity brings to the market. A new franchise trades off the brand equity of its parent until it establishes its own unique sub-brand equity based on its own level of customer service, quality products and so on.

Another common misconception is that band development is just for big companies. Every company, by virtue of being in business is a brand. If you have a company and a product or service, you have a brand and some degree of brand equity. However, equity’ is not an intrinsically positive concept. if you don’t proactively manage your brand, (rather than just your logo) then the public and your customers will attach there own assumptions, assessments and brand values to it and you many end up with negative or inappropriate brand perceptions and negative brand equity.

So, given all this, why would anyone go to the trouble of developing a logo and not spend the little bit more in the first instance to ensure their brand in general is representative of what they are trying to achieve as a company?

For some, I’m sure its about cost – but we must always balance the lower short term initial cost against the considerable long term cost (in all sorts of ways) to a brand that isn’t managed properly, is inconsistent with its components, or has had other perceptions and messages attached to it because there were none forthcoming in the first place.

Build your business by building your brand

There is no doubt investing in a great logo and strap lines will go some way to driving your business forward. But, and it’s a big but, this should be part of a concerted strategic effort to take your brand and its promises to the market, not just an end in itself. There’s no point using exciting fonts, stylised design and catchy phrases, if they mean nothing and stand alone.

A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

You might save money up front, but somewhere down the line, you’re losing a valuable source of your company’s overall value and equity. Branding doesn’t stop with a logo. It’s that simple. Think of your company’s logo and name as a’ brand channel’; a means to an end; a method through which to get your brand and its messages across to your audiences. It should represent the beginning of the process, not the end. At its core, a brand is a financial asset. A logo (however powerful) will always be just supporting tool that takes it cue from the brand.

Finally, we’d all do well to remember Oscar Wilde’s famous quote - "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." In the modern commercial environment, this could be equally applied to those in business who know the price of a logo but not the value of a brand.

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A brand for a company is like a reputation for a person. You earn reputation by trying to do hard things well.

Jeff Bezos
CEO of Amazon.com, Inc.