Logo? Brand? Identity? Let's get this straight.

Some of the questions we're asked most frequently concern some technical design terminology:

"What's a logo? How is a logo different from a brand? And how is a brand different than a company identity? Is a logo an identity? Or is the brand the logo? Or vice versa?"

To tell you the truth, logo, identity, brand – the terms aren't rigidly defined. All three describe concepts that range from semi-abstract to... pretty much 100% abstract. AND they're all interconnected, which makes the whole situation even more complex to explain. But the distinctions between all three are essential for any biz owner to understand.

We asked ourselves how we could put the relationship between a logo, an identity, and a brand into plain, concrete terms to help everyone in biz keep them straight once and for all.

Oddly enough, pandas seemed like the perfect fit to explain these complex concepts.

So we're answering your questions about the relationship between logos, identities, and brands right here, right now... With the help of some panda GIFs.

Logo, identity, brand – differences between each, as explained by PANDAS!

1. Logo = consistent representation of a company

Hoot Design Co.'s primary logo. A logo is a consistent, recognizable representation of your company. 

Hoot Design Co.'s primary logo. A logo is a consistent, recognizable representation of your company. 

Let's start with the simplest concept: a logo.

A logo is simply a consistent, recognizable representation of your company. It's a stylized combination of words and imagery that appears in the same way again and again to allow a company or organization to be easily recognized.

A logo is usually a company's name presented in a stylized manner. Its words, colors, spacing, and presentation all remain constant. It may use an illustration or icon that can appear separately from a company's name; it may include a tagline.

So how is a logo related to an identity, and how is it related to a brand? A logo is just one element of a business's identity, and just one element of a business's brand. A logo by itself is NOT an identity... And a logo by itself is NOT a brand, but a logo is in many ways the seed from which the two more complicated concepts sprout.

Think of it like this: A logo isn't a full brand like a tiny pink baby panda isn't really... an actual panda.

Logo = tiny tiny pink baby panda.

You, the panda owner, know this tiny pink thing really will be a big, strong, majestic, cuddly panda bear, but when you start telling your friends that you've got a panda and are showing it around proudly... Eh, it resembles a panda, kind of, I guess... But it's TINY, and pandas are supposed to be HUGE, and it's sort of pink and splotchy, and pandas are supposed to be black-and-white.

To people not knowledgeable of baby pandas, what you're toting around may resemble some kind of puppy or exotic cat more than a panda. It doesn't have its own personality... And it can't even sit up by itself! 

Same with a logo: In a biz owner's mind, their logo may seem to be a big, strong, majestic brand, perfectly repping the biz all by itself – (It's perfect! It nails exactly what you're going for!)  – but to everyone else, a logo alone is fragile, vulnerable, and doesn't capture the full spectrum of the biz. Though a logo is the most basic building block of the full brand that a company can eventually grow into, it can't support an entire brand on its own.

A logo alone is vulnerable to misinterpretation in a way a full brand (a.k.a. full-grown panda) is not. Doesn't he look a bit like a puppy to you?

A logo alone is vulnerable to misinterpretation in a way a full brand (a.k.a. full-grown panda) is not. Doesn't he look a bit like a puppy to you?

A logo doesn't make a brand: a logo has the potential to grow into a full brand, but on its own a logo can't carry much at all. Just like this teeny baby panda, which possesses the potential to grow into a strong, huge panda bear but is helpless on its own in its current state.

A logo doesn't make a brand: a logo has the potential to grow into a full brand, but on its own a logo can't carry much at all. Just like this teeny baby panda, which possesses the potential to grow into a strong, huge panda bear but is helpless on its own in its current state.

Even if you've got the most fitting logo in the world, a logo doesn't make a brand.

Instead, a logo is the teeny-tiny pink baby panda – the most elemental representation of a company – out of which a full-blown brand can grow. 


2. Identity = combinations of basic elements that begin to create a complete picture

An identity is much more complex than just a logo, but identity still doesn't make a brand.

Identities are created by expanding upon the most basic building blocks representing a company (like a logo) to create a solid foundation for a full brand to emerge.

Essential elements of the Hoot Design Co. visual identity. An identity is created by combining basic elements into a cohesive whole. 

Essential elements of the Hoot Design Co. visual identity. An identity is created by combining basic elements into a cohesive whole. 

And, not to throw you a curveball here, but companies do have multiple identities. A company's identity is broken down into parts. For example, a visual identity is a collection of visual elements – like colors, typefaces, textures, patterns and recurring imagery – that combine consistently to create a coherent look. Full brands also have verbal identities defining their brand voice (which I wrote about last week) and even interactive identities defining what type of animations represent the brand on-screen. 

Think of identity like this: Identities are combinations of basic brand elements that are one step toward building a full brand. 

Like a panda cub: A cub is much more easily identified as a panda than a teeny baby, but it's still not quite what your friends had in mind when you told them you were going to show them a panda bear.

Identity = little panda cub.

Logo, identity, brand – what's the difference? Identity = little panda cub.
With a visual identity developed, a company brand may be ready to take its first steps forward, but it's still on shaky ground and liable to take a few tumbles. We can tell that this little fuzzball is indeed a panda, but it doesn't entirely match our instantaneous understanding of panda.

With a visual identity developed, a company brand may be ready to take its first steps forward, but it's still on shaky ground and liable to take a few tumbles. We can tell that this little fuzzball is indeed a panda, but it doesn't entirely match our instantaneous understanding of panda.

Once your logo expands into an identity, your company moves steadily toward becoming a full brand.

The key here is that creating visual and verbal identities begins to develop a company's personality and expands an audience's ability to interpret information about the business. 

Just as the panda cub is now able to be quickly identified as a panda because it has the look of a panda, it acts like a panda, and it's making cute little panda sounds, your business becomes more readily identifiable once your brand identities are in place. 


3. Brand = impression, reaction, FEELING

Aha! We've finally made it. Last stop: Full brand.

Brand is probably the trickiest of these concepts to explain. A dictionary search for "brand" returns such enlightening definitions as "a particular type or kind of something" (thanks, Merriam-Webster).

But that's just the thing: A successful brand should make you fumble for words.

Brand surpasses an easy definition because brand goes beyond logically processed information like a name, color palette, typefaces, and imagery. Instead, a brand is the feeling associated with your company.

When we begin working with a client, one of the first and most important questions we ask is "What do you want people to feel when they think of your company?" or "How do you want your company to feel?" What we're after is a list of abstract adjectives describing the feeling that a brand should immediately evoke in a viewer.

A fully assembled brand is consistent in its message, easy for an audience to understand in a first impression, and closely tied to a company's core values. Therefore...

Brand = legit panda.

A panda is a panda: instantly recognizable, instantly understandable as a panda, consistent in its presentation and demeanor, and associated with a host of feelings and experiences within a viewer's mind.

Now that's what I call a panda.

Now that's what I call a panda.

Pandas that are just so obviously pandas, doing panda things exactly as you'd expect them to.

Pandas that are just so obviously pandas, doing panda things exactly as you'd expect them to.

A panda doesn't need an explanation because it's so clearly a panda. Sure, you can start describing a panda step-by-step – it's a bear, it eats bamboo, it's black and white, it's extremely mild mannered – but those logical descriptions don't truly explain the essence of panda

And that's exactly what a strong brand should be: Glimpsing a fully-developed brand should evoke an instantaneous reaction and spark an immediate understanding in viewers. At its fullest, a strong brand should be exactly that can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it amalgam of feelings and impressions that makes a panda difficult to fully capture in words. 


So what do you think?

Did my panda analogy work? Did I miss something? Fumble? Let me know what you think, and shoot us YOUR suggestions on Facebook, Twitter (Me: @averyenderle, Kristen: @hootdesignco) or in the comments below. Additional panda GIFs encouraged ;)

Logo, identity, brand – what's the difference? Explained in panda GIFs.

– Avery