ARTICLES | BUSINESS STRATEGY
Why your brand is more than your logo
By Gary Bloomer
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While a great logo and a cool-looking corporate identity might make an impression, your brand's longevity depends on much more.
As quickly as possible!
It doesn't matter where.
That's what you need to do if a designer, brand strategist,
or marketer tells you that your brand is all about your logo.
By all means, thank this person for their opinion, but excuse yourself as quickly as possible and give this person a wide berth.
While your logo is an important element of an overall brand strategy,
it is not, and never will be the distillation or the embodiment of your brand.
Your logo is not your brand.
Your brand is not your logo.
Your brand is about focus.
I'll explain why in a moment.
Your brand as an entity, and the process of branding as an activity, entail much more than simply representing your company, and the sooner your know and understand this the better.
Even though you may got yourself a great new logo and picked some cool typefaces and nifty colors, your business or product is not branded. And any specialist who tells you otherwise is blowing smoke.
Sorry not sorry.
These things in isolation—your logo, colors, and fonts—are not your brand—they may represent your brand but in isolation, they are not your brand because they are elements of your corporate identity, which, in and of itself is part of your branding.
As much as you might like these things to be your brand, they are not enough to help you, your product, or your business stand out and they are not enough to represent or project all the feelings, emotions, experiences, and illustrations that your brand embodies.
Again: sorry, not sorry.
Don't misunderstand me.
I used to think that way too.
I once believed that branding was all about logo recognition.
Then in 2007 or so, I experienced an epiphany.
To raise awareness among a group of former colleagues about the importance of logo recognition I believed that branding was all about educating people about logos and visuals.
But I was making two mistakes.
Mistake number 1 was pointed out by the legendary Madison Avenue adman George Parker, to whom I turned for advice. George cut through the clutter with six words that wound up changing my worldview.
He said "Forget about branding, focus on sales!"
From there I immersed myself in the world of direct response marketing, which, when you boil things down, is very much part of branding.
The second mistake I was making was in not seeing and making a mental note of lasting connections.
I'd forgotten about the importance of established emotional anchors, which I'd learned about while reading the teachings of Roy Williams, aka The Wizard of Ads. Roy taught me that branding in its purest state does not happen in the real, tangible world.
Instead, branding can only take place in people's minds when a network of specific messages, meanings, and intentions is consistently and frequently connected to an established emotional trigger or anchor, meaning some sort of uniquely personal and deeply-held belief.
Because your personal and deeply-held beliefs can never exactly match my personal and deeply-held beliefs, your experience of any given brand will never match my experience of the same brand.
Again, this is where focus comes into play.
If you're still with me, focus means there's no such thing as a single brand experience, which means no single exposure to a logo can ever create the same feelings and evoke the same reactions for every person exposed to it.
On one hand, the focus for every person interacting with and experiencing your logo and your brand will depend on their view through their personal lenses of bias, preference, presumption, expectation, anticipation, and perception.
On the other hand, your focus needs to be about doing everything you can to make sure that the brand experience you allude to and promise matches the anticipated brand experience of as many people as possible that your brand touches.
Rather than being about your logo, your brand experience is about participation and inclusion, and it's about an alignment between reality and involvement to give a complete experience of the company or product in question.
This can't happen if you're focusing on one thing and your prospect is focusing on another.
For your clients and customers, your brand is about the way those people expect to be treated, how they are treated, and how they think they're being treated while they're interacting and integrating with your brand as an overall experience.
If your brand presents favorable expectations and aligns the delivered experiences with desired outcomes, all to the good. But fail to deliver on this set of scenarios and things will go sideways quite quickly.
There are two essentially two kinds of brands.
Despite starting out with a big promise, at some point the first
kind of brand lets you down and has no idea who you are or what's important to you. I've experienced this with airlines, with moving companies, and with a certain department store.
The second kind of brand welcomes you as if you're a long-lost member of their family and leaves you feeling that they 'get' what you're about and that they know you in some deep, meaningful, ethereal way.
I've experienced this with certain technology companies, with a local auto repair shop, and with a few consultants. I'm sure you can think of examples of your own that fit in both categories.
For me, the two worst qualities any brand (or brand manager, come to think of it) can exhibit are arrogance and indifference toward past, present, or potential clients and customers.
Arrogance assumes buyers either aren’t worthy of the brand’s attention and ownership (or vice versa); that they can't afford it, or that it's not for them and that as such, the brand is out of economic or social reach.
I've been on the receiving end of this kind of brand approach in the Nordstrom's department store at Christiana Mall, Newark, Delaware.
While my wife was shopping elsewhere, I spent a little while poking around in the men's wear section. While I may not have been dressed in my Sunday best, I certainly didn't look like a hobo.
But that's how I was made to feel by not one but two members of Nordstrom's staff, neither of whom made the effort to greet me before dismissing my question as to whether they had a particular style of shoe in my size.
It's precisely because of this personal experience that I'll never, ever set foot in let alone shop in a Nordstrom's store ever again.
There are exceptions of course. If your brand is a luxury brand, sometimes an intentional air of exclusivity can work in your favour, but only if you build exclusivity into your brand story as a benefit of ownership.
One high luxury brand that does this extremely well is the watch company, Patek Philippe. This family-run business has been hand crafting watches in Geneve, Switzerland since 1839.
There are only 388 places worldwide where you can buy a Patek Philippe and fewer than 70 jewelers in the entire United States that qualify as a retailer.
The Patek Philippe Grand Complications Men's Watch, model
#5208P-001, featuring a chronograph automatic movement will
set you back $970,000, while a used version of their Aquanaut 4960 (which retails for $21,000), will set you back a cool $15,795.
How do Patek Philippe justify their prices?
Well, for a start, everything is hand-crafted, but with this product, you're not simply buying a watch, you're acquiring a legacy. And in terms of their brand and their logo, the latter has remained practically unchanged for the last 130 years.
Writing in a December 2016 edition of Forbes.com, the author Roberta Naas celebrated the 20th anniversary of Patek Philippe's advertising campaign.
Citing a March, 2015 article in The Atlantic that asked the world's top advertising professionals what the best advertising campaign of all time was, Naas quoted Tim Calkins, Professor of Marketing at Kellogg School of Management, who answered the question by saying: “How do you sell a $25,000 watch when people can buy an accurate one for $10? Patek Philippe’s 'Generations' ads, featuring fathers and sons and the line, 'You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.' A Patek watch isn’t a device for telling time. It’s an heirloom that transfers values across generations.”
Contrast this approach with that of brand indifference, in which a brand willfully ignores its constituents’ needs, problems, wants, questions, and experiences (as was my experience in the Nordstrom store noted above).
When (or if) any brand pulls on the coat of arrogance or slips into the comfy shoes of indifference, bad things happen to that brand.
Really bad things.
Stunts like this get brands pulled into dark alleys where they find themselves being set about by dark clad figures wielding baseball bats and knuckledusters.
Want your brand to have the crap kicked out of it on social media or in the marketplace? Add indifference and arrogance to your marketing mix and see how long it takes for things to go south.
On the other hand, brands that delight and excite their clients, customers, and prospects—brands that leave their buyers and users eager for more and ready, willing, and able to tell their
friends about their incredible experience with the brand in question, these kinds of brands tend to fare much better.
How many brands stand out in some positive way for you because they:
1. helped you feel good about your self and about your decisions?
2. reinforced your ideals?
3. welcomed you and made you feel that you were among your people?
4. aligned with your core values and beliefs?
5. solved your problem memorably and powerfully?
6. exceeded your expectations?
7. fulfilled and met needs you didn't even know you had?
How many brands don't live up to these measures?
Of the brands you feel let you down and have no idea who you are or what's important to you, or of the brands you feel that 'get' what you're about and know you in some way, which ones stand out for you?
The really good ones or the really crappy ones?
While you're pondering that question, consider that alone and in and of themselves, brands as entities don't feel, or project, or convey, or represent anything.
It's the people behind those brands, the people making the rules and telling the stories, and setting the agenda, and the people stewarding the brand or blindly following the strategy (or their own agenda), often without question who are the ones steering the brand.
Which means they're the ones directing your experience of that brand.
So while the responsibility of how the brand appears to clients and customers sits on these peoples' shoulders, how you respond to any hidden agenda and how you relate and react to the brand is yours.
All brands create some sort of positive or negative significance in the marketplace, both as a whole and in the minds of their clients, customers, prospects, and consumers.
Brands that meet and exceed expectations and brands that support the community by giving back tend to stand out.
Brands that ignore their constituents' needs and experiences tend to stand out as well, but often, for all the wrong reasons, meaning that at some point, they also stop being brands.
The differences can be startling and the significance can be memorable.
In the minds of prospects, clients, and customers, positive brand significance depends much less on design and more on the linked emotions the brand triggers and on the experiences the brand creates.
It's the firing and connection of emotions and experiences that anchor the significance and meaning of a brand in long term memory.
Every logo you are familiar with represents a set of triggers—feelings, attitudes, memories, projections, emotional responses, and experiences—connected to the company or product it's associated with.
While some of those triggers are fired through other people's influences on your thinking and behaviors, the majority of those responses only exist in your imagination.
This applies whether a logo has established longevity and is well-known and accepted or whether it's part of a brand refresh, a brand reboot, or even a complete brand overhaul.
While the visual of the logo may change through a "brand refresh", unless the deeper meaning, integrity, and embodiment of the brand and everything it stands for changes, your emotional responses to the deeper meaning of the brand won't change.
In fact, those embedded memories will remain the same until newer, fresher messaging overwrites your established memories and experiences of the brand.
While a new log might look good, in isolation, your response to it won't change that much because embedded memories are harder to influence when they're not replaced with new data.
Because a logo is not a brand, a new logo alone is rarely enough
for any company to replace the associated and anchored feelings, emotions, and experiences it's gained over a prolonged period.
And because of the point in the previous paragraph, most talk of rebranding in its purest sense that ignores the importance of new messaging, a revised mission statement, and newer, more agreeable corporate values is just that: talk. Without that new foundation,
a new logo on its own is not a rebranding and never will be.
At some point in your relationship with every logo you have ever seen or will ever know, that logo will trigger certain emotions, memories, presumptions, feelings, experiences, and assumptions based on the frequency, intensity, innate meaning, and significance of those triggers as they pertain to your values, beliefs, and preferences.
This applies equally to the brands you experience and to other people's experience of your brand.
You can you help your brand stand out by focusing on its positive experiences values, actions, values, qualities, traits, and positions.
While design might help you look good, it won't help you if your brand can't relate to people on the most fundamental of levels.
Without effective relationships a brand is just another piece of clutter in an overcrowded space.
Any negative customer experiences connected to your brand can scar people's views of your brand for years. In certain cases it can destroy a brand forever.
This means the onus is on brands to deliver with communication and service that treats customers with empathy every time.
Brands that get this right are remembered for all the right reasons. Brands that ignore this or that screw it up tend not to remain brands for very long.
Here's what this means and how you can use your branding powers for everyone's good:
1. When something is wrong fix it without making a fuss.
The awards you've won for customer service won't mean a thing if your staff won't answer the phone or cannot successfully meet or exceed a client's needs.
Your brand isn't about you. It's about your ability to forge lasting,
meaningful, empowered relationships with happy clients and customers who in turn keep coming back to buy form you again and again and who will willingly sing your praises.
2. Learn from problem clients and customers.
No matter what, the customer isn't always right (sometimes, the customer is an idiot!). But when you're faced with an irate client, why not take the time to learn from the situation so that you're better prepared next time?
Even when a customer is wrong, why not help them save face? Sometimes, you can give ground without it costing you more in time than it's worth to you in lost revenue.
Branding is not so much about you being happy and right all the time. It's more to do with making your clients and customers happy, even if they're wrong.
The point here is to learn from the experience so you can put systems in place to help you do the best possible job the next time.
This way, you do more for clients and you limit the degree to which you might be getting fleeced the next time there's a problem.
3. Lasting success lies in the long term view of your brand, not in its short term sales appeal.
The true value of your brand—both to you and to your market—lies in its longevity.
While gimmicks can sometimes create blips of attention, once the effect wears off you're back to square one.
Even with a new logo refreshing your visual look, without something stronger to support it in terms of what your brand means and represents, you run the risk of can confusing buyers.
Confused people don't make effective decisions, which means they'll be less inclined to invest in you.
The bottom line here is that while logos and design date, value never goes out of style.
Once you've created a logo and connected it to your brand, stick with it and build on its importance in people's minds by consistently reinforcing its positive attributes.
The long game lies in helping people see that you care about them and their problems.
Customers are more likely to buy from you over time not just because they know they like you, like you, trust you, but because they believe in you because you helped them feel better about their decisions.
While logo design is important, in isolation it won't nourish your brand. But experience-based value that connects with people's emotions and feelings will.
About Gary Bloomer
Gary Bloomer is originally from the UK. These days he lives just outside Philadelphia. Since 2009, he's answered over 5,000 marketing, branding, and social media strategy questions from small business owners from all over the world on the Know-How Exchange of MarketingProfs.com. An award winning graphic designer and a staunch advocate for the little guy, his website is a love letter to the world of small business marketing. To learn more, read the About page.
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