Saturday, April 30, 2011

A logo is a brand like a tire is a car

I've recently seen several non-profits make the mistake that getting a new logo amounts to getting a new brand. Their lack of knowledge about what a brand really IS not only makes me scratch my head, it also undoubtedly will not give them very much value. Here's why.

A logo is to a brand like tires are to a car. The logo, like tires, is the place of first contact -- it it where the rubber meets the road. The entire power of the car is channelled through its tires. You could say that the logo has a similar function for brands -- it is where brands channel their power. You couldn't have a car without  tires, and likewise, you can't have a brand without a logo.

But the real question is whether tires are the car. The answer is obviously no. Cars are more than just tires. And, tires are interchangeable. The car's identity can still remain there same even if the tires are different. In other words, tires are an important part of the car, but they are not all.

The same thing is true of the logo. It is certainly an important part of the brand, but it is not the brand itself. A brand is more than a picture.

It's not surprising that many people think that an image is a brand. That's because we usually identify brands by the way they look, like the Nike logo. We often don't read what words beneath it -- "just do it". But is the Nike logo everything to their brand? Think about this. Could Nike slap it's logo on just about anything and still be Nike? Sure, for footwear. But what if it was hamburgers or a candy bar? We don't have to be brand experts to know that those would not gel with Nike's image. And what about Nike's award-winning ads about athletes. What if they used ads of overweight adults wearing athletic gear eating chips on a sofa watching TV? Not a fit, either. So, the image does not define the brand all by itself. The brand is more.

The problem for most non-profits is that very often they don't know what the "more" is. Their communications people are often unable to tell them because they lack marketing skills and experience. And so the logo becomes the brand by default.

A brand is really your identity. It says who you are, what you stand for and how you want people to see you. Your logo is the face of that identity. But a brand is also your boilerplate description, your values, a guide for your ads and your website, your key messages, your key audiences and more. As well, a brand is about strategy. It is the place to say how, where and in what manner you will use your identity -- in images, in words, in events, in everything. In short, your brand is the communications bible for your non-profit. It is the centre of all your marketing.

Tell that to a small town in the Maritimes I saw recently who put out an RFP for a "re-branding". They wanted to spend a few thousand dollars to buy a new logo and slap it on their letterhead. Is that branding? Yes, in it's crudest, lowest, least effective way. The results will be equal to the approach -- they will only be skin deep.

So, next time someone tells you that a logo is a brand remind them what their car rides upon.

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