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Logo, Identity, and Brand: This Is a Job for Superman®!

Logo, identity, and brand often get lumped together, but each has its own unique meaning. To understand the distinctions, look no further than the Man of Steel.

Whenever I'm hired to design a logo, the words "brand" and "identity" inevitably find their way into my conversation with the client. Many of the small business owners I meet use these terms interchangeably. In fact, I'd say that most small business owners have trouble reconciling in their minds that these are in fact three unique components. If you happen to be one of them, never fear; Superman to the rescue!

No, not me. I'm just the messenger. But I have compiled this little guide to help you understand what constitutes a logo, an identity, and a brand, using the Man of Steel as the example.


LOGO: The Anchor of Your Organization

LOGO — A simple, unmistakable symbol that serves as the anchor for the brand

A logo is a symbol or emblem that anchors your brand message in the public psyche. It is the simplest, purest graphic representation of your business. A logo doesn't (necessarily) illustrate what a company does, it merely identifies the organization. Superman's logo is the pentagonal shield with the embedded "S". It's simple, easy to recall and replicate, and it is unmistakable. Of course, without any context, it's meaningless. Sure, the heraldry of a shield may suggest protection or security, but to someone who has never heard of Superman, the emblem signifies nothing. This is where identity and brand come into play.


IDENTITY: The Defining Characteristics of Your Organization

LOGOTYPE — The typeface in which the Superman name is commonly rendered

Identity is the broadest component of business communication. Your company colors, typefaces, uniforms, signage, and even the tone in which you write your advertising, all mold your identity. Identity is the context in which your logo begins to take on some significance.

IDENTITY — The suit, cape, colors, powers, and the iconic curl in his hair, all serve to establish Superman's identity

Superman's identity is well established. His colors are consistent. He wears the same suit every day. He has powers that make him unique, special. He has that awesome curl in his hair! Let's look at some of the defining characteristics that help us to recognize him:

Now, we have a clear picture of what Superman looks like and what he can do. But the spiffy outfit and the impressive powers only tell us so much. We still don't know who he is, or how we should feel about him. Is he a hero or a villain? Is he here to help or to harm? The answers to these unknowns constitute the brand.


BRAND: The Values & Principles Your Organization Embodies

BRAND — The values that Superman embodies: truth, justice, and the American way.

Your brand is established, not by your words, emblems, or ads–but by your deeds. Superman:

"...wages a never-ending fight for truth, justice, and the American way!"
That's some impressive, lofty rhetoric. But it means nothing if Superman doesn't walk the walk. Just what qualities sum up the Superman brand?

The reason we feel awe-struck, proud, or secure when we see Superman is because his actions make us feel that way. He saves people in distress. He fights crime. He tells the truth. He has tremendous powers, and he uses them only for good. He has proven himself worthy of our trust, and that's why his colors and emblem invoke positive feelings in us.

If Superman were to turn heel and behave like a villain, if he were to use his powers to hurt, to terrorize, or to manipulate people (remember Superman III?), then the identity–the logo, the colors, the suit, all of it–would have a negative impact on us. We would cower in fear at the very sight of the shield and "S". Likewise in business, your logo and identity serve only to anchor and recall the feelings associated with your brand, for better or for worse.


Summary

In summation, your brand is a set of values and ideals that influence the way you do business. The brand is the "big picture" that customers have when they hear your name. Your identity is made up of all the collateral items that distinguish you from other organizations, and that associate you and your employees with your brand values. The logo is the trigger, the "hot key" that invokes your organization, and the brand it represents, in the mind of the consumer.


TJ Barranger is a branding and publicity consultant in the Baltimore, Maryland area with a background in business communications and online content management. He specializes in assisting small business and non-profit clients. Agree/disagree with this article? Share your comments via e-mail: TJ@TJBCreative.com.