Do You Really Need a Logo?: Brand Building Tips for Startup Small Businesses 

I often see people posting on social media or announcing in networking groups that they’ve started a business and are looking for someone to create a logo for them. 

What I don’t think they realize is they need a brand identity, not a logo. So what’s the difference? 

A brand image is made up of so much more than a logo. In fact, the logo is the last thing I create when designing a brand identity. 

Some brands don’t even need a logo. 

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Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to know whether or not a dedicated symbol or customized logotype may or may not fit into your brand identity and strategy.

Do You Really Need a Logo? Questions to Ask Yourself

Are You Building a Personal Brand?

If you’re building a personal brand, professional, unique, and memorable photos of your face are more important than a symbol representing you. YOU are your logo.

Think of some of the most prominent personal brands in our society today: Oprah, Richard Branson, Gary V, Joanna Gaines, Tony Robbins, Martha Stewart. Do you think of a logo when you hear their names? No! You think of their faces. 

Most of them just have their name simply displayed in a nice font on their websites with prominent photos of themselves displayed on the home page and throughout the site. 

Is it nice to have a cool logo for your personal brand? Sure. But it’s not necessary and the investment in professional photos would be a wiser use of your money when you’re just starting out. 

Branding photos are an incredibly versatile branding and marketing asset. Download a free list of 100 ways to use them to market your business here.

Who might consider building a personal brand? Real Estate Agents, business, life and health coaches, authors, solo professionals who don’t plan to form a group practice, consultants, influencers and even CEOs. 

Do You Sell a Product?

If you sell a product, whether online or in person, it’s a good idea to have a logo. This symbol becomes the “face” of your brand. In the above example I mentioned Joanna Gaines. She doesn’t have a logo for her personal brand, but she does use a logo for her product line and physical marketplace, Magnolia. However, I noticed the symbol is not very prominently used in their brand visuals, just the logo type (a logo that is made up entirely of words with no symbol). 

For a product based brand like Coca Cola, McDonalds, Tesla, Lego, and Levi’s, their logos are everything. We know exactly what that brand is all about and what they sell just by looking at their symbols. 

On a smaller, local scale, your logo and signage can become recognizable over time. Think about Pacific Northwest Icons we know and love. Dick’s Hamburgers, VooDoo Donuts, The Great PNW Apparel, Zips and Elephant Car Wash. 

Not to mention, there are many that started out locally and became international icons. Starbucks, Nike, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Rainier Beer, Pita Pit and REI. What others do you know and love? 

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Do You Have a Physical Storefront or Offer Services as a Group?

A personal brand doesn’t always make sense if you’re offering a service that isn’t necessarily performed by or tied exclusively to you. Dentists, lawyers, marketing agencies, insurance companies, and construction companies, for example, may offer their service as a group or want to have a name disassociated from the owner. 

In this case, having a memorable and eye-catching logo is a great idea, especially if you have a physical storefront with signage visible to the street. 

A professional group may also choose to name their business after the founder, but they don’t necessarily want to use a person as the “face” of their brand. It all depends on their brand strategy. 

For example, the owner of Johnson Construction may not want to plaster his face all over their trucks and billboards because the customer is likely more interested in quality construction and service rather than the personal expertise of Mr. Johnson. In that case, you’ll want a symbol that communicates trust, skill and quality. 

Do You Plan to Sell Your Business Someday?

Continuing with the example above, if Mr. Johnson plans to sell his business someday, he may want to reconsider naming it after himself. For a local business especially, a new buyer would likely have to totally rebrand, which could be an expense and hassle they won’t want to deal with. Unless the brand is so recognizable as the name of the owner, having a name and symbol that could easily change hands without the public even knowing is a smart move.

There are some exceptions to this rule, mostly in the fashion, automotive and retail industries. Ford, Nordstroms, Chanel, Calvin Klein, Black & Decker, Ghirardelli, Mary Kay and countless others have built long lasting, international brands based on the founders’ names. Most of them sell a product, or service on a massive scale. 

On a local level, if I call Cindy’s Cleaning, I expect to talk to and hire Cindy. If I call Merry Maids, I expect I’ll get whatever employee they send over. See the difference? What is your long-term vision for your brand?

The Other Components of Your Brand Identity

Whether you need a logo or not, your brand identity is made up of so much more, starting with your mission and vision. Have you defined it? Do you really know what you offer and who you offer it to? What will appeal to them on a visual level? What kind of messaging will speak to them?

This information is all foundational to choosing how you’ll represent your brand to the world. Many skip this step and end up with a logo and “brand” that doesn’t work very well for them and either attracts an audience that isn’t quite right or has to start over again later, which is expensive and time consuming.

Components of your brand identity may include defining fonts, colors, photo and graphics styles, a specific tone of voice and style of writing for your marketing materials and online presence, interior decorating, exterior storefront, product packaging, physical location, uniforms and so much more!

Hiring a branding strategist, designer or branding agency who can help you do it right will save you so much time and money in the end. They can even help you decide whether or not you need a symbol based logo, logotype or photography based visual identity.

Are there any businesses out there you can think of with great branding and logos? Let me know in the comments!

Tanya Goodall Smith

Tanya Goodall Smith is a branding expert, founder of WorkStory Creative, and a certified personal branding strategist for Brand Builder’s Group. She’s worked with hundreds of international brands and micro-businesses to develop and improve their brand assets. She served on the board of the National Association of Women Business Owners and was a finalist in the Maria Sharapova Women’s Entrepreneur program. She has a degree in Visual Communications from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and her expertise has been featured in dozens of leading industry publications and podcasts around the globe. Learn more at ​​workstorycreative.com.

read all of tanya’s articles here.

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