How Your Business Logo is Different from Your Brand

The topic of branding is incredibly important to me.

Of course, it’s important to the rest of our team as well, but I think they’d even tell you, I care about it on another level. It holds a different category of importance for me. When I travel, I analyze and deconstruct messages and marks as I consume the marketing around me. I’m rarely the target audience because I’m too busy thinking about what might have led the teams in those campaign meetings to their decision to do x vs than allowing the message to compel my next action.

Some say it’s a sickness, sometimes I agree with them.

Other times, I think of it as my own playground, it’s where I just see things a bit differently. Like the kid in the sandbox doesn’t see sand, he sees a castle with a beautiful meadow full of wild horses and a warm sun beaming through the cold tips of the forest pines. On the horizon, there is an approaching silhouette of spear tips and shadows. As far as the eye can see, something important is stirring, history hangs in the balance. See what I did there… You felt it. For a moment, you forgot about sand. You also scratched the surface of how I think about the stories companies tell their audience.

So now that you understand my mindset, my hope is to share with you that,

A Logo and a Brand are Two Different Things.

Logo and Brand thoughts, had by most business owners, are wrong. If not completely incorrect, they are at a minimum undervalued and misunderstood.

For many, it’s a thing a company does instead of who a company is at any given time. Branding is an identity. It’s who you are and who you’re trying to become. A constant steering of a sailboat, catching the wind but being careful not to let it lead you off course, off your true heading. Your true heading is a vision for the future that only you and your company have.

Branding to others often gets summed up as a logo. “Our branding is done, hooray, look at our new logo and style guide!”

Have you heard that before? Sound familiar?

The way you should think of a brand is entirely different.

You don’t arrive with your brand, at least not on day one.

If you just went through and completed a branding project with a designer, your brand was just born. It didn’t arrive, it just began. Now you need to mature it, decide if it’s ready for the more dangerous parts of the world, set boundaries, decide what your parenting style is going to be, etc. At this beginning stage, your brand is far more like a newborn than a King. Your newborn will eventually grow up to be whatever you as the parent decided was or wasn’t appropriate. If you’re inattentive, it might start raising itself and making its own decisions.

One of my heroes in the world of branding, a real genius in the industry, Sagi Haviv, once described what a logo was/wasn’t. For many, even those in this industry, he said something a little shocking. Many were shown their common mistake through his words. I’m paraphrasing here so keep that in mind, but essentially he said …

A Logo is NOT Communication. It’s Identification. In other words, the logo is the period at the end of a sentence, not the sentence itself.

If you don’t know Sagi Haviv or his work. Look up Chermayeff & Geismar & Haviv online. Some names you’ll find in their portfolio include NBC, Showtime, Chase Bank, National Geographic, Mobil, PBS, Merck Pharmaceuticals and many others. You know these names, you know what they do yet in not one of their logos is the industry or type of work communicated. Not one.

Yet, here we are, in a world that logo after logo we see communicative elements being insisted by the client or even the designer. If you’re a designer or been in these sorts of conversations, you’ve probably heard things like …

Let’s add an illustrated bag of coffee beans cause we sell coffee.” -or- “I think the logo is too plain or simple, it needs to say _______“.

You might be thinking, so what?

Here is what I think as I hear that, ‘NOOOOOooooo you’re totally killing your potential.’

How can there be such a wide perspective on something so important? Who’s right? Am I over-reacting or are the people thinking ‘so what’ missing some crucial information?

Assuming for a minute we embrace Sagi’s definition of a logo above. Let’s just agree for a moment, he’s probably onto something important with that statement. How then might we rethink the whole of the brand? What does brand mean if the logo is identification, not communication?

Brand. What if it is the Communication?

A genius in this subject in my opinion is Brian Collins. He’s been known to emphasize the power of listening to everything. The pros & cons, the praise and criticism. You do that as a company to better inform your brand as you see it vs the brand as the market sees it. Messaging isn’t only outward, you to your audience. If it is, you’re missing valuable insights (the inward messaging) from the real people that make the market powerful. I won’t get into all of it here but I highly recommend finding an interview or talk Brian has given on “Familiarity, Surprise and Context,” where what you’ve heard from the market informs you of the context in which your brand is familiar and when it’s surprising. Another component to Brian’s thought process and how I think everyone needs to think about brand is this two sided coin. On one side you have your true self, the authentic company image and on the other side, it’s about being extraordinary, remarkable. So many in this industry would’ve said, Authentic & Relevant. He says no. And I agree with him. Relevance is temporary and too small. Being extraordinary at what you do is a commitment and devotion that speaks volumes more than relevance.

Design legends, Charles and Ray Eames, are known in the design world for many things. At the core of their legendary status is the way they thought about the role of the designer vs that of the client. Charles is quoted as saying, “The role of the designer is that of a very good, thoughtful host anticipating the needs of his guests.

If that’s true, and I believe it is, a designer ought never be working to achieve relevance. That would be in essence looking for approval of the market. Instead, the goal might look more like leading the market. Being so exceptional, the market can’t help but take notice and be impressed.

I could write for days on this topic. But I’ll wrap up here.

Is your logo trying to say too much?

Is your brand listening as well as speaking?

When it speaks, are the messages unified or scattered?

If you’re a business owner or marketer out there, I encourage you to think about those questions carefully. If you need help thinking about your brand and would like to discuss your future, reach out, I love these conversations.


Kyle Hart

Creative Director, Website Strategist at PIXSYM, LLC. with over 20 years of experience. My passion is creating solutions to complex problems through web design.

Last Updated: 12 Jan 2024