Chapter 2: Brand Before Logo, and How the Two Relate

A logo can make or break your business. That sounds harsh, but is a reality nonetheless. In a single image, it defines what your brand is all about. It allows your audience to recall past experiences with your brand, while building a mental relationship that can pay off for years to come.

That’s why your brand and your company logo are inextricably linked. One cannot exist successfully without the other. You can’t express your brand without a logo, but you also can’t design a great logo without a clear understanding of your brand.

At the same time, we’re not talking about a chicken-and-egg situation here. Your logo should never, ever, precede your brand. Instead, it needs to be built on the brand that you have already established. So in this chapter, we’ll take a detour away from the actual design component, focusing on the brand work you have to do first.

What Makes a Great Brand?

Let’s start with a definition. Don’t worry; it will get interesting soon. First, though, we have to establish common ground. Business Dictionary considers a brand

An image that identifies a product and differentiates it from its competitors. Over time, this image becomes associated with a level of credibility, quality, and satisfaction in the consumer’s mind.

In other words, brand is intangible. It describes your audience’s perceptions of your product or service, the feelings they get when they use or think about it. That’s crucial background when considering just what makes a great brand.

Strong brands are clearly defined. Perceptions are common across audiences, and they’re naturally positive. These perceptions align with the perceptions that the business wants their customers to have about their products or services.

Strong brands also have a personality. They’re not quite human, of course, but they do engender feelings and emotions. Brands can be fun, serious, wise, witty, and even a little ridiculous. But they should be something.

Finally, strong brands define themselves, explicitly or implicitly, in terms of their competition. They’re not like their main competitors, but stand out immediately. More on that nuance in the Context section below.

How to Define Your Brand For Your Audience

Add all of the above together, and you get quite the complex picture. Branding is far from simple. There’s a reason that quite a few people get paid quite a lot to keep defining and redefining major brands in the eyes of their audience. If you want to build a strong logo, that’s the step you have to take first.

Defining your brand is impossible without talking to your core audiences. Find out what they think about you, then see how it aligns with what you want them to think. Focus on questions like:

  • What feelings does your audience get when thinking about your product?
  • What feelings does your audience get when using your product?
  • How do these feelings differ from your competition?
  • What do your customers love and hate about your brand?
  • What part of your audience do you see as a good match for your brand?
  • What part of your brand do you see as a good match for your current audience?

Based on answers to these questions, you can start to develop a better picture of what your brand actually is. Now, you can begin to guide your communications in a direction that aligns with both your current and intended messaging. And yes, that will eventually involve your logo.

Everything is Context in Brand Land

Never define your brand in isolation. You might have noticed the emphasis on competition above; that’s for a reason. Unless your business lives in a pure monopoly (and those rarely exists), your audience will always consider your brand in reference to other points. That might be your direct or indirect competition – it happens either way.

The challenge, then, is understanding the context in which your audience actually considers your brand. When they think of you, what else enters their mind? How does that ‘other thing’ define the way they think about you?

Advanced brand marketers build perceptual maps that consider a given business in context on two or three dimensions. You don’t have to go that far just for your logo. You do, however, have to make sure that you understand the frame of mind in which your audience finds themselves when they typically interact with your brand collateral.

Rebrand or Start From Scratch?

Given the definition and context of your current brand, you might eventually find yourself at a crossroads: does your brand perfectly align with your expectations? If it doesn’t, do you need to update it slightly, or consider a full-on rebrand that starts from scratch?

You’ll know it’s time to start over when there is little or no differentiation between you and your competition. a large gap between your intention and your audience’s perceptions may simply require better communication or slight adjustments, unless you’ve gone too far down that road. 

In general, it makes sense to follow a simple rule: when your brand doesn’t engender strong feelings that you actually agree with and want to provoke, it might be time for a comprehensive rebrand. That process goes beyond the scope of this whitepaper; it will, however, play a crucial role in your eventual logo design.

How to Transition from Brand to Logo Design

How does a whitepaper on logo design spend so much time on branding? It’s because one cannot be successful without the other. But it’s also because, at its best, your logo sums up everything, every feeling and point of differentiation, in a single symbol.

Think about iconic logos like Nike’s swoosh or Apple’s fruit. Both are likely more than just a simple graphic to you. You connect them with feelings, evaluations, and even experiences. That’s why both have spend billions of dollars over decades using them as the centerpiece of their marketing efforts.

To get a great logo, you need to understand your brand. That means both defining it and considering its context. Only then can you move on to the actual design portion, which the rest of this whitepaper will examine in greater detail.