The Power of a Symbol in Brand Identity Design


Should your brand identity design include a symbol?

Working on a project currently we have a client keen to steer the creative process of their brand identity design in the direction of a logotype, that is a brand mark made-up of the word only without a symbol.

I’ve nothing against logotype branding solutions per se, but my philosophy has always been based on finding the strongest possible solution relevant to the market.

In some markets such as cosmetics and fashion, many of the aspirational brands in the category have word-based brand marks. In these cases, a brand wishing to leverage the visual code of the category would be well advised to follow-suit. However a brand wishing to be seen as a disruptor in that market would do well to take an alternate approach and develop a symbol-based brand identity.

For most markets, the category code is a symbol-based brand mark or either a symbol based or wordmark based brand identity. In these cases, our approach is always to explore the possibilities of a brand symbol as the key element in the identity design.

The benefits of a brand identity symbol.

There are a couple of compelling reasons to consider a brand symbol in your identity design solution. Firstly, with few exceptions, a symbol can more clearly and evocatively communicate brand associations – whether they be functional or emotive – than a piece of logotype design. Secondly a symbol is almost always more memorable than a word mark. These two reasons alone can be the difference between effectively building the value in your brand’s visual asset or not.

The automotive brandmarks at the top of this article prove this point. I am by no means a car buff, but can recite the brand names of every car, along with my sense of the brand associations. At a glance, a car passing on the road can be identified and immediately coloured by both positive and negative brand associations in my mind. Those associations then flow-on to the driver of the car – which in simple but powerful terms captures the way brands work.

A Mazda driver may immediately be associated with attributes of middle class, sensible with a little bit of style. An Audi driver with wealthy, successful, performance oriented and maybe a bit of a tosser (although probably not as much as the BMW driver following him). The Holden driver is a hard working Australian, honest as the day is long and more interested in having a beer with his mates than the car he drives. Each of us will have different layers of brand association derived from the brand’s advertising over time, as well as peer perceptions and personal experience. One of my neighbors growing up drove a white Peugeot for many years. He was a lovely man, always kind and friendly. Without much by-way of alternative brand inputs, I have always viewed Peugeot owners positively as a result.

So what’s the answer for your brand?

As with all aspects of branding, market insights and sound brand strategy hold the answers to which brand identity design solution will serve you best. But if I was to offer two pieces of advice they’d be; 01. Don’t discount a brand symbol from your identity without due consideration, and 02. Come talk to us first to chart the best course for your brand design.

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a brand agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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*Full disclosure; I drive an Audi. I’m not particularly wealthy but almost certainly a tosser.

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