The Symbol's Intrinsic Value

Frequently, when you mention branding, people think of the logo as a trademark and the brand. When I say, “We create branding and identity programs,” the first thing that people think of is the logo. Which is an important part of a brand's identity, but it is not the brand.

A Symbol's Worth is Pervasive
A symbol or logo has these three components that help make up its distinctiveness: Style, Values, and Characteristics.

Style projects an extensive range of impressions supported by both positive synonyms and negative antonyms:
Strong-Weak, Simple-Complex, Smooth-Rough, Sophisticated-Barbaric, Refined-Crude, Masculine-Feminine, Streamlined-Stoic, or Powerful, Forceful, and Authoritative/Weak, Timid, and Differential are a few.

To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, "In matters of Style, go with the current trend; in matters of Principle, hold fast." That is not to put style in a pejorative position, but to recognize that style is transient, and very reflective of the current culture.

Professions to a greater extent can survive at the periphery of style, but for the most part, businesses cannot. What businesses produce is an integral part of common culture. Style reflects the social milieu of the time. Several years ago there was an exhibition of 10 Decades of Style at the Dallas Museum of Art. Seeing the parallels between technology, politics, and style drove home the reflective characteristic of Style.

Interestingly, we often-times look at the 1950’s as a repressive, although wholesome, “Leave to Beaver” period, where “Father Knows Best.” Yet, what was evident were the dynamics, confidence, assuredness, optimism and positive boldness of the 1950s, and the period's embracement of modernity; a built-up exuberance of the masses reflected the character of the post-WWII era.

Values, along with Style is a key element of a symbol/logo. However, Values tend to be reflective in impression as we associate more abstract elements like integrity, loyalty, confidence, reliability, credibility, honesty, forthrightness, bravery, etc., with a memory of the brand in relation to a value. These values, through experience, are so to speak, encapsulated in the symbol, and are brought to mind as a positive or negative reinforcement upon seeing the symbol.

Characteristics add personality and identification with people and their associated business entity. Ingenuity, resourcefulness, intelligence, and social status are a few personality-based elements. These attributes govern the personal relationship that an individual has with the organization. In many cases people want to do business with "likable" companies, yet in others, confidence may be exuded by the negativity of a services' personality.

Recognition is an Undeniable Benefit to a Successful Brand
A logo is a symbol that represents an entity; a business, organization, product, or service, even a country. We don’t think of it this way, but even our flag is a symbol that takes the form of a national logo that represents the United States brand. And as such, it represents all of the values and history of the country and engenders rabid brand loyalty. When you think about it, the U.S. brand is probably the most recognized and most successful of all time.

One can look at a logo as a window to your mind. It is a visual memory hook that serves to link all of the experiences that you have had with the owner of the logo — the business, company, service, or product. In that way, it is a representation of a brand, it is not the brand itself. For the most part, a logo starts out as impressions of style and characteristics, and only over time and exposure to the company and/or its products, does it develop value.