If you search Google, you’ll find 700,000+ results for “your brand is not your logo” Adding similar queries delivers millions of results. We fielded two calls last week from business owners who used the terms interchangeably, so obviously, confusion still persists across the small business landscape. Hopefully, this quick post delivers some clarity.
The issue is not a new one, Seth Godin, blogged about the topic on October 25th, 2008. Long before that, many leading design professionals and marketing execs were discussing the fact that trying to design a “brand” was an exercise in futility. It didn’t stop them from continuing to sell corporate America their branding services, however. Going with the flow was easier, I guess than trying to educate the market on understanding the critical differences between what a logo is, and what a brand delivers.
For those who are still bewildered, let’s explore the two terms. For now, Imagine your logo and brand is a two-headed llama; They are definitely different, but they are also nearly impossible to separate.
The History of the Logo
2,000 years ago, long before the term ‘logo’ existed, craftsmen of all sorts differentiated their work from others in various ways. Potters, blacksmiths, weavers, leatherworkers, and many other artisans all found ways to distinctly differentiate their wares from competitors.
While not as important within local economies, as commerce spread across Europe and Asia the verifiable identity of a specific craftsman was often critical to ensuring quality. Creating counterfeit goods was as lucrative back then, as selling a knock-off LV purse on eBay today.
Historically, the creative methods used, or the unique manufacturing processes employed made counterfeiting challenging for counterfeiters. This complexity and detail helped to protect the original manufacturers. There wasn’t any sort of business registry in the earliest of days so artisans often used unique and specific colours, styles of weaving, or a challenging pattern as a way to further deter theft and guarantee the reputation of their goods.
For clarity think of a logo as simply a unique graphic element that distinguishes you and your company from someone else.
The first legal use of a unique mark/logo for the purpose of differentiating one business from another was mandated by King Henry III who in 1266 demanded that bakers mark their loaves and pastries in unique ways to ensure that baked goods were traceable.
It seems that there was a bit of a problem with consumers getting ripped off by shady bakers who were selling loaves that were a few ounces short on size. Being able to identify one baker from another helped the courts, as well as consumers when it came to quality control and restitution at court.
If you’ve ever wondered why we still see certain types of bread or pie crusts with decorative markings, now you know what started it all. Also, the term ‘a baker’s dozen’ comes from getting 13 items for the price of 12. Historically, this helped ensure customers were guaranteed of getting what they had paid for.
The earliest registered British trademark/logo was issued for the brewery, Bass Ales, which registered their red triangle and red diamond in 1876. They had been using these graphical logos to differentiate their products since around 1600.
Stella Artois has used its horn-based logo for its Belgian beers since 1366. The Stella logo is the first product logo known to exist.
Where did Brand come from?
The term ‘brand’ originated from the proto-germanic word ‘brinnaną’ which means “to burn”.
In the middle ages, it had become common for an ownership mark to be seared into the hide of thick-skinned animals, like cattle, to prove ownership. The visual most people think of when it comes to cattle being branding is some leather-faced, rough and tumble ranch-hand torturing a trussed up calf. The somewhat barbaric practice was in use long before Hollywood glorified the iconic western cowboy, however.
The terminology confusion between a brand, and what is a logo, can therefore be traced back to a nameless cow’s ass since a cattle ‘brand’ was usually a graphical symbol referencing the ranch that owned it.
It seems like a logo and a brand are the same? I’m still confused.
In many practical ways, the words don’t matter at all. What does matter is having a clearer understanding of how the two terms relate to your business and its market perceptions.
Your logo arguably serves a single purpose; it should allow you to be recognized when compared to other businesses. Regardless of what you want to call it, your business mark doesn’t do much more than that.
As a stand-alone design element, your logo has minimal value. Nobody will buy your product simply because you have a great logo, although they may avoid you if it’s complete crap. It really just needs to be unique and differentiate you across the market.
What really matters, and what gives your logo value, is your brand. Your brand is what your logo represents emotionally to your customer.
Unlike your logo, where you have complete control, your brand lives within the hearts and minds of the market. It’s beyond your direct reach, you can influence your brand and its perceptions, but in many ways, it’s completely removed from your direct control.
Your brand is a living thing that is experienced differently by everyone who engages or is exposed to it. It’s always adapting, based on every customer touch-point. For customers having a positive experience with your products or services, it delivers contextual reinforcement of their patronage, for prospective customers, it will hopefully deliver on the promise and level of expectation that you want it to achieve in the marketplace.
This is why thinking that your logo is your brand is dangerous. It’s an oversimplification. It’s also a big reason why many rebranding efforts fail to deliver any meaningful change. It ends up being a re-logoing (made up word), with no measurable brand measurement differences.
Imagine you’re the wimpiest kid at school, and the school bully is called “The Moose”. The Moose is hard to miss. He always looks angry, has a spiked red mohawk, and always wears the same Turd Emoji T-Shirt with blue jeans, along with his trusted Chuck Taylors.
Nobody ever mistakes anybody else for The Moose. He’s recognizable two blocks away.
The way The Moose looks is essentially his logo. It’s his image. It’s seared into the eyelids of every terrified kid at school.
While everyone knows who The Moose is, not every kid has experienced The Moose directly. Many have only heard the stories and have chosen to hide in the library at lunch. Others simply maintain a wide berth when The Moose is marching across the playground. Every kid at school knows what’s coming for some unlucky nerd when The Moose is on the warpath.
You, being the wimpy kid at school, and having experienced several lessons from The Moose on “milk money economics”, is reasonably guaranteed of another beatdown.
How you and the other kids feel about The Moose, along with your direct experience with his legendary playground terrorism, is The Moose brand.
If one day, Momma Moose chooses to change The Moose’s wardrobe, essentially “rebranding” her son, do you believe that any kid on the playground will look at The Moose and assume he is now a different person?
Every kid nervously heading out for recess clearly understands the differences between The Moose Logo (look/feel) and The Moose Brand (experience/expectation).
When you hear creatives talk about logos, brands, rebranding, and a bunch of other terms, think about The Moose and how “The Moose” logo is very different from “The Moose” brand.