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Brand and Marketing Insights for Business

What’s the Difference Between a Logo and a Brand?


What is a brand, and how is it different from a logo? What is branding, and why is a brand important? Logos and brands are related, but different. You'll know the difference in three minutes: 

First, the easy one you already know: logos.

Logo = a visual used to signify a business:

Logos are a visual shorthand for your business. Sometimes the logo includes the name of the business, sometimes it includes a tagline or a date established, sometimes it’s just a symbol or icon:

Why do we use logos?

There is a huge advantage to using a graphic mark or typography: visuals are worth a thousand words. Used effectively and consistently, a great logo can help your audience quickly understand complex concepts. For instance, here are two logos that both speak to athleticism: 


Clearly, there is a big difference between these two logos. The difference between them is what makes a great logo versus a mediocre one. The Nike logo uses a graphic mark that references lightness, speed, and motion—all complex ideas condensed into a single visual. The NIRSA Foundation Golf Tournament logo has lots of text and visuals, but it ends up clunky and overdone. The best logos are imaginative, engaging visual shorthands.

Memorable vs. forgettable logos:

When not done thoughtfully, a logo can be built on something too open-ended, resulting in a logo that is bland or confusing:

What's the difference between the Nike logo and the Microsoft logo? The Nike logo is made up of a shape that you've never seen before. Nike's visual shape looks sleek, speedy, and memorable. Microsoft went with a basic grid in Crayola-bright colors. The result is something un-ownable, and ultimately forgettable.

Sometimes a logo can be memorable, but it reminds audiences of something else...

President Obama 2008 Campaign Logo vs. Pepsi Logo Refresh (2008)

President Obama 2008 Campaign Logo vs. Pepsi Logo Refresh (2008)

The result is a logo that can be un-ownable, or confusing to your audience.

How do you know if you have a great logo? We have a checklist of things your logo should be able to do, and be able to do well. (Don’t worry, we’ll give you that link again at the bottom of this article.) We also love this video of Pentagram's Michael Bierut giving his take on what makes a logo great.

Now, let’s talk brand.

A logo is a small piece of something much bigger: your brand.

A brand = how your business behaves, both visually and verbally.

We know, referring to a brand like it is a living breathing thing sounds a little strange. Bare with us for a few paragraphs.

For clarity purposes, let’s think of a brand as a person. Let’s imagine it’s our favorite teacher. We can all describe what this person looks like. They have a way of getting dressed, a way of styling their hair, a favorite color they wear often. They also have a way of speaking and seeing the world. They might have a great sense of humor, a phrase they repeat, or a particular style of delivery. There are adjectives that quickly come to mind to describe them: confident, optimistic, light-hearted.

When you meet other people that share these same traits, you think, “that’s so _____.” That person owns those characteristics, and seeing them reminds you of them.

A brand does the same thing. It has visuals that you can identify instantly as part of the brand because the brand repeats those visuals again and again. A successful brand also has certain behaviors that help set it apart from other businesses. It might have a great sense of humor, or always use the same phrasing, or have a certain way of using language. Great brands tell a consistent story by using repeated verbal and visual styles, making them identifiable. When you see their ads, imagery, or signage, you can easily identify the brand.

Successful brands can be identifiable even without their logo. Their audience knows how the brand behaves, both visually and verbally. Here's the proof:

Target commercial featuring Janelle Monae.

You know this is an ad for Target, but the Target logo is nowhere to be found. This is a clear difference between a logo and a brand.

The benefits of branding:

There are clear, measurable benefits to investing in a brand. When done right, a brand saves you money and time. There are no hours spent trying out new fonts or color palettes in materials, or having drawn-out conversations with a consultant about a promotional campaign. These conversations are covered in your brand guidelines.

Having a clear brand helps you easily communicate what’s “on-brand” and what’s not. This helps you save time—you can clearly communicate to staff and outside contractors what is “on-brand” for your business. This is not a small benefit. Think of the hours of meetings and conversations saved, and missteps avoided, because you have a clear idea of what is on-brand and what is not.

An example of being off-brand: the short-lived McDonald's pizza

An example of being off-brand: the short-lived McDonald's pizza

Great brands help you grow.

Branding helps you build new ideas and initiatives quickly. Having a brand ensures that any elements you’d like to launch—whether it's a website, advertising campaign, or spaceship—are rowing in the same direction. A logo can't do this alone. Visual and verbal guidelines grow, flex, and expand in ways that a logo cannot.

Logos are important. But logos need to be a part of a brand to be truly effective. Save yourself time and money and invest in a great logo and brand.

How do you make a brand? 

What's the process like to build a great brand? The first step is a conversation. We hear about your brand challenges and business goals, and share a 15-minute presentation about what types of brand tools we can build for you. (Don't worry, the conversation is free.)

Schedule a brand conversation: