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Posted: December 21, 2012

Your logo is not your brand…

...unless you're a cattle rancher

Lida Citro├źn

I remember standing at my kitchen sink a few years ago when the TV news announcer proclaimed, "Wal-Mart has changed their brand!" I dropped a plate.

What? The Wal-Mart brand of high value, accessibility, low prices and a welcoming consumer experience is changed? I immediately worried about the friendly greeters who meet me at the door - what would happen to them?

Luckily, all that happened was that Wal-Mart updated their logo. Whew! Their brand was in tact.

Those of us in corporate brand development hear it all the time - clients looking to reinvent themselves, reissue their value and create more market knowledge attack the challenge by trying on a new logo. Your brand is not your logo.

Your brand is a promise of an experience you send to a specific target audience. Your brand is an emotional connection in the hearts of your clients and customers and the audiences they influence. In the case of Wal-Mart, they promise a consistent, welcoming and approachable shopping environment, with affordable prices. They target this promise to families and individuals concerned with saving money and receiving a quality product that is easy to find in a friendly environment. In staying with the times, and ensuring that their brand identity (i.e. marketing and logo) were relatable to that target audience, they updated their look with new graphics. They did not change their value proposition.

Branding helps companies (and individuals) identify their desired reputation and brand promise. Your brand includes an understanding of their target audiences needs (functional needs and emotional needs) in order to build relevance and loyalty. Then, we create marketing identity and build tools like logos, websites, social media sites, collateral materials, etc to communicate those values and build engagement with target audiences based on their needs.

For instance, say your company stands for high-touch, personal interaction with clients. You value the human experience, and meet in person whenever possible with clients who support (and are attracted to) your approachable and relatable values. Your marketing materials would likely show human faces, looking directly at the audience, would feature testimonials from real people, and would give audiences easy ways to connect with you online and in person. These marketing pieces would reinforce your value statements and your brand promise. They are extensions and expressions of your brand, not your brand itself.

On the other hand, maybe your company stands for a promise of discretion and elite status (maybe you are the purveyor of high-end, expensive yachts who deals with a celebrity clientele). Your promise is that no request is too insignificant or too outlandish. Your clients expect the best and they will pay dearly for it. They expect you to be responsive and resourceful in meeting their needs. Your marketing would reflect this high level of excellence, elegance and quality deliverable. Can you see how different your logo would be from a Wal-Mart logo that speaks to a different, more retail, audience?

When you start with the brand and create a platform built on values, beliefs and audience needs, your marketing and execution becomes clear and intentional. In the same way the high-end, discrete yacht maker would not create a website highlighting the names of his clients, Wal-Mart would not make it hard to find it's stores around town. Brands give you a tangible filter through which to decide about things like logos and collateral.

NOTE: Cattle ranchers, on the other hand, are the exception. In those cases, their logo (mark) is their brand, much to the cow's displeasure.

Lida Citroën is the author of Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition and Principal of LIDA360, a consulting firm that helps create effective market positioning through the use of brand strategies. She regularly presents at conferences, events and programs, teaching transitioning veterans how to understand their unique value and market them to future employers.

Citroën is an active member of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and works closely with General Peter Pace’s program in Philadelphia, Wall Street Warfighters Foundation (WSWF). For more information, please visit,  and connect with her on twitter, @LIDA360.

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Readers Respond

This is a great article! There's a common misperception about this and you've helped make a clear distinction between branding and a logo. By Denise Stephens on 2011 03 16
Thanks for your comments, Tony and Monica. You're spot on. Love the "cake" analogy! By Lida Citroen on 2011 03 15
Coming from the Product Design side of things, I'm in complete agreement, and would add that your PRODUCT must also reflect and reinforce your Brand. Some companies get it - Apple, Dyson, Mini, Starbucks - but most don't, and it shows in the (poor) build quality and (lack of) ease of use of the stuff they toss out into the marketplace. There's a reason that people have no brand loyalty to most products - they don't have any reason to when the only thing that sets one product apart from another is the logo on the front. Remove the badge, and no one could tell the difference between a DVD player from Sony, Sanyo, Panasonic, Pioneer, etc. By Tony Grieder on 2011 03 14
Spot on, Lida. I often use the analogy of a cake. Your logo is really only like the message the decorator puts in the icing ("Happy birthday Joe"). Your brand is really everything that influences the experience someone has eating the cake. It starts with the quality & freshness of the ingredients, the care with which the baker mised them & the environment of the kitchen it was baked in. It's the accuracy of the oven temperature & the absence of problems that might cause it to fall. It does include the decoration & flavors of the icing, and the way it's presented on the plate. It includes the warmth & ambience of the place it's served, and the company you're with when you eat it. All these factors impact the experience you have with that cake, and just as many factor impact the experience you have with any brand. Brands that pay attention to all these details of the brand experience are those most likely to create raving fans & establish cult status. By Monica Hahn on 2011 03 14
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