Branding Starts With a Purpose Informing its Logo

04.26.2010 / Author: Nicole Armstrong

Hello, my name is Nicole and I’ve dedicated my career to helping organizations make meaning and live it everyday. Officially, I’m a planner for Critical Mass, a digital marketing agency, where we bring our clients’ brands to life through digital initiatives.

I was thrilled when Steve asked me to write something for Processed Identity, as I strongly believe in its purpose: To highlight the benefit of a structured creative process over stock solutions when developing brand identities. After all, a brand’s logo/identity is the visual representation of who you are as an organization!

A logo becomes the visual cue for an organization, and this will remain a part of your organization throughout the course of its history. Yes, it may be spruced up over the years to remain stylistically relevant — case in point UPS and AT&T:

UPS and AT&T logos

UPS logo, left to right: Paul Rand, FutureBrand
AT&T logo, left to right: Saul Bass, Interbrand

But, your logo is not something you change over night. If it does change, there needs to be some pretty strong rationale behind it — like the organization is repositioning itself in the marketplace and is launching new innovations to back up the change.

So, my point is, a logo is something that should be well thought through and reflective of your organization’s brand essence.

Here are some of my thoughts around branding and how the logo fits in:

I’m continually amazed by how many people and/or organizations refer to their brand as a logo, when this is not the case! As I mentioned above, a logo is the visual representation of a brand.

In essence, a brand is the reputation of an organization/product/etc. It’s the emotions we feel towards the organization based on what we’ve heard about it, what we have experienced while engaging with it, and so on. A brand is our gut feeling about the organization, and the logo is our reference point for that feeling. I’m sure just looking at the UPS and AT&T logos, above, evoked some kind of thought or emotion.

To create a successful brand, which evokes consumer emotions parallel to how the organization wants to be perceived, it must be consistent in its actions, whether that be through product innovations, customer service, advertising, visual identity, etc., because the brand is not defined by the organization. Rather, the brand is defined by its consumers. Marty Neumeier said it best in his book The Brand Gap:

It’s not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.

However, the organization can influence its brand through consistency – if you say you’re going to do something, DO IT! If you say you’re going to be something, ACT LIKE IT!

I like to use this diagram, which I’ve named the Ripple Effect, to illustrate how great brands activate consistency:

Ripple Effect

All great brands are centered on a guiding purpose. This purpose is why you are in business — it is some crazy, hairy, audacious idea/dream/goal an organization is set on accomplishing. Often, organizations believe their purpose is to make money, however, that is not enough. Making money is what allows you to STAY in business — it’s not WHY you are in business!

Stemming from the organization’s purpose is its value proposition, or as I like to call it, the brand promise. This denotes how consumers will benefit from the organization’s crazy, hairy, audacious idea/dream/goal.

Then there are the reasons to believe. These are the actions an organization takes to deliver its promise. This may come in the form of products, services, employee actions, etc. It is through these actions that the perceptions of the brand begin to solidify.

Lastly, there is the brand’s personality. This is where the logo and visual identity live! These are the elements that give the organization/product/etc. a face ensuring a consistent presentation of the brand! The logo and visual identity tie all the before mentioned elements together stimulating sensory cues for the brand.

So, I recommend considering the ripple effect prior to developing a brand’s visual identity, and ask yourself:

  1. What’s the organization’s purpose — why are they in business?
    This allows us to understand the underlying essence of the organization that will transcend throughout its history.
  2. What is the brand promising its customers?
    From here we have an understanding of the brand’s industry and competitive set.
  3. How is the brand delivering on its promise & satisfying its audacious idea/dream/goal?
    This gives us an idea of what the business is and is not in the eyes of the consumer.
  4. Lastly, how does this brand look, feel & sound when being presented to customers, employees, etc.?
    At this point we have collected all the needed data to grasp what the brand is about to be able to interpret it visually.

When it’s all said and done, these 4 layers of the ripple effect work together to form a consistent brand execution, which influences the perceptions of the organization creating a strong brand within the marketplace.

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the Ripple Effect!

Nicole Armstrong is passionate about branding. Her goal is to continually help organizations make meaning & live it every day. Currently, she works for Critical Mass helping various brands leverage their purpose by creating digital reasons to believe. You can reach her through her More Than a Logo blog or on Twitter.





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10 comments, please join in the discussion

  1. 04.29.2010

    Good post Nicole – I like your idea of the Ripple Effect. I’ve used a similar concept to present to potential branding clients, but yours is nicely succinct.

    I’ve also recently read Marty Neumeier’s The Brand Gap, which I found insightful and full of great nuggets.

  2. 04.30.2010

    Interesting article, thanks for putting together. Cheers Ted

  3. 04.30.2010

    I could not agree more with you! So many people think the logo does it all when in fact it is the reputation you’ve earned through your clients that define your success.

  4. 05.03.2010

    Great post, great site idea!

    One other thing that sometimes has a bearing on my ability to create a visual strategy is asking the client what makes them different from their competition. As I’m doing the research into their industry I usually get a good feel for what their competitors are doing and what will make my client stand out.

    • 05.04.2010

      Good point! Usually the brand’s point of differentiation comes through in the value proposition – we promise to deliver this and it’s special for this reason!

      Thanks for checking out the post!

  5. 05.06.2010

    Excellent article.. Love your site by the way. It’s nice to see an ‘uncluttered’ blog

  6. 10.21.2010

    Purpose as a starting point, definitely!

    I’m curious how you start that conversation with your clients?

    It can certainly be intimidating for them to hire “a designer” to tackle such large, personal, and potentially esoteric questions.

    • 10.31.2010

      Hi Dipika,
      Great question. I like to start conversations about getting to the organization’s purpose with 3 questions. I cannot take credit for these questions as they are in some form taken from Marty Neumeier, a person who writes on branding, design and innovation, and is someone I admire in the branding world.

      But the 3 questions I always like to start with are:

      1 – Who are you?
      This is simple, it’s usually the organization’s name

      2 – What do you do?
      This is what the organization provides – what does it produce: physically and/or emotionally

      3 – Why does is matter?
      This is the most challenging question and is where the purpose resides. This question does not have to be answered over night. Rather it should be thought through and asked over and over again until you reach the root of why what the organization does really matters. How is the organization contributing to its consumers’ lives, it’s employees’ lives, and to society in general.

      I think these 3 questions are a great starting point to get client’s to begin thinking about their purpose and the reasons it matters.

      I hope this answers your question, and thank you for reading the post.

  7. 03.17.2011

    I would love to see you follow up with a couple of examples of the ripple effect for some real companies. I am exploring these ideas for my own branding and could use some examples to get me thinking the right way…

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