Coca-Cola logotype

Explain that you should be employed to find a brand idea that will form the basis of all the company’s branding (and perhaps even future business decisions) of which a logo should only be one expression, an idea that is likely to form the basis of a the brand’s overall approach. Such an idea may already be a defining characteristic of the business waiting to be celebrated in the branding.

Point out other brands your client admires that can be identified by branding elements that are not the logo. Some well-branded businesses can be identified by their colour, typeface, photographic, illustration, or even copywriting style alone, or (more commonly) a carefully selected combination of these elements. Try to point out the underlying idea that determines all these other brand elements.

Your client’s success is your success. Sell a process to your client; a process you’ll guide them through and that will enable you to decide on a brand identity solution together. This will help you to establish a long-term relationship with your client. If you deliver good ideas they will be more likely to consult you again to develop the brand ideas even further.

Avoid references to the word “logo,” rather talk about the marks of a brand of which there should be a primary “brand mark” (two words). Replace “logo” with “brandmark” (one word). This will help you and your client to think about the overall experience of the brand and not just the logo in isolation. Logos are only meaningful in context and they should be seen to add value to that context. It is unlikely that a logo alone will be able to add sufficient value to a business. Logos are best employed in a system of brand marks that determine a unique brand experience.

Avoid logo beauty parades. Don’t only show different logos; logos are usually abstract expressions of an idea. Show how the logo idea relates to other brand expressions of the same idea. Show how an idea works in other situations, not just on stationery. The better the idea, the more unique, adaptable, and valuable it will be, and the higher the fees you can justifiably charge. Dedicated logo designers are a dime a dozen whereas brand identity designers offer far more value and often dramatically improve business for their clients.

Coca-Cola photo by Antonino Tumminia.

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May 7, 2010


The problem I see for solo designers such as me and you David, is that businesses start to think that if they need a huge branding exercise then they need a huge brand design company to provide that. In my opinion an ongoing relationship with a designer can mean that a business will get as much of a ‘brand’ if not more from them than they will from a large branding company, for a lower cost. So if a client is more comfortable with the word ‘logo’ then I’m happy to go with that.

A lot of the small businesses I work with don’t seem to really understand the need to develop themselves as a ‘brand’ – particularly where much of their business is attracted by word of mouth advertising rather than a branding-lead marketing campaign. Small businesses tend to like a simple, small business approach – they seem to associate terms like ‘brand/business identity’ or ‘marketing’ with high cost and presume that a small design firm or single designer can’t deliver these. I work on a project by project basis – certain clients are happy to talk in terms of branding and marketing, others would be put off by it. I think it’s always vital to communicate our ideas (as designers) to our clients in a way which they understand and makes them feel comfortable.

Many firms confuse a brand with a logo because its tangible and can be seen and touched. However, a logo is like a suit on a man or a dress on a lady its only part of the whole of them. A brand, to me, is the whole character and personality of that business/product or service and so contains elements that can’t readily be touched or seen such as culture, how you interact with customers, the business’ voice etc. This makes it harder to engage with but no less important.


One thing I have noticed, particularly when dealing with small businesses, is that any talk of ‘brand’ can scare them away. I’m sure you know the type: “Can you design me a logo and some business cards?” These clients aren’t after a branding exercise, they simply want something that can identify their business visually.

Wherever possible, I try to educate our clients, but sometimes it is simpler to just go with ‘logo’ as Julie says.

That said, there are some good points there for those of us running solo or small design teams.

Great excerpt that brings up a lot of good points about why a company would need a brand instead of just another logo. Think about some of the biggest companies in the world. The McDonalds arches were not created as a logo for the company, they were adopted because of the unique construction of the very first McDonalds. The company wanted people to relate their new locations to the original because of its success so they made sure every new location had those same golden arches. This is why the arches are not McDonalds logo, they are a representation of the McDonalds brand.

Clients will come to us with a certain perceived value of what they need. Good luck changing that.

There are certain enlightened clients who confide in designers but usually these clients refer to big shot names in the industry.
When you’re just one of many designers you get those other clients, the cheapskates, who say “it doesn’t have to be complicated…”.

Being unknown in the industry I have a hard time explaining what I do to my potential clients.

Hi Julie, it’s certainly possible that small business owners can be put-off if they perceive the process as a “huge branding exercise,” and ultimately it comes down to our explanation of what we do before any agreement is reached. That’s where an informative website can prove to be a great time-saver.

Like you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with using the word “logo,” providing the element is ultimately “employed in a system of brand marks,” as Andrew puts it.

Regardless of how our clients take these ideas, I believe it can improve the work that we, as designers, create, if we’re always thinking about the system described in the post.

Thanks for the comments, everyone. My lift is outside, but I’ll be sure to reply again when I’m done at the gym. Until later.

Similar to Jack I to work with small businesses and run into the same type of problem, a lack of understanding what a brand is. I think terms like brand, identity, logo, marketing, advertising are thrown around so much and used interchangeably that the clients (at least the ones I work with) have no chance of knowing the difference.

I also find it’s not just a problem with the clients not understanding what a brand is, but other organizations that are set up to help small business like: local business councils, economic development groups and others. I’m not saying they should know, but they try to help and many times end up confusing small business owners.

That’s why I believe that it’s our job (the design community) to get a firm hold on what a brand is and be able to go to any business, company or organization and help them understand that there is a difference between a brand (which is something the client develops), an identity (which we the designers can help develop) and the logo (the identifying feature of the brand & identity).

Thanks David for the post. It’s a great topic of discussion.

I have to agree with the comments above about scaring small business with the word “branding”. While I try to deliver a logo as a part of a package that can be built into a brand, few of my clients see the importance of branding.

It is really DIFFICULT in Ghana, where I work, to convince clients, because they’re always thinking about cost!

Hello Jack, you said:

“I think it’s always vital to communicate our ideas (as designers) to our clients in a way which they understand and makes them feel comfortable.”

I completely agree. The advice that Andrew has given isn’t difficult to follow — especially when backed-up by a couple of well-presented diagrams that he might allow me to share as an update (these visuals were included in the Layers Magazine article, and help to clarify the terms used).

Chris, it all depends on what kind of client you want to attract. If you’re content to keep creating just a logo and business cards, then perhaps talking to your clients about brand strategy isn’t the right move. But if you want to take a lead role in larger projects, then this is the kind of advice you should follow.

Andrea, it’s not a case of having to be “known” in the profession before you can explain what you do to clients. I can’t tell you the name of a single plumber, but if I hired one, I’d like him/her to explain what they’re doing.

If you’re finding you need to keep saying the same things over and over, but your clients don’t seem to be listening, (and if you haven’t already done it) put your explanations on a web page you can direct potential clients towards. I find this saves an incredible amount of time, and also helps filter-out those clients I’d prefer not to work with.

Jake, great comment. It is up to designers to fully grasp these meanings before attempting to explain them. Of course, some designers will be happy working with clients who just want a logo in isolation, and that’s absolutely fine, but if you want to push your business forward and attract what I consider to be more rewarding jobs, then a wider project scope needs to be focused on, and your portfolio should reflect this outlook.

Jake, I completely concur with your distinctions between brand, identity, and logo. We have to be careful how we use the word “branding”. Often designers use this synonymously with “brand identity.” However, designers probably can’t have too much say in “branding.” A brand is more of a reputation, formed over years through countless interactions.

I agree with David that putting something on your website explaining more about what branding, logos, and identity are all about is a huge time saver. That being said, don’t forget that you are branding yourself by doing such. The more you spell out what you do, the more you are educating potential clients. Most of us would probably like to get to a point in our businesses where people come to us because they are already familiar with what we do and have a pretty good grasp of what they are looking for. I want to be careful not to “talk down” to the big fish in the sea who would be unimpressed by elementary explanations. I would rather write more intelligently for those potential clients who would be less frustrating and more gratifying to work with–mostly because they understand what you can provide. Since I wrote my website a couple years ago, I’m already thinking I need to adjust the language a bit in order to attract these more desirable and knowledgeable clients.

One more note regarding branding and brand identity. In the past I have struggled with what to call “brand identity development” in a shorter form. I have come to settle on the term “creative branding.” I like this term because it does not imply visual identity only. It can also incorporate the creative aspects such as slogan development, punchlines, creative concepts, general brand identity, and even audio branding (which I believe is highly underused.) I enjoy developing all pieces of the creative puzzle that represent a company and don’t want to limit perceptions to just one realm.

In the end, we have to be careful about how much time we spend educating. There are going to always be people who just don’t get it no matter how well we explain. (I am still always amazed at the people who are searching for a house, but have no vision to get past a paint color or dining room set.) In the same way, don’t kill yourself trying to sell creative ideas to people who just won’t get it.

It’s funny, the client hires you to make them a logo, but end up doing themselves because they’re never satisfied. You’re just the middle man between them and Adobe products.

Quite often, when I’m doing a logo design, I do them a logo design, but present it as a brand with accompanying pictures, headlines etc. I find this approach can really sell the logo, as I have frequently found a logo sitting on a white page in isolation doesn’t quite have the same wow factor, that they where looking for.

I completely relate to everyone’s comments.

I agree, it’s vital that the designer takes the time to explain to their clients why they should be considering their brand identity as a whole and not just their logo in isolation. And as David suggests, adding information to your website explaining why this is important can save you time and help the client to understand the decisions you make when designing their brandmark.

This discussion has raised a few interesting ideas for educating potential clients (and some existing ones).

David, I agree that following the advice in the post and a number of the comments will be incredibly helpful as our business grows. Using our website as a platform to explain branding better is almost a no-brainer; thankfully we’ve just overhauled it, so I have a place for the sort of information.

Jamin, calling the process “creative branding” is a smart idea – mind if we use that? It will raise enough questions from clients that will allow us to educate them.

Great post and comments everyone – thanks.

Excellently said. Brandmark and Branding is a mindset. A logo is simply a graphic created that most people will not identify with your company or product.

I’ll keep that in mind when speaking with clients. Great reminder.

Here here – good post.

The good thing about the marketing-driven-consumer-world we live in now is that most people appreciate the logo has a role to play in their company which makes life as a designer easier.

The bad side is that the average person puts too much emphasis on the logo and thinks with a great logo they don’t need to worry about anything else.

I have seen so many people spend serious money on a logo only to go stick it on a website made by a ‘family friend’ for a tenner and a 6 pack of beer.

If the service provider is a SOHO, then forget brand. Most folks i know of come to SOHO operators on cost and cost alone. So you can say “brand”, they hear logo. Unfortunately i have seen the opposite. Corporates having design firms such as BBDO, and getting crap with huge bills too.
So David, it boils down to how knowledgeable and discerning your client is :)

Article aside, that has to be the most arresting image I’ve seen in a long time. In a world of eye-candy, very little pops out anymore, but that Coke logo elicits a very strong visceral reaction in me for some reason. Great choice. I can’t explain it, but I like it. It’s almost psychedelic.

In reflecting on the strength of that image, I realize that it alters my perception of Another topic, for sure. It says to me that your work too aims to elicit strong visceral reactions. Well done!

This is an educating article for many folks. Especially designers trying to move from just logo design to the bigger picture (creative branding, as mentioned above). In the current market, where we work, its pretty difficult to explain the importance of Brand building. We spend so much energy and time on helping clients learn only to come back with a “I think I rather get it made from my 5 year old kid”. Inspite of those hurdles, I feel designers should not lose hope, and continue to be persistent. btw. I completely am against “Crowd Sourcing” like projects. Cheers!!

Great article and great posts! To all of you who are writing of small companies associating the words branding with high prices and often being scared away: I agree. However, I have also learned that small businesses are like lemmings: everyone of them is afraid to step too far from the “safety” mold that has been established by their peers and other small businesses, many of whom have failed. If you can figure out a way to turn talks of branding away from how much it will cost the client to how much business it will generate, then you have accomplished your goal. I often find that small companies are pissing away marketing dollars on ancient methods that don’t work anymore. If you can figure out where their expenses are being eaten up, you can often make suggestions on re-investing them in the right places and find a suitable budget for yourself to start the process of branding.

The other side of this equation is positioning yourself to get the type of business you want: Most of us don’t want the “logo and a business card” clients but take them only to pay the bills…which becomes a vicious cycle that we’re stuck in before we know it. It’s good to scare this type of client away, leaving the door open for the work you’re really seeking.

I have not read all of the comments above but they all seem to be heading toward the same conclusion, educating the customer. We are different creatures and we think in terms of imagery, we all have imagination, we can see the finished article and see how professional we can make our clients look. It is frustrating that clients do not realise their true potential visually, I think what we all need to understand is the client hears words like branding and logo and they think we are being fluffy and blue sky, as creatives we need to talk in their language, everything we do needs to be geared towards tangible results, “Mr Customer, the new branding will give your customers more faith in your longevity, service delivery and will show them that you are a professional outfit that care about your image, this will also help your sales staff to generate more business”, ask the customer what their objectives are, ask them what their sales targets are and give them solid ideas that will grow their business and not just make them look pretty….it is about educating the customer but that comes with time and achieving small tangible wins for them through design, we need to put ourselves in the customers world first, understand how they think and then creatively position our expertise into their organisations…..slowly slowly catchy monkey!

Excellent post! I’m trying to educate my clients about this as well. I must say, I agree with some of the comments here where clients end up worrying about cost and losing site of the big idea. Here in South Africa, it’s all about the price! Well, most of the time!

I’m definitely visiting your blog regularly. It’s very informative and it helps knowing that there are so much other creatives in the same boat as me.

Hi everyone. Great posts! Truly enlightening. For me, I don’t have any control on which aspect clients look at…whether cost (usually the case) or quality. So what I did was set a minimum amount for my undertakings where I feel comfortable (and profitable, of course). I figure, those who are willing to pay our fees actually knows the value of the work we do and are really worth all the hardwork.

Thanks for for sharing, everyone.


Great advice! This is fantastic for me taking the plunge leaving the safety of employed design behind and entering the viral world of freelance! Thanks guys! Cheers David

Guys good point said here, people ARE scared when you say “brand” to small business. I leanred few tips from this blog. I am young phoogrpaher/artist, filmed my short movie over the week end without any budget, check it out:


Wonderful post! My reading it has come at a really good time too, as I have a meeting with a client and was wondering how I was going to convince him that just a simple piece of clipart wasn’t going to do! Thanks for posting, Mr. Airey.

Hope, I am not the last person commenting on this blog. But never too late to read this wonderful article :) Convincing clients has always been an on-going and tedious process for me. And sometimes it happens that in stead of convincing them to buy a packaged service, you get convinced to sell a unpacked service, at the end. Even I had to tell them what they really need is much more than what they really want !!!

I’ve discovered over the years that small business clients require some education before starting a designer/client relationship. It’s our responsibility as design professionals (if that’s who we claim to be) to educate our clients on the distinctions between brand identity and the company logo. It’s true that when doing a quick survey the company I discover they do in fact need a brand strategy in place followed by brand identity but have no idea what that is, or more importantly, what it could mean to their business. If we choose to work with small business then it’s our responsibilty to educate our clients about our chosen profession or return to Art Center, RISDI, Cranbrook, CSUN, (insert school here) to educate ourselves and re-enter the workplace.

I agree with scott. Most of the clients just give you instructions and you have to follow them and this results into a poor design. Designers need to educate the client and communicate well.

Communication = Important.

Not to mention, This was a great post as always!

It is a matter of cost. Of course small businesses would like a whole branding exercise but not all start up businesses have the budget. A logo might be all a small business can afford at the time. The client should be educated about the difference between a logo and a brand, but ultimately give them what they are asking for – a logo. It is like anything, yes they might benefit from a better computer, printer, paper finishes etc but they might not be able to afford it. When you go to the dentist and the dentist says you need a filling and there is the cheap, silvery filling or the expensive one – you might have to choose the cheap one because you can’t afford the more expense one, as much as you might like it.

@ Trisha, while this is a common vantage point, I have found it’s largely a misconception. True, small businesses don’t generally have enough money to invest in a “LARGE-SCALE” branding campaign, however they do have money to invest in a branding campaign that can build over time and grow as they grow. What I’ve found is that most of the money small businesses do have for their “marketing” expenses is being wasted on other D.O.A. marketing efforts. I think a BIG reason why this is happening is because they normally don’t involve a designer in the planning stages and instead only at the point that a) they need something designed, or b) they realize they can’t go any further without some design work to help them along. In a lot of instances they’ll keep their baggage though, which often comes in the form of bad ideas and expenses passed down from the advice of other failing small business owners. If you can determine how much baggage they have and educate them on what they can shed, you may find yourself with a significantly larger budget.

I realize this is an older post, but I can’t help but feel like there are a few things left unmentioned here:

1. Perhaps, if you’re having a tough time getting your client to listen, is it possible that you’re not listening well enough? it seems as though sometimes an open ear can be the fastest way to open a closed one.

2. I offer this possibility…your client’s “brand” exists whether he/she knows it or not…perhaps it could be considered a disservice not to, at the very least, try to help him/her develop and present it properly?

and – great post Chris.

In Ghana it’s very difficult to convince a clients to understand even the cost of a logo design. When it comes to brand identity, small businesses think its not necessary and even some giant companies in the country still don’t see the value of these elements. I believe as designers we must be able to know exactly who we are dealing with and then speak a language they will understand.

David, thanks for sharing this post. It helped massively in preparing for a presentation to a potential client this week. Landed the client for a full rebrand! The biggest client I’ve worked with to date, so I’m very grateful. :)

Hi David, thanks for the tips. I agree with you but also with some designers that posted about the difficulty to explain to a smaller client he needs a brand. We know he needs one but he prefers to believe a logo is enough because to deal with a brand is too complicated. For small business a brand means to spend organizing how to take the advantages. So they argue they don’t have time because for that it’s necessary to have marketing people dealing with it. How do we modify this behaviour? We can’t change the way small clients do their business so we design a single logo and they will be happy. That’s the reality but I have to say I always try to sell the brand and even when developing a logo I give them some part of a brand.

The hardest part of this is convincing your client that there is a difference between the two. A logo does not fullfill the brand and the brand would not be fullfilled without the logo.

These two must be developed together with the intent to round out the whole experience. If it is a service, then the brand needs to speak it. If it is a product vice versa.

We love the topic and speak on it often. Thank you for sharing!

This is awesome advice. So, how do we present artwork in various platforms such as signage, stationary, etc. in such a time efficient and professional way?

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