This article is entirely for people who are actually interested in branding. Feel free to bounce now; I won’t be offended.
I have designed hundreds of brand marks throughout my career (which you might call a logo. You would also be correct, but it’s a word I’m trying to separate ourselves from). While they vary a LOT, they all tend to fall into seven main categories:
However, before I dig into each of these, I’ll first provide you with a quick breakdown of a brand mark.
I’ll use Microsoft as our example so that my staff can make fun of me later.
“Basic” brand marks like Microsoft’s that have the standard “thingy on the left of the word” consist of two core components. The logomark is the symbol, or “bug”, that most people associate with these brands, while the wordmark is the textual component that can often be less easy to identify off the top of your head. I may refer to these components later, so now you know what I’m talking about.
The first thing I’ll note is that sometimes, you can have brand marks that bridge between more than one type. And that’s totally cool!
These are brands that use logomarks that may not initially make sense. They are more evocative of a feeling than descriptive about what they do. On the left, we’re using British Petrol, which is a “Combo” brand mark utilizing a “Monogram” wordmark and “Abstract” logomark. Already you’re starting to see how brand marks can bridge multiple types.
On the right is one of our clients, Speed Mechanics. They offer elite athletes specialized training to help them improve their top running speed. Our brand mark is an abstract logomark intended to convey the concepts of speed and running. It also doubles as a “monogram” logomark, since it’s a stylized S.
The best time to utilize a logotype is when you want your brand mark to play a part in a larger strategy, or really evoke a strong feeling, clear communication be damned. For example, we really want Speed mechanics to catch on among athletes and be a brand that they’d be proud to represent on their gear.
Other famous abstracts: Nike, Pepsi, Starbucks.
Combo, or combination, brand marks are the most prevalent in most industries. These are brand marks that have a logomark or stylized container paired with a wordmark.
Amazon pairs their lower case wordmark with their world-famous A-to-Z smile logomark. On our client example to the right, we have paired Adventure Awaits’ wordmark with a snow globe style container and “waypoint” logomark.
The best time to utilize a combo style is if you have a strong logomark concept, but it doesn’t have the recognition for an abstract (like Nike has) or obvious picture-to-word association for a pictorial (like Apple or Shell).
Other famous combos: Burger King, Rolex, Dove.
Emblem brand marks are those classically styled containers that have the ability to retain a lot of complexity, variety, and details and yet get away with it. They have a “days of yore” feel to them, which allows them to have a level of credibility and nostalgia that the brand itself may not have earned.
Porsche, on the left, combines two wordmarks, a stag logomark, two quadrants of stripes and two quadrants of antlers somehow without feeling ridiculous.
The emblem we built for Searles Auto Repair on the right uses the shape, placement of information, and fonts to convey a sense of history and legitimacy to the brand and its history that would have been more difficult to achieve with another brand mark style.
The best time to utilize an emblem is when you are trying to fit into a specific category that your brand might not entirely belong. For example, most sports leagues will utilize an emblem style to gain that level of credibility (“Hey, we belong too!”).
Other famous emblems: Harley Davidson, Warner Bros., NFL.
Logotypes are the type of brand mark that put 100% of the visual focus on the wordmark itself, often with some type of modification. Netflix modified their text by adding in a subtle curve to the bottom of its letters.
We have a logotype at Loomo that has a modified central O character to communicate the concept of outer space without losing drawing attention away from the unique name.
The best time to utilize a logotype is when your brand has a really unique, short, or memorable name that you really want people to remember, or when your typography is so one of a kind that you don’t want it competing with other visual elements (Cadbury, Kellogg’s, and Coca-Cola come to mind in this scenario).
Other famous logotypes: Google, FedEx, Disney.
Mascots offer the opportunity to inject genuine personality into your brand mark. The Fightin’ Irish leprechaun really conveys the sporting level of competitiveness you want to see in a sports team. The Pillsbury doughboy does an amazing job of feeling ultra-approachable. And Colonel Sanders friendly smile and humble apron actually make me want to buy a bucket right now.
Pringles’ mustachioed mascot Julius Pringles has an old-timey-ness about him that says “I bet they perfected that delicious recipe in the roaring twenties” (even though they were only invented in the sixties).
For Above and Beyond Roof Demossing Service, we created “Top ‘o the morning Terry” to convey top-notch service with a smile, and paired him with an emblem style brand mark to complete the nostalgic aesthetic.
The best time to utilize a mascot is when your brand needs to convey a lot of personality and character traits that simply cannot be done with other styles, and when you have the budget to back it up and extend it across different types of media to really bring your brand to life.
Other famous mascots: Mailchimp, Wendy’s, Quaker.
A monogram doesn’t have to be a single letter (despite its name). Typically, we will classify any brand mark that is composed simply of stylized letters as a monogram.
IBM realized that International Business Machines was a bit of a mouthful, but with the genius of Paul Rand, they made their initialism a household name.
When we were working on Duncan Wardle’s company IDEATE, we had to convey his 25+ year history as the head of innovation at Disney without being too blatant, so we created a memorable monogram to do just that.
The best time to utilize a monogram is if your brand has a complicated name, or just displaying initials or an acronym would allow for better recognition and recall of your brand name.
Other famous monograms: New York Yankees, Hewlett Packard, HBO.
Pictorial brand marks are the opposite of Abstract brand marks. Where Abstracts aim to evoke an emotion or feeling, pictorial brand marks are much more on the nose. Puma’s brand mark sometimes uses a combo brand mark, but has become so well known, you often just see their pictorial logomark as seen on the left.
When we did the pictorial brand mark for Jeep Kitchen, we knew it was a winner, because it successfully communicated both aspects of the brand name.
The best time to utilize a pictorial brand mark is when you have a brand name that can be easily communicated through a simple graphic. (Like Dominoes!)
Other famous pictorials: Apple, Target, Shell.
So, that’s the lot with the exception of one bonus: Dynamic brand marks. These can bridge nearly every one of the previously mentioned styles, so I’ll just note what makes them separate: change. They typically have an element that remains the same, and then other visual elements change, either completely each time you see them, or fluidly, animating right in front of you.
There are some pretty cool dynamic logos out there, like Nickelodeon’s ever-changing orange containers, Nordkyn’s dynamic icon orientation, which displays the Nordkyn peninsula’s current wind direction and temperature, and Google’s renowned “Doodles” which change on a near-weekly basis.
Not sure what kind of brand mark would meet your company’s unique needs best? I’d be happy to nerd out with you about it. Just connect here.