A lot of people accidentally conflate logos and branding, but it’s an honest mistake. After all, logos are the cornerstone of any branding campaign, the branding MVP. But for those who deal with them regularly, logos and branding are distinct, each with its own differences. To take advantage of both—and optimize your business—you have to understand what separates them.
Below, we explain the logo vs. branding confusion. We’ll discuss what separates a logo and branding, and, more to the point, how you can perfect both on their own for your business.
What is branding?
Branding is a subset of marketing that gives a company a unique identity to appeal to its target consumers. For example, the branding of a toy company might revolve around a fun and youthful identity to appeal to children, while the branding of a law firm might use a formal and professional identity to underline its capability.
Consumers tend to think of companies as people, so naturally, they want to work with companies they feel a connection with. Strategic branding presents the company in a way that’s most endearing to its target audience—everyone has certain personality types they’re attracted to, and branding portrays the company as a person with the best personality type for their market. The best branding even creates a new community for their patrons, giving consumers an “in-group” feeling like they belong.
Branding goes deeper than just personality, too. Brands can position themselves within a market by suggesting that their products are superior or leveraging past successes. Moreover, branding can be used to dominate certain market sectors—for example, branding could position your products as a more cost-effective version of another product, targeting consumers who can’t afford the original.
How does branding accomplish all this? For one the logo, but we’ll talk about that next. Other branding strategies include:
- types of products
- product packaging
- materials and business practices (e.g., using sustainable materials)
- mission statement and values
- deliberate colors and visuals on websites or in stores
- tone of voice in copywriting: ads, social media, website copy, blogs, etc.
- mascots and slogans
- user experience and customer journeys
- in-store experience
- customer service
- spokespeople and influencers
- company culture
- sales policies
- promotional campaigns
Essentially, any interaction a company has with its consumers is an opportunity to further its branding. At its heart, the goal of branding is to make a good impression with their particular audience because good impressions lead to more business.
What are logos?
Technically, logos are just emblems or symbols to represent a company. But because consumers associate the characteristics of a logo with the characteristics of the company, logos can also persuade and influence the opinion people make of the company.
Think of logos as the face of your brand. It’s what people notice first and what people think of when they think of your company. That makes it not only the top branding tool but also a powerful sales and business tool. If you can influence how people interpret your brand from the moment they first see your logo, you get a head start on creating loyal customers in the long run.
But knowing how to design a logo isn’t always easy. Logos incorporate over a century of graphic design techniques and color psychology, not to mention artistic skill and proficiency with design software. There’s so much subtlety and nuance to it: each shape, color and line stroke can effectively change the way consumers feel about it, and by extension, how they feel about your company.
Logos vs. branding: what’s the difference?
In a nutshell, a logo is just one component of many in a greater branding strategy. Logos are one of the most important parts of branding, but they’re not the only part of branding. A complete branding strategy incorporates not just logos but all public outreach.
Still, it’s difficult to separate a logo from branding because logos represent the entire branding strategy. The design of a logo directly reflects a brand’s personality: certain colors, shapes and typography elicit specific emotions in the viewer, so designers can control whether a brand is interpreted as playful or serious, luxurious or affordable, classic or modern.
Certain visuals can signal what kind of company you are; using circuitry images suggests you’re a tech company, using plants and greens suggests your products are natural, etc.
But the logo can only go so far. Branding as a whole makes an impression with every interaction, so it utilizes far more than just the logo. Branding incorporates the way your company “talks” in website text, advertisements, blogs and on social media. It incorporates what your customers see when they visit your store or website. It also incorporates a company’s existing reputation, such as how popular it is or any publicity it received.
When we meet strangers, such as at a party, we tend to associate them with one particular trait to help us remember. Maybe it’s a flashy accessory they were wearing, or their job, or the sound of their laugh. If branding as a whole is the company’s personality, then the logo is that one thing that you think about first. It’s not the only characteristic of the person, but it is the most pronounced.
Logo and branding: which comes first?
Your logo should be designed to further your branding identity, so your branding should come first. It’s almost like your logo is the byproduct of your branding decisions. So your first step should be determining what kind of brand you want.
The best approach for that is always based on who your target audience is. Branding isn’t something based on the company owner’s preferences or some spontaneous creative inspiration. It’s the logical answer to what kind of brand personality best resonates with your specific audience. Therefore, you first have to understand who your target consumers are and what they want.
From there, you can build your brand identity based on what you know about your consumers. You essentially build the brand they want you to be, from big picture traits like what types of products you offer, pricing and your company values, to the nuanced details like color schemes, tone of voice in outreach and the visuals in your logo.
If you’re stuck on this step, it helps to make a list of adjectives that describe the brand you want to be. Personality traits like “friendly,” “dedicated” or “sophisticated” can help pinpoint how to develop your brand. Likewise, more business-oriented traits like “easily accessible,” “exclusive” or “high-end” can also dictate the direction your branding strategy goes.
Once you’ve solidified the kind of brand you want to be, only then should you design your logo. The best logo designers will know how to visually depict your chosen branding traits, in the right colors, shapes and typography.
For example, shape psychology tells us that brands that want to be casual and inviting should use a lot of circles and curved lines, while brands that want to be more professional should use squares and straight lines. These graphic design techniques are not always self-evident, but a skilled designer will know them by heart.
Logo and branding are not so different
It’s easy to confuse logos and branding because they’re so intrinsically entangled. You can’t have one without the other. Just remember that a logo is a part of branding and not the other way around. You should always answer the big branding questions before you even think about your logo design. Who you want to be as a brand determines what your logo is, but when your customers see your logo, they’ll know precisely what kind of brand you are.