Brand representation VS reputation

What is more important to a brand? Its representation or its reputation?
A logo is the visual representation of a brand in its simplest form.
But do logos accurately represent the brand?
What exactly needs to be represented? Is a logo even necessary?

Defining a brand

Until recently, few designers used the term ‘brand’ to define their work. It was all about ‘corporate identity’, ‘visual representation’ and ‘communication’. Today the word brand appears on the majority of portfolios and CVs as more and more people jump on the brandwagon(!).

I would contest that it is impossible to “create” or “design” a brand, given that they are the sum-total of perceptions formed by an end-user. Of course, designers can contribute to helping to shape those perceptions, but when I hear people describing themselves as “brand designers”, it tells me that they haven’t really understood or given too much thought to what ‘brand’ actually is.

The UK Design Council defines a brand as “a set of associations and perceptions made with a company, product, service, individual or organisation.” The ‘success’ of a brand essentially boils down to what people think about you, your product, your business or the service you offer. That alone, by its nature is constantly changing. People are different and therefore think and perceive things differently.

When you hear the name “Apple”, what do you think of? Fruit or imacs? Granny Smith or Steve Jobs? Most people in western society now associate Apple with imacs, ipads, iphones and itunes. They are the market leader and generally have a good reputation for making quality products. However, rumour has it that Apple may soon release a cheaper, plastic version of their iphone, in a bid to win back some of the market from their competitors. Does that affect how you feel about them?

What about BMW? Why do you rarely see any BMW taxis? Because cars such as BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz and Rolls-Royce are more than just cars. They are about status and they say something about you.

brand identity

Winning the hearts and minds of customers is crucial to positive sales figures and to that end, branding, advertising and marketing are very much concerned with protecting and reinforcing a reputation. Strengthening trust in the brand is key.

Designer Wally Olins, says that “being liked, admired and respected more than the competition helps an organisation to win.” Nurturing your image is crucial to achieving this, but I would suggest that what people say about you is more important than what you look like. Whatsmore, it takes many years to gain respect and affection.

How important is image?

Assuming that brand success is based on reputation rather than visual representation, this begs the question: is a logo necessary?

A traditional logotype comprises various elements such as a symbol, a name, typography and colour. Often, it is a combination of all of these, and sometimes it may be just one sole element such as the ‘Nike Swoosh’, the name ‘Coca-Cola’, or the colour ‘British racing green’. Given that brands are dynamic and perceptions of the brands constantly change, can a brand’s vision, mission and values be accurately represented by isolated static visuals? They are all without a doubt essential in directing you to a brand, but they are not the brand. To take this concept deeper, the whole subject is very ironic as brands and branding are themselves simply words that represent something, from products to people.

It is (sadly) true that what you look like influences what people say about you. It is the reason so many people choose to wear a suit to an interview and it also the reason I make an effort to shave before I visit my grandmother. But when it comes to branding we need to be careful not to be superficial, even though design is predominantly about image. Effective communication must play to all the senses, not just sight. How does a blind person perceive your brand?

To be honest…

Facebook currently boasts over 1 billion users across the globe. In a world obsessed with image, it provides the perfect platform for personal branding. The pictures we share, the comments we make, and the things that we ‘like’ all determine and shape our profiles, who we are, and more specifically, who we want people to think about us. The adverts that randomly pop-up on your wall are not there by coincidence. They are “coordinated incidents”. They are temptations, tailored to the very characteristics that you are promoting, often without even realising it!

Are we being honest when it comes to our own personal branding across the social network, or are we merely prostituting ourselves to a hand-picked clientele? What will people say about you In ten years time? Does it bother you?

John Gillespie was the Pastor at Grace Community Church in Cornwall, UK. I went to a service once and something he said really struck me. He simply said: “Who you are in private, is who you are”. Does your facebook profile truly reflect who you are as a person?

Bihotza, burua, eskua…Sentitu, pentsatu, ekin!

This is not a typing error, this is Basque. It is a phrase coined by the popular children’s Basque clowns “Pirritx, Porrotx & Marimotots” and to me, perfectly defines branding.

It literally translates as: “Heart, Mind, Hand. Believe, think and act.”

People perceive brands differently and brands are represented in many ways.
If you want your brand to be successful, you must believe in it wholeheartedly. If the passion is genuine, then it will be naturally contagious, and you will have the foundations for building a good reputation.

By Joseba Attard (Partner and designer at di-da). June 2013.

Share your thoughts


  • Owen

    Great post dude – agree with the sentiment. For a lot of small businesses though, building a brand will primarily revolve around the design work that helps them (and others) visualise their ‘brand’. It’s much harder to rely on tone of voice and other subtleties. General sweeping statement, of course, it might be easier for some…!

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