I once read the very thought-provoking article “No One Cares About Your Logo,” which examines the important distinction between a brand and the visual representation of the brand—aka, its logo.
This iconoclastic and controversial take may seem like a very odd perspective for a branding agency to promote; however, I would argue that we in this industry are not actually in the business of making and selling logos but rather in the business of supporting brands with whatever tools they need to succeed. To this point, the author (a fellow designer named Jon Hollamby) makes some excellent arguments for a holistic approach to brand strategy and brand positioning, all while skewering the dangerous and common conflation of brand and logo.
Hollamby’s take called to mind some enlightening conversations I had while working abroad during my Block Club residency in Copenhagen. One creative director I met with there spoke at length about the intrinsic nature of brand identity and the paramount importance of understanding a given brand before designing for it. I remember that the way she framed these concepts really resonated with me at the time.
Previously, I suppose I had considered a brand to be something that could be invented, strategized, and designed all in the abstract and then unveiled as a convincing finished product. In reality, your brand is the sum total of whatever it is that you actually do, and no amount of window dressing or fancy design can change that. Or, as Hollamby puts it, “Your brand is the experience your customers have and then tell their friends about. All the design craft in the world can’t make a logo that can convince someone your product or service is great if it isn’t…What your customers experience every time they interact with your company is the brand, not the visual identity.” To put it even more bluntly, Hollamby writes of the famously iconic Nike logo, “The swoosh is just a swoosh; any emotional connection you have to it has nothing to do with the logo itself.”
Obviously, visual branding or even rebranding, is a much easier change to implement than foundational, institutional change. This is not to say that designing, developing, and perfecting a visual identity is easy work (believe me, it’s not), but it is the only aspect of a brand identity that can effectively be strategized in the abstract and implemented from the top down; the rest requires ground-up work.
Hollamby makes some astute recommendations to this point in his section on “decentralizing your brand,” where he advocates for institutional policies that strip away sole ownership of the brand from marketing and PR and share it equally with all aspects of an organization, uniting every employee with a shared perspective and purpose, and ultimately creating a team of ambassadors rather than employees.
The high-level takeaway here is that developing and understanding what your brand actually is, creates the bedrock upon which a successful visual identity can then be built. Conversely, if you try to walk through this process in reverse and hire an agency to design around the brand you wish you had rather than the one you do have in reality, you will have much more trouble succeeding.