Thursday, September 1, 2011

Logos, Identities, Branding 101

Big Red Ape Edutainment Presents:
Logos, Identities, Branding 101


What is the difference and what do they mean?

The design and creative solutions industry is always in flux. Words, meanings, and culture are changing at a continual pace forcing creative problem solvers to stay sharp.

However, one great things about words, is that they DO mean things. Regardless of culture or trends, the design business is built upon specific meanings and principles that customers pay good money for.

I wanted to take a moment to clarify some meanings and words, and help YOU, the clients and business people be better informed.

1. BRANDING
This word has become nearly meaningless by many designers who don't understand it. TRUE branding is a very complex multi-faceted process. It involves a number of specialists trained in specific areas to help develop the image and reputation of a business. A branding project will involve copywriters, designers, marketing managers, web developers, media buyers, photographers, and many support people (to name a few). It also involves research into the competition, a marketing strategy, slogans, and many small pieces that help reinforce the desired thoughts that the company wants to be associated with.
To simplify for you what the effect of 'branding' is, think of your mother. Do you see her in your mind now? I do not have to say anything else besides 'mom.' Your mind immediately opened up a huge file of memories. Your mother has been 'branded' in your mind as a result of experiences with her on many many levels. Are you still thinking of her....?
A branded business has the same effect. For instance: Nike, McDonalds, Apple, Coke, generic groceries, Kleenex.... You see? The mention of the name evokes a huge internal file of experiences. Notice how they override your thoughts about mom?
If I say, "JUST DO IT," who do you think of? did you need to see the logo in order to make sure? Nope.
Does branding need to be this involved? Not always. But any variation from this needs to still reflect and be built towards the same goal. Branding has many pieces, and they all need to be aimed at that 'mental file folder' in the consumer's head. Brand management is the process of making sure that: a. the branding plan is always consistent, b. the company is not messing up the reputation with deviant behavior. c. if the industry changes, the company needs to adjust and possible 'reinvent' itself.
More than anything, I begin this list with branding, because there are a lot of small boutique design groups out there that say that they provide branding. At best, they create pieces to the branding puzzle. As you can see from above, unless what they offer is building towards the prior description, they ARE NOT doing branding.

2. IDENTITY DESIGN
This is the category that most design agencies or studios work within. An identity is a visual representation of the brand. The more consistent the identity, the easier it is for a business to brand itself.
An identity is typically represented in (but not limited to) the following way:
• Logo •web site design •letterhead •business cards •envelopes •Facebook banners, tabs, images •Twitter background • packaging •advertising...

A good identity is a smart design; consistent and the same on all levels. It is a SINGLE message. Your logo, colors, slogans, etc are all going to be the same on everything your business sends out. Many small businesses have three or four different visuals for what they produce. Mostly due to having many good ideas and not being able to settle on one.

IDENTITY DESIGN IS NOT BRANDING, IT IS ONE ASPECT OF THE ENTIRE BRANDING PUZZLE. IF SOMEONE TELLS YOU THEY DO BRANDING, AND ALL YOU GET FOR YOUR MONEY IS A LOGO AND STATIONERY, THEY ARE EITHER LYING OR UNEDUCATED IN BRANDING.

3. LOGOS
We are human and we think in images. Don't believe me? Elephant. Car. House. Donald Trump's Hair. Toenails. See, your mind was under my control there for a moment. Logos are visual representations of the business. They are important because in one set of visuals (typography, symbols, or both) they need to communicate to the viewer the values, reputation, and professionalism of the business. A good designer can find that single germane meaning within a business and represent it in a graphical process. Your logo can say to the world:
a. Hi, I may be a great product or service, but my design is amateurish, so I'm really just a low tiered mom & pop shop. I'm so small in fact, that I might not really exist...
b. You have no idea how big I am or what I am limited to, you will be wasting time and money anywhere else. Notice how all my competition looks the same, but I stand out?

A great logo is an asset all to itself. It becomes the focal point of a brand. Cheap logos are worth every penny. They say to the world 'CHEAPSKATE.' A logo is also NOT BRANDING. A logo becomes part of the brand based on the success of a well executed (or huge failure) branding project.

When you consult with a designer, make sure they understand these differences. There is room for variation on these points, but the meaning should remain the same.

Also, don't be a cheapskate, if you want excellence and professionalism, pay for it. Your new logo and identity could truly make a huge difference to you and your bottom line. Make sure you hire a pro and you will be treated like a pro.

Enjoy the following links, and thank you for reading.

A great overview of branding
Really BAD logos
Great stationery