Your Small Business Brand is Not Your Logo

There seems to be a common “cart before the horse” problem that afflicts many small businesses, and I certainly was not immune to this mistake myself.  It’s trying to come up with a logo for your new product or company before you’ve created your brand.  A few questions/statements might stem from this – “Aren’t my logo and brand the same thing?  How can I create a brand without a logo?  I’ve got a logo designer – s/he’ll figure it out.”  These are deadly assumptions for your new venture, and can create a weak presence for you in an ultra-competitive market.  Creating a logo without first fleshing out your brand is like building a house with no foundation or framing.  It will be ugly, unstable, and will eventually fall.


Separation of Brand and Logo

First we have to separate “logo” from “brand”.  Unfortunately, we’ve been taught that these two are very similar.  They are not.  Let’s take an example: Coca Cola.  What is the logo?  It’s a red background with swirly white font.  That’s it – that’s all the logo is, and ever can be.  Period.  So, what’s the brand?  Is it a red background with swirly white font?  No…that’s the logo again!  The Coke brand…ANY brand for that matter….is an emotional portfolio.  It is a “world” that is created around the product – this world has its own favorite movies, favorite activities, there’s music playing, the “world” is at a certain temperature.  You might find it silly at first, but it’s not, and I’ve actually found it to be tremendously fun and challenging to create these worlds for my own products.  This is branding – the World of Coke.  So for this Coke example it’s a day on the beach, or time with family, or a refreshing picnic with your kids.  It’s hot out, but there’s always a cool beverage ready.  Get it?  So what role does the logo play?  It simply reminds you of this place – this world – in an aesthetically pleasing way.  It transports you back to the World of Coke as fast as psychologically possible.  The logo can’t be anything at all; a funky ultra-modern font on a black background isn’t what we talked about for Coke – it just doesn’t pull up the imagery of beaches, family, friends, and acoustic guitar.  So without a doubt, the logo is incredibly important and must reference the brand perfectly – it needs to “take you there” instantly, and any off colors or poor imagery will throw you off.  But don’t mistake a logo for the brand – the logo cannot exist without a proper brand to call upon.


The Proof is in the Snow

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably still not sold on this – you might be thinking “I don’t know – there’s some killer logos out there by amazing companies – if I could just get a killer logo, I think I’ll be set.”  I hear what you’re saying, so I came up with a way of illustrating this concept: we’re going to do what you’re trying to do – put the logo before branding.  Here’s a logo I think you have probably never seen before – don’t Google it…it’s important you not know who they are or what they do!  By doing this, we’re stripping out branding – you don’t know if they’re cool, trendy, young, or old, etc.  I’ll tell you more about them soon:
Snow Beer

OK, so what do you think of this company?  What do they make?  Are they big or small?  Are they “cool”?  Do you like them?  More importantly, do you think they have a killer, $1,000,000 logo?  Do you get any emotion from this logo at all, whatsoever?  OK, so remember what you thought of this company/product before you encountered their branding campaign.

Great – so that’s logo.  I took a logo from a foreign culture because by doing so we’ve eliminated brand entirely – you can actually be objective.  You’ve (probably) never had their product, never seen their ads – you’re evaluating them as a logo.  If you’re a startup and you’re focused on a logo before you’re focused on brand, this is probably how others will view you – cheap, weird, and ambiguous.  Alright – now I want to flesh out Snow properly – I want to display some of their ads, and give you brand:

Snow Beer Ad


See how much deeper that goes?  It’s about emotion, and somehow makes an otherwise boring logo look much, much better.  So now after watching a 30-second video and seeing 1 print ad, you can say “Snow is a beer – it’s about relaxing after a hard day at work.  It’s refreshing – it’s about getting back to who you are, and a place of comfort.  I get it.”  That is a brand.  Once you have that, you can figure out what your logo should be.  And if you resisted Googling up until this point, here is the big reveal:  Snow is the #1 selling beer in the world.  Period.  Bigger than Budweiser.  So their logo probably doesn’t suck.


How to make your brand and logo

Logos are elegant, simple, and effective psychological aesthetic cues – but you need to build a brand before you can build a logo.  How?  You need to determine who your customer is, what their pain is, and how your product solves it.  But don’t stop there – that’s kind of boring.  Next you need to dive into the emotion of what all this means.  No industry is emotionless – we’re all human.  We’ll take a plumbing business as an example – something that seems immune to emotion at first.  Your customer is a homeowner.  Their pain is leaky pipes.  Your product is a dry home.  So what’s “the world of XYZ plumbing?”  What’s the emotion?  It’s relief, and security.  It’s kids sleeping while you’re working to make their home safer.  The music is calming.  The house you’re working in is comforting.  The colors are soft, warm hues that come from fireplaces, lampshades, and reflect off furniture late at night in a warm, dry home.  This is the brand of the greatest plumber that ever lived.  What’s the logo?  It’s whatever you need to point to this brand, and “call up” these emotions.  The brand stands alone and is the foundation – the logo points to the brand and is an ever-vigilant reminder that can, if well-designed, burn itself into your mind.  Personally, I always use a logo designer, and recommend using them if you can afford the fees (which can range from a couple hundred dollars to $100,000).  About the only thing I recommend against are the huge “logo design houses” that pump out 30 concepts for $500, or some deal like that.  I’ve used services like that twice and been disappointed both times – they seem to lack the grasp on branding and the delicate balance between a company, their brand, and the logo that a dedicated designer can offer you for the same price.  And I really need to express a personal opinion here – don’t think 30 logo concepts for $500 is better than 1 good one for $500.  One good logo is all it takes – you don’t need 30.

Once you experiment and explore your own brand I think you’ll find, as I did, that it’s like pulling the curtain back on the whole world of advertising and marketing.  It will also make you better connected and more in-tune with your own company and products.  Good luck!