Design Community Please Listen Up! Logo ≠ Brand. It’s So Much More Than That.

By Wavelength Marketing6th May 2011November 10th, 2016blog


It never ceases to amaze us at Wavelength how many people don’t know how to define brand. People that don’t work in marketing. People that work in marketing. People that work in brand. Guilty as charged.  The worst of the bunch is definitely the design community where brand-is-a-logo is the prevailing logic. Utterly perplexing and depressing.  How can this be after all these years? At Wavelength we think a brand is:

A construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values.

Yes it’s a bit complicated and involved. Brands are complicated and involved. It fits. This is how we’ve arrived at this definition….

When defining something you have to be clear on what it is and is not. A brand is not a logo.  Take away the logo and nothing is there. You have no brand. Design guys – please tell me you see the light?  This is a shockingly simple statement yet if we had received £1 for every time we have used that sentence I would be typing this blog from my villa in theSeychelles.  Lovely thought….

So what is a brand? It’s lots of things.  Branding Prof Leslie de Chernatony (and colleagues) developed a helpful taxonomy which considers brand from input, output or evolutionary perspectives.

From an input perspective i.e. something the marketer ‘creates’, a brand is:

–        A legal instrument e.g. ‘™’ or ‘®’)

–        A logo e.g. ISO standard etc.

–        A company e.g. British Airways

–        An identity system (how the organisation wants to be perceived by stakeholders) e.g. Body Shop and being ethical.

–        A shorthand device that facilitates the recall of brand benefits e.g. McDonald’s golden ‘M’

–        A risk reducer due to brand familiarity e.g. Wells Fargo insurance

–        A value system where the brand is a cluster of functional and emotional values.

–        A vision which provides brand direction, focus and purpose.

American Marketing Association definitions (developed in the 1960’s and more recently in 2009) tend to focus on the first two areas – trademark and logo. This oversimplifies brand. Brand name, term, symbol etc., play an important role in brand. They’re not a brand per se. They’re manifestations of the emotional and functional bond brands look to develop – the key to branding. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

The concept of “values” is important. Values inform behaviour and act as an emotional ‘common denominator’ for the bond or connection a brand develops with its stakeholders. Aligned values are crucial if brands plan to make an emotional connection.

From an output perspective i.e. a brand exists in the consumers’ minds, brands can be considered as:

–        The image in the consumers’ minds e.g. Singapore Airlines and an exceptional flying experience.

–        A way of adding value to the purchase e.g. AMEX and airport services

–        A personality e.g. Nike and competitive sport / winning.

–        A relationship between the brand and its stakeholders e.g. HSBC your local bank.

The idea of a relationship between an organisation and its stakeholders gives rise to mutual expectations being formed between the brand / organisation and its stakeholders. Brands are not human. They cannot reciprocate as part of a relationship as people do.  We think it’s better to use consider this as a ‘connection’ or ‘bond’.

The evolutionary perspective regards brands as developing from an input to an output perspective. Brands are a fluid and dynamic. They ‘evolve’ and ‘develop’ from a brand owner to consumer focus.  The brand moves from being something the brand owner does to the consumer to something the consumer does with the brand to express their ‘self’ as part of an iterative dialogue.  Witness the rise of social media.

Beyond these three perspectives it’s useful to consider brands as promises. With most brands, especially services, a promise is being bought in the form of happiness, safety, self worth etc. You don’t know if you’re going to be happy until you’ve paid your money with a service.  If you’re buying a car you can test drive it. Service brands don’t have this luxury.  This makes service branding especially challenging. The promise has to be right and consistently delivered against.

So, how can we define brand as we do? Well, we consider brands as: a construct i.e. something that is perceived, which helps with the delivery of brand-related promises made by the seller / corporation to its stakeholders (focusing on consumers is too narrow); facilitating the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller / corporation its stakeholders;  being guided by functional and an emotional element.  Combining these points leads to our definition of brand where a brand is a construct that delivers marketing promises to facilitate the formation of a mutually beneficial and evolving bond between the seller (or corporation) and its stakeholders based on functional and emotional values.

It’s kind of complicated. But so is branding. Design guys….can you see why a logo ≠ brand now….?


The development of this definition is based on Dr. Darren Coleman’s PhD thesis which Professor Leslie de Chernatony and Dr. George Christodoulides supervised. Their contribution to the development of this definition should be acknowledged. 

Join the discussion 11 Comments

  • Darren,
    Excellent article and agree that the marketing literature tends to oversimplify “brand”. In my senior philosophy major thesis on the metaphysics of brands, this observation helped fuel my argument and develop the brand identity conditions through a metaphysical lens. In particular, the philosophical problem I addressed was “nature of identity over time” and applied this to issues in branding.


    • Hi Jesse, thanks for your kind response. Sure, certain parts of the marketing literature may oversimplify brand but design guys tend to take this to an extreme. It’s a shame this hasn’t changed over time……..as brands need to!

  • Ron Strauss says:

    Yes, it is much more than the logo. But why single out designers? Their lack of understanding is the least of the problem.
    I talk to groups of CEOs and 8 out of 10 think that brand is the name and/or logo. Or, among the more sophisticated, ‘it’s what the folks in marketing/marcom do…’ The good news is that over time they are slowly gaining understanding. The bad news is that they consider the CFO their key trusted advisor, rather than the CMO. That means that they’re more concerned with what things cost and hurdle rates rather than what it takes to gain and keep customers.
    Brand is misunderstood not because of poor definitions or too many definitions (both are true) but because the linkages between design, art direction, communications, marketing, finance, HR, operations, service, etc. are not well understood in terms of how brands and the organizations that own them work to create value.
    Until this problem is solved, we’ll continue to push the boulder up the mountain.
    To learn more about this POV you may want to read ‘Value Creation: The Power of Brand Equity’ written by me and Bill Neal.

    • Hi Ron, thanks for the reply. Designers were singled out as they, for the most part, tend to be the worst culprits. This is even more inexcusable than CEO’s becoming confused about brand and logo as the former work in the “marketing” space. You’d kinda hope they got it buy now. The linkages point you may is excellent and related to the brand is a logo problem. The best brands are built from within. If this approach is adopted functional alignment / integration happens as part of the process and so brand value can be delivered. If you start from the outside in i.e. with a logo confusion is rife as people don’t understand and worse still feel a part of the brand and process. This means they’ll have very little chance of successfully delivering against the brand promise. Once again,thanks for your post.

  • Ray Mason says:

    I read a really, really interesting blog a few days ago. It was written by one of my industry heroes – the great Dave Trott, whom I’ve worshipped ever since his acerbic observation that “unfortunately, the customer doesn’t get to read the brief”.

    His latest blog encouraged all marketers to stop over-analysing marketing and get out there to remember what it feels like to be a customer right there at the fixture and the point of purchase.

    Were more of us to do this, then we might all be able to cut some of the philosophising and start re-connecting with customers at a visceral, not a cerebral level – which is what Dave Trott was getting at.

    This stuff is really, really simple: (1) a brand is a promise, delivered – which de facto a logo alone cannot do; and (2) the second that this delivery falters, so does consumer trust – which is a behavioural thing, not a logo thing.

  • Linda Ginger says:

    I too share your pain! I sort of get we have to educate organizations about the true nature of ‘brand’ vs the ‘logo device’ but I am constantly blown away by the apparent lack of brand strategy knowledge some marketing companies demonstrate. How does this happen? How can we help change it? How can some marketing communication agencies deliver outcomes for clients without this critical component? Then again, we’ve observed when helping CEO’s to link marketing strategy to business strategy how little work has been done, even at this level by organizations – that is why I LOVE what we do! It is so rewarding!

  • Hi Linda, thanks for your response. Yes, it’s amazing (and a little depressing!) this confusion persists. The problem is that it moves people who understand brand into a crowded market i.e. people that talk about brand as a logo. The result of this is a market drive more by price than knowledge of value. I’ve noticed this with some CEO’s myself. But to be fair not many of them come from a marketing background but the design guys are working in “marketing”. Why does this happen and how can we change it are interesting points. What do you think?

  • Hi Ray, good point. It’s dangerous to over analyse things for sure. The stimulus for this post was pure frustration (and to an extent depression) that design guys who work at a rather large brand referred to a logo as the brand. We, rather politely, tried to clarify the point but it fell on deaf ears…..alas, any advice on a solution? Completely agree about a brand as a promise and brands are behavioural. Both are particularly important due to the number of service brands / goods brands that compete through service……

  • Neil Hopkins says:


    Nice article – a topic I frequently work on through my own blog (creation of brand is dear to my heart!).

    On a different note, I had an interesting conversation the other day while being briefed for a Communications report.

    The guy I was talking to looked straight at me and told me to forget about brand building, brand maintenance etc.

    “It’s not needed.”

    The problem is that is there’s communications, there’s brand (even if it isn’t being intentionally created).

    He couldn’t understand that. Which is a problem and an interesting flip side to your piece!


    • Hi Neil,

      Thanks for your reply and apologies for the delay in getting back to you. Sounds like a rather odd client conversation. If you’re communicating ‘something’ for your client surely this needs to fit with their brand (however defined)? The communications in terms of tone, targeting etc., all needs to be ‘on brand’ where the brand acts as a guiding principle for communications.

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