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Logo Design vs Branding

Logo Design vs Branding (and why you need a style guide)

Most people know what a logo is…It’s a designed visual element used to represent a company or organization. There are many types of logos–word logos, icons, abstract images–but they all serve the same purpose: To put an image with a company.

If that’s what a logo is, then what is branding? Branding is what allows your customers or clients to understand, experience, and (hopefully) develop an attachment to your company or organization.

A logo is a shape, but branding is how you are perceived.

One of my favorite companies is Disney. Disney has a very recognizable logo, but they also happen to have a very recognizable and emotional brand. So I’ll use them as an example to illustrate the differences between a logo and a brand.

Most people are familiar with the basic version of Disney’s logo. It’s based on Walt Disney’s signature and looks like this:

Disney_Logo

This logo has a touch of whimsy to it. You can tell by looking at it that something fun and exciting is around the corner, right?

No. You can’t tell that at all.

It’s a signature of somebody’s last name. It isn’t inherently fun or whimsical or exciting. But you perceive it to be that way because of your past experiences with Disney’s branding. Here are some examples of where Disney has taken their logo and integrated it into their overall brand to give you that feeling of brand excitement.

Disney_Brand

Disney’s branding includes its theme parks, television channels, characters, movies, music, and even its clothing line. You can see Disney’s brand reflected in its website, toy packaging, retail store design, credit cards, vacation club…and on and on. Every place you encounter a Disney product, you experience its brand.

So, why does all of this matter? It’s pretty simple, actually. Your customers and clients don’t come to know and trust your company because of a good logo. They come to know and trust you by experiencing your brand. This can be done through your website…or a brochure…or a street sign…or your commercials. Even though a logo should be interwoven throughout your branding, it’s actually a very small part of the overall brand experience. You don’t see a Disney logo on Mickey Mouse, but you know the brand he represents.

Here’s how many people think a logo works:

  1. A potential customer or client sees a logo.
  2. If the logo is ‘good’, they have an emotional or intellectual reaction.
  3. They decide to learn more about the product or service.
  4. They make a purchase.

Of course, if this is how logos really worked, then you would automatically have a strong positive emotional reaction when seeing any well-designed logo. But that doesn’t happen.

So if logos don’t trigger emotional or intellectual reactions, then why do millions of people pull out their wallets when they see a Disney logo? Because Disney’s well-defined brand triggers the emotional response. The process looks like this:

  1. A potential customer or client sees a logo.
  2. If the logo is already familiar, they remember the interactions and experiences they’ve had with the company that the logo represents–whether it’s a well-designed sign, an ad on the side of a bus, or a radio commercial.
  3. The memory of these interactions and experiences invokes a positive emotional response.
  4. They begin the process that leads to a purchase.

As illustrated in this example, the logo is just an image. However, it’s an image that causes the brain to associate the entire brand. The memory of their experience with that brand is what creates the emotional reaction and leads to a business relationship.

Will having a well-designed brand cause people to start running to you with their wallets open? Possibly. But keep in mind that most companies with well-known brands not only have a solid brand, but have also spent a long time creating the emotional bonds that people attach to that brand. One thing I do know for certain is that a logo alone will not create this bond. In order to create a consistent, professional, and (hopefully) emotional bond, your brand must be consistent and coordinated with itself. If it isn’t, your brand will feel amateurish and you will lose professional credibility.

The Style Guide

So how does all of this relate to a style guide? What is a style guide? And why do you need one?

A style guide is, in short, a set of rules that describe how your brand must be represented. A style guide contains things like:

  • Images of the logo and how it should be presented in various places.
    This is fairly obvious, but it is just the starting point for a proper style guide.
  • Additional iconography and logo variations that support your brand.
    For example, Disney’s style guide include variations such as these:
    Disney_Logo_Variations
  • The fonts that will be used in your brand.
    Proper typography can be just as important as your logo. If it isn’t coordinated in all of your efforts, your brand will look amateurish.
  • Color scheme
    Can you imagine Coca-Cola in any color other than red? Their particular shade of red is such a distinctive part of their brand, it’s actually patented.
  • A statement or description of your company’s overall tone of voice and examples of that tone.
    Are you formal? Fun? Established? Innovative?

All of these things make up the foundation of your brand, but in creating a style guide the following things need to be considered:

  • Will the visual elements of the brand translate well to web?
    This includes planning for different screen sizes like mobile phones and tablets, as well as choosing fonts and colors that are web-friendly.
  • Will the brand be recognizable at a quick glance?
    If you’ve ever tried to read a billboard at 70 miles per hour, you’ll know what I mean.
  • Does the brand have a “hook” or recognizable design element that immediately sets it apart from competitors?
    Some examples might be GEICO’s gecko or NBC’s tones.

Logo design is an important part of branding, but it is just a part. Without complete branding guidelines, a logo is not as effective as it could be. When our firm creates a logo, we realize that the logo will not be experienced in a vacuum, but as part of a brand. And that brand will be experienced in an environment that contains many other brands competing for emotional attention.

The only way to make your company or organization stand out is to create a complete brand that will emotionally engage the people with whom you want to do business. Invest in a well-crafted logo, to be sure. Just don’t expect it to do all the work your business needs to succeed.

Meet the Author

Jason is a co-founder of ThirdSide. When he’s not building websites, making graphics, or meeting clients, he’s hanging out with his family doing family things or hanging out with performers doing performer things.

He has a Star Wars obsession that some consider to be…unnatural.

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