I once heard someone say that they thought that the logo was “the brand.”

I think this is a fairly common misconception. We recognize and notice logos a lot more than anything else when it comes to branding, but a logo is the cornerstone of a brand and not the entirety of it.

Take Coca Cola for example. What colours do you think of? Which images pop into your head? Which words and feelings do you associate with them?

All of those answers are part of the brand and to varying degrees their message.

I majored in corporate design in college and branding has been a large part of my career as a graphic designer because it extends into every space where a company needs to communicate. There is strategy involved in determining the look and feel of a brand, how that applies to different media, how it can be flexible enough to accommodate multiple applications, as well as how it can adjust to respond to new trends and requirements. Sometimes you need to modernize aspects of an older brand. An organization that has a rich history needs to strike a balance between paying tribute to their heritage while updating certain elements to react to the demands of an ever-changing society.

There are certain truths that can seem to be constants for different target audiences, such as readable type sizes that are standard for various age brackets. But there are also many things that can change as the target audience grows older or as society changes and the age group you are continuously targeting has different expectations.

The constants for particular target audiences influence HOW you communicate, but not so much how the overall brand looks and feels.

For example, if your target audience is primarily twenty somethings for an entertainment company and you want to engage with them and encourage conversation — one of the key spaces you will want to be active is Facebook. But they will also be very active on Instagram. Lesser so on Twitter, and they are unlikely to be looking for the brand as much on LinkedIn unless they are interested in working with that entertainment company. This target is also generally far more connected than the twenty somethings of ten or more years ago. They expect things to work fairly seamlessly, they have become accustomed to nearly instant responses, and this can present a challenge because you need to curate the brand on a larger scale with more moving pieces than ever before.

It used to be that branding was primarily focused on items such as print media, advertising, presentations, and websites. Now social media extends your brand in a way that relies more on feel and conversation than the look. The window dressing of your social media profiles are but a small part of the branding experience. And when done well, the window dressing takes a back seat to let the content shine.

Wendy’s has recently been gaining traction on Twitter (a platform where businesses primarily broadcast messages as there is typically little interaction from followers). They have given a new personality to their brand, created a “Wendy” that is sassy and full of jokes about the competition. This is spot on for their target audience who react positively and are excited to see what happens next. At the moment, this seems to be a social media experience only. It remains to be seen if this extends into other aspects of branding that take longer to produce (with less obvious digs at the competition, of course), but it could easily lead to some print advertising and temporary signage that would both amuse and delight certain customers if they haven’t taken the steps to do so already.

When I work with a client or when I’m working within a company on branding strategy, one of the key aspects of that first discussion is focusing on the personality and messaging that the brand should have overall. Communication is a priority in graphic design. That communication should also be beautiful, user friendly, and “on brand” in order to be successful.

Colour palettes, typeface choices, grid layouts, template designs… all of these become part of the overall branding strategy. Even the “voice” of written materials becomes part of the overall experience. And that’s where we start stepping into the realm of user experience. Generally more common in the digital media space, the term user experience can also apply to tactile communication pieces.

All of this ties back to branding. The entire experience needs to seamlessly be identifiable as associated with the brand.

If you removed the logo, would you still know who it’s from? If the answer is yes, then your branding is working for you.

If the answer is no, your branding isn’t telling the story you need it to. And you have relied too much on the idea of the logo being “the brand.”