The difference between brand and identity

A question that seems to come up a lot in brand development is, “what’s the difference between a logo, identity and a brand?” After all, people often use them as interchangeable synonyms everyday. “Check out our new brand,” or “we are going through a re-design of our brand,” or my favorite, “do you do branding?”

To answer this question, let’s start with some definitions.

What is a brand?

First, what is a brand? It seems as if a myriad of definitions have been floated out into the business lexicon to attempt to define exactly what a brand actually is. We’ve heard experts and practitioners alike define the word brand in differing ways with statements like, “a brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers,” or “a brand is a gut feeling,” or even “a brand is what people say about you when you leave the room.”

It’s no wonder there is so much murky water around our understanding about what a brand really is, and more importantly, what that means to the work of building value with it.

Let me be clear: a brand is the relationship between an organization and an audience.

You can't brand something. You earn your brand. A brand is the reward for the hard work of building real, passionate relationships with your audience. These relationships lay a foundation for the creation and delivery of value in today’s marketplace. (You can read more about this definition and the “Brand Language Ecosystem” here.)

What is a logo?

A logo, short for logotype, is business jargon for a trademark made of custom-lettered words that form an identifying mark to signal a business entity. Typically when people say logo, what they are really referring to is a trademark.

There are different types of trademarks used to identify a business entity. A trademark can be a symbol, icon, monogram, badge, sign or other graphic device. Shell uses a symbol, whereas LG uses a monogram, for example. Logos have been around in one form or another for several thousands of years.

The Ancient Egyptians branded domestic animals with hieroglyphs to signify their owners. The Romans and Greeks marked their pottery with identifying marks to identify their hand. Nobility used heraldic marks to signify their armies on the battlefield called coats of arms.

Today, businesses use trademarks to help customers identify who they are, and to signal to an audience the origin and quality of their goods.

The connection between brand and a logo: artifacts 

If a brand is the relationship, then a logo is a projection of that relationship. In other words, a logo works to point a customer back to the larger organization on the whole and reflect the relationship that organization has with their audience. Although logos are common, they are just a single expression an organization can use towards this effort.

Any cue (sight, sound, touch, taste or smell) used to project the relationship between you and your audience is called a brand artifact. Artifacts come in all different forms. For instance, a logo is a visual brand artifact of the relationship between the organization and an audience. Just like the aroma of roasting coffee is an olfactic brand artifact of Starbucks, or a furry pink mustache is a tactile brand artifact of Lyft.

In an overflowing market cramped full of competing value propositions, everyone is trying to make a mark. The organizations that win are those who make their mark by creating shared value with their audience, not by trying to stand out with just a logo alone. A logo must be connected to something much bigger than itself – the relationship.

Nike made the swoosh, the swoosh didn't make Nike.

Identity = consistent, engaging artifacts

The goal is to find artifacts that tell your story and engage people with who you are in a familiar and meaningful way. That means ensuring every time your artifacts show up, they are consistent in their appearance, use, size, scope, color, feel, etc. Consistency allows your audience to build a memory structure around who you are and what value you have to offer. This memory structure becomes the identity of your organization.

On the continuum from cave paintings to social media updates, the collective aggregate of your artifacts can create an infinite sensory palette of expression which can instantaneously produce a recognizable and unique identity for your organization.

No matter a company’s size, artifacts are an important piece of telling your story. Work to discover the value your artifacts are creating. Once the value your artifacts are creating is well understood, deliver them in a consistent and meaningful way to build a compelling identity.

PS: If you're looking for some intelligent tools to distribute your brand assets we've built Brandisty just for you!