Logo and Brand are NOT the Same Thing
January 14, 2011 ‐ 6 comments


The usually illuminating Tony Spaeth has let our industry down big time. In his review of Starbucks' new logo, Spaeth repeatedly refers (and quotes Starbucks Chief Design Officer Steve Barrett referring) to the move as a 'rebranding'.
Logo ≠ Brand.

Logo Change ≠ Rebrand.

It may seem like semantics, but it isn't. If you want to rebrand your organization, a new logo is only part of the formula, and a moderate (to non-designers) refinement of your existing logo is an even smaller part.

That's because your brand is your reputation - it's the value your stakeholders expect from you. Truly transforming that position in the minds of your internal and external audiences takes more than design - it takes action. Real, concrete, consistent action, over and over and over again – especially if your brand (like Starbucks') is built largely on a retail experience.

Precision matters. When veterans like Tony Spaeth conflate logos and brands, how can we be surprised when organizations think that all it takes to rebrand is to get the executive team to agree on a design?

Yes, Spaeth says Starbucks is working on "a fresh articulation of cultural attributes...Genuine, Thoughtful, Optimistic, Expressive and Engaging." But unless the previous attributes were Faux, Superficial, Despondent, Stoic and Withdrawn, these new ones are so generic that we don't believe they'll have much effect on the taste of Starbucks coffee, the design of Starbucks coffee shops or the behavior of Starbucks baristas. And those – not the contents of a circle on a cup – are the key forces that shape the Starbucks brand.

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A New Low for Logos: A Hundred Bucks in Bugs
February 16, 2012 1:08 pm
[...] we have noted ad nauseum, brands and logos are not the same, and a logo does not a brand make.  That said, visually distinctive logos and great design are essential brand-building tools. They [...]
January 28, 2011 6:04 am
Excellent point Darren - a logo is an important point around which a brand's identity coalesces, but it is ultimately only a small part of a comprehensive visual system.
Darren Coleman
January 26, 2011 7:44 am
It's depressing to hear debates like this given the level of brand knowledge that should exist. The initial post is correct. A logo is not a brand. The reason is simple. Take away the logo and you have nothing left. There is no brand. As you mention above, we face similar challenges with brand development, rebranding, brand strategy etc. Clients often approach us referring to these terms but all they want to change is their visual identity. Usually a very small part of it - the logo. Changing this without considering the deeper, more emotional piece just causing confusing from our experience. Build from values and from within. This is the optimal approach. Visual identity (in its various forms) comprises a latter stage of branding.
January 20, 2011 9:56 am
Andrew - We thank you for your input, we appreciate the nuanced understanding of brand you bring to the discussion and we agree wholeheartedly with your second sentence (we run into innumerable organizations who are obsessed with cosmetic changes only when it comes to rebranding), but we'll have to agree to disagree on the broader point (just as we do on the London 2012 identity). A modified logo and the announcement of a new strategy are not enough to constitute a rebranding for a retail brand.
Andrew Sabatier
January 20, 2011 4:09 am
I understand the premise that 'a logo is not a brand' but this idea is only useful as a guiding principle for handling brands. The idea serves to remind organisations that cosmetic changes do little to transform those organisations. It's not that a logo is not a brand. A logo is a brand but the point of the premise is to reveal the notion that if the brand is all about the logo then there is not much to the brand. Most people who engage brands care little for the marks of the brand until aspects of that brand become important to them in rich and meaningful ways. This is usually the case when a brand meets many of the requirements necessary to intervene in a particular activity. All that's really under scrutiny in most discussions about brands and branding is why, and the degree to which, people care about those brands. And then, how the marks of the brand, including the 'logo', reflect the experience on offer. Tony Spaeth's use of the term 'rebrand' to discuss the development in the Starbucks brand identity is no grave error. The term 'brand' is very broad and hugely forgiving. Evolution, refinement or complete brand identity overall, whatever the sub-category, each type of brand identity change can be referred to as a rebrand without too much of a problem. And, by my argument if an organisation changes their logo then they are rebranding. However, it should be clear by now that if all that changes is the logo then the rebrand is nothing more than a vanity exercise and probably a wasted effort. There is an overt strategic purpose behind Starbuck's brand identity change; this should be clear from Howard Schultz's presentation. Starbucks is not just changing the logo, it's repurposing its brand identity to meet the challenges of the upgraded brand strategy. A.
Jesse de Agustin
January 14, 2011 3:23 pm
Eric, Great article. Your argument is totally on target. It seems that often visual identity change is justified through ambiguous generalizations. We'll see what way the other proposed changes complement the logo modification. I present my take on Starbucks below, drawing on concepts in philosophy: http://metabrandblog.wordpress.com/2011/01/06/starbucks-exclusive-experience-or-ubiquitous-expansion/ Regards Jesse

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