“What a great brand!” How many times have you heard it from someone looking at a logo? No matter the amount of experience as a digital professional, you should know that a logo and a brand are two completely different things.
Let's start from the beginning and find out what those terms mean.
Logos Are All Around Us, Anywhere We Go
Look around for a second. It is almost certain that you will find various logos in your surroundings. They are on your devices, clothes, or cosmetics. The listed things are products that are merchandise of an individual producer. This producer should be recognised on the market in a certain way. Therefore, when we see a logo on a certain product, it makes our mind wander in a specific direction. For instance, the McDonalds logo, our thoughts immediately rush towards restaurants that offer us fast food. It’s safe to say that every child learns the meaning of this logo just after a few visits.
A logo is also a sign. This sign contains a material signifier element (a graphic symbol) and a non-material signified element that involves a concept, the signifier element's specific meaning.
One of the most outstanding designers of logos is Paul Rand and this is how he explains what a logo is: "A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon, a street sign." According to another American graphic designer Milton Glaser:
"A logo is a sign, symbol, trademark or badge which conveys the identity or ownership of a product, company, campaign or concept in as memorable a way as possible."
It's thanks to a logo that a producer, as well as his products, always have a place in our mind. A logo works primarily as an identifier because it makes it possible to easily recognise a product (or company) and make it distinguishable from other products (companies) on the market.
Brands Live in Our Minds, No Matter Where We Go
The most important thing is to realize that a brand is something that's non-material. A brand is not a sign or a graphic symbol. A brand lives in the mind of the consumer. It's a compilation of thoughts and feelings that form in people's minds as a result of experiences. For instance, consumers who drink coffee in Starbucks daily experience the coffee's taste and the prevailing atmosphere that they find there. Based on this experience, they form an opinion, not only about a particular Starbucks they go to every day but about Starbucks as a whole network of coffee shops. This is how a brand is formed, which is a collection of all thoughts and feelings, those positive as well as negative ones that function in our minds. A brand's position on the market is determined by thoughts and feelings evoked in the consumer by experiences of the product or service. The more positive the response is, the stronger the position of the brand on the market.
Sometimes both a logo and a brand exist together where the logo works as the main identifier for the brand. It also often gives direction for other elements of brand visual identity, such as imagery, typography, color palette, or physical brand assets. However, brands without logos or any type of graphic composition also exist. An example of the first case can be an entrepreneur who provides services in a particular field. The consumers' assessment of these services might be either positive or negative according to circumstances. On the other hand, we can imagine that a designer creates a graphic composition without any reason or only for skills presentation. In this case, there is a physical, material element (signifier), but there is no non-material signified element that involves thoughts that consumers join with the signifier element. The lack of such signified element causes that, in this case, the graphic composition is not a sign, and therefore it is not a logo. The sign always has to have both a signifier and signified element.