A logo is not a brand

A logo is not a brand
Rather than thinking of a fixed 'brand', think of the activity of 'branding' - of changing someone’s gut feeling about your product, service or company.


By Baruch ter Wal

A friend of mine is a devout Christian. When a church leader makes the news for saying something hateful or uninformed he often comments, ‘That’s really bad for the [Christian] brand.’

Obviously he’s not talking about the logo. So what is he talking about?

The best definition of “brand” that I know comes from Marty Neumeier: A brand is ‘a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.’

A simple thought experiment backs up this definition. Coca Cola is generally thought to have one of the world’s most valuable brands. Now, if we were to find out (purely hypothetically) that Coke has knowingly included highly carcinogenic ingredients in its products for decades, the brand would be devastated. Our gut feelings would change.

Gut feelings can change in positive ways, too. WhereScape is a Kiwi software company that claims its agile approach delivers value incredibly fast. That is the essence of its brand. When one of my clients heard that we had worked with WhereScape for years, he told me this story.

We brought WhereScape in to help us, but told them that we only had enough money for 10 days of development. We respected their approach, and knew that they would at least get us closer to our end goal. So we showed them our IT El Dorado: where we wanted to get to in a few years. Then we said “See how far you get in 10 days.” The WhereScape project leader came to us on day four and said “OK, we’ve achieved your El Dorado – what do you want us to do with the other six days?” Then he talked me through where we could really go.

Needless to say, having this story out there is good for the WhereScape brand. One thing to note about the story is that it really helps for it to be true. You could hire PR people to make this stuff up for you but it wouldn’t be as good. And getting outed as a liar is, well, bad for the brand.

Rather than thinking of a fixed 'brand', let’s think of the activity of 'branding'. The definition should be obvious by now. It’s the activity of changing someone’s gut feelings about your product, service or company. I like to think of this as the process of creating experiences for people. Delighting them with your service, keeping difficult promises, and blowing them away with your quality are good ways to do this.

Frequently, our websites provide a means to create experiences. Your site needs to provide different paths for all the different people you need to inform and impress, such that each person receives a tailored and exceptional experience. If your service or product has benefits that are contradicted by your website (slow, inaccurate, complicated etc) you are creating the wrong gut feelings. In other words, you are killing your brand.

OK, now that I’ve got you converted to this broader notion of brand, I’d like to circle back to logos.

Here’s another experiment. Look at the following two images:

Which one is Kiki, and which one is Bobo? If you said Bobo is the spiky shape, then there is something wrong with your brain, and you should urgently see a neurologist.

The fact that 99.9 per cent of people agree on which shape should be called ‘Kiki’ is because the name resonates with the shape. (Exactly how and why is more debatable. It could be to do with the sharp sound of the “K”, or the angles of the letters, or the word ‘key’, or historical associations, or a hundred other reasons).

It is important to have brand names, logos and a visual language that resonate (in this Kiki/Bobo fashion) with the gut feelings that you are trying to establish about your product, service or company. Perhaps go and read that sentence again.

A gut feeling about a logo can influence someone’s gut feel about you. Also, a logo/brand name is the container in someone’s brain that holds the gut feeling. Resonance helps here, too. It would be harder to remember the Kiki shape if you had to call it Bobo. Seriously.

Returning to our theme, the key to this process of creating visuals that resonate appropriately is truthfulness. It’s the difference between a one-night-stand and a marriage. If you’re looking for a quick hook up, making the right impression with your look is important – even if you’re creating a false impression.

If you’re after a happy marriage, you need to design a look that resonates with what’s truly special about you, and gets the attention of people who will love you for who you really are. This is hard. It requires a rich knowledge of, and empathy with, the people you’re trying to reach. Even more challenging, though, is that you need to be able to back it up with behaviours that prove your specialness. In the long term, those behaviours are far, far more important than the logo.

So the logo is useful. But if you’ve been convinced that the logo is your brand, it may be because you are afraid to practice the behaviours and create the experiences that really matter.

Written by

Lee Ter Wal Design

12 Mar 2012


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