Recently, I got an e-mail from a fellow designer asking me (and a few other friends in the design community) to answer three seemingly simple questions:
- What is the logo?
- What is the identity?
- What is the brand?
One would think that, as a designer who has built her career on knowing the difference among these three, that there would be an easy answer to this. Interestingly, even among seasoned designers, this is a tricky question to answer in a soundbite-sized format, neatly organized into bullet points.
Logo and identity are often used interchangeably, but the key distinction is that a company’s logo is just that: a logo. It is a specific combination of color, type and symbol that, when done well, has been carefully chosen to accomplish the specific goal of getting the attention of the audience that your company is looking to reach.
Your business’s identity is the visual extension of that logo into every piece of collateral that your prospects touch. A well-thought-out identity system carries the intention behind the design of the company logo and transfers it into colors, fonts, photo and logo treatments that give the company an opportunity for visual variety while maintaining consistency across every prospect touchpoint.
The brand, however, is something much deeper than that. Whether you’re a solopreneur or a Fortune-500 company, your brand is the combined perception of every experience your customers have with your business. It’s the look of your ads, the copy on your website, it’s the service that your customers receive and the morale of your staff. It’s how easy, or how difficult, it is to work with you. It’s what makes some people stick by you for decades, while others walk away after the first experience and never come back.
But here’s the thing that often gets missed: all three are equally important.
Say you hire a design firm to do an amazing logo for you. You pay top dollar for something that’s truly astounding and speaks perfectly to the true value that you bring to your customers. But rather than continuing that investment into a cohesive identity system, you decide to take this amazing logo and throw it into your collateral without any sense of consistency. Or you pop it into a cheap template to make your website, or brochure. You may have a great logo, but there’s no sense of a consistent identity, and no sense of why the customer should trust your product.
Or maybe you do have a great logo and identity system. Everything looks slick, and beautiful, and makes sense to the audience it needs to reach. But when the customer actually takes the leap and buys what you’re selling, the experience doesn’t match up to the gloss. FedExKinko’s has a great identity – it’s simple, clean, and speaks well to the business customers and college students that they cater to. However, the stores (at least in New England) are notorious for being dirty and understaffed to the point where it’s hard to tell some days if anyone actually works there.
Contrast that with a brand like Starbucks. Say what you will about them, but every experience I’ve had with them the baristas have been friendly and efficient, and they’ve made the process of getting my morning coffee exactly what it should be – a quick cup of really good coffee so that I can be ready for whatever I’m on my way to. That, plus their relentless commitment to various social programs, makes them my coffee of choice when I can’t find my favorite independent coffeehouse.
Looking at it another way, the logo-identity-brand triangle is like dating. You see a product on the shelf, or visit a website, and you’re intrigued. It’s well dressed, adorable, friendly. You get curious to know what it would be like in your house. Or what it would taste like. So you pick it up, you bring it home – and it’s not at all as advertised. The “fine Belgian Chocolate” in the elegant packaging tastes like fake vanilla and pain. The gorgeous organic cotton blouse gets stained and stretched out beyond recognition the first time you wash it. You’re sad, disappointed, and never buy from the company again. But still, you think: “it just looked so promising!”
Your identity is what makes people buy. It’s how they get to know you, and how they make the decision to feel you out. But it’s up to the brand to create the relationship, and convince them to stick around. Have a miracle face cream that will revolutionize the industry? Pay attention to the packaging. This is something that needs to stay on someone’s bathroom counter, and it’s much harder to make the case that you’re selling a high-end, luxury product if the packaging doesn’t match the promise. But once they get it home, it’s up to the product to convince the customer to buy it again.
This situation is especially true for what I like to call “spur of the moment” foods: desserts, chocolate, alcohol, sauces, snacks. While there are situations where the customer is going to the store with a specific intention to pick up a particular brand, most of these purchases are made without a sense of what brand they’re looking for, or even that they’re looking for the product. The average shopper doesn’t go to a store looking for a specific brand of chocolate unless they’re baking with it. They buy the chocolate because they saw the packaging on a display and said, “wow, that looks really tasty. I need to try that!” It’s the experience they have when they get it home that tells them whether they want to buy that chocolate again.
The lesson: No amount of pretty packaging can make up for a lousy product or service. But having the right packaging up front gets you in the door – from there, it’s up to you to convince your customers to keep you around.