Are brands, logos, and visual identity the same thing?

Brands constitute an element of differentiation and gain more importance in a contemporary society marked by the saturation of markets resulting from growing globalization and technological evolution that makes available to most companies the tools that allow the creation of “brands”. The type of brand best known and used by companies is the product brand, used to differentiate a company’s products from those of its competition, using marketing strategies for its promotion and positioning. What about “company” or institutional brands? Is your creation useful? What is its purpose? What is its use?

In today’s article, we talk a little about the institutional brand and we start by making some clarifications of concepts that are sometimes used interchangeably.

Brand, logo and visual identity are not the same thing!

There is no single definition of a brand, however, the one that is more consensual among specialists is the definition given by the American Marketing Association, which tells us that a brand is a name, term, design, symbol, or other characteristics that identify the goods/ services of a seller, distinguishing them from other sellers. But, as you can see, this definition refers to the product/service brand. Institutional brands, that is, brands that represent organizations/companies are another reality. Several authors have tried to categorize the different types of brands. De Chernatony and Riley (1998) summarized brands in twelve categories based on specialized literature, have grouped them into two large groups: product/service brand and institutional brand.

From the point of view of product/service brands, they focus on the product/service – customer/consumer relationship, based on the differentiating aspects of the products compared to their competitors, either through objective characteristics of the product/service or through more emotional characteristics. The saturation of markets makes it increasingly difficult to differentiate by tangible characteristics of products/services, so brands seek to increasingly emphasize emotional aspects.

Regarding institutional brands, these concern the promotion of organizational identity attributes that identify and differentiate an organization/company. Unlike product brands, institutional brands must faithfully represent the organization and the values ​​by which it is governed, that is, while the attributes of a product can be “invented”, extrapolated or exaggerated, such as emotionally based attributes that are refer to lifestyle, status, etc., the attributes of an institutional brand must correspond to what the organization actually is, practices and defends. In addition, institutional brands also represent the opportunity to transmit values ​​and attributes that are difficult to attribute to products/services, such as social responsibility, solidarity, advocacy, etc.  Additionally, an institutional brand, whose attributes are credible and recognized, will endorse and enhance the differentiation of its organizational offer.

Regarding the concept of visual identity, it refers to the expression of a brand through graphic, visual and symbolic elements, whether it is a product or an institutional brand.

In the case of institutional brands, ideally, the visual identity should represent the main attributes of the organization’s identity through a set of organizational symbols that express meanings in a given context, which can take the form of visual, action, or material symbols such as logo /name, chromatic range, typography, among others (Sequeira, 2013).

Therefore, the visual identity of an organization is defined as the representation by visual and symbolic means of the organizational identity, but to be considered a brand, it must be registered so that the elements that identify it (visual or verbal) have legal protection and exclusive use of these elements. But for the brand to become known and recognized, a brand management strategy must be developed, intentionally designed to communicate it to all its stakeholders. This is an important point of differentiation regarding the product brand, whose communication strategy has as its main target audience, the consumer and/or customer.


Branding and institutional brand communication

As mentioned, the creation of a trademark implies its legal protection, so its registration is an important part of the process. Not proceeding with the legal registration of a brand means being vulnerable, and anyone can copy and use the elements of your brand (such as name/logo, symbols, colors, etc.) and, if you register them, prevents the original user to continue to use them, even if you have created them. In this case, you may not be able to legally prove that you were the first to create/use that name/logo or symbol for your “brand” (we use quotation marks to signal that when we refer to “brand”, we are referring to the way a company is recognized in the market, which may not be the same as its corporate name or the commercial name of its establishment before it is legally registered).

After protecting your brand, you must define the brand management process, which consists of a clear definition of the objectives that led to the creation of the brand, the decision about which attributes will highlight and which will be associated with your brand, how you intend to make it known, what you intend to make of it in the future, etc. Brand management consists of a set of activities that involve brand communication, whose objective is to add value to the brand through the development of its notoriety.

According to Balmer (2001), an organizational/institutional brand must be communicated through all corporate communication channels, since the organizational brand has as its audience all stakeholders with whom the organization/company interacts and relates, and not exclusively with the market, with its customers and consumers, so the traditional mix of marketing communication is insufficient. In this sense, the author defines three communication channels:

  1. Primary: messages related to organizational identity (history, policies, values, people), relating to the behavior of its employees, the organization’s product/service, quality of service, management, etc.;
  2. Secondary: marketing communication mix, advertising, ie, planned and controlled communication;
  3. Tertiary: relates to word-of-mouth between stakeholders and contact networks, communication originating outside the organization, and its effects.

The efforts made by the organization in this process aim at the congruence of the messages on the different platforms and organizational communication channels or even when they originate outside the organization (eg news in the Media) and are crucial for the development of positive brand awareness.

Brand awareness, institutional or product, is the ability of stakeholders to recognize and remember a brand. The notoriety of a brand can have several levels of recognition, and the objective is to reach the top-of-mind level, in which the brand is considered as the only or first to appear in its category of organization, product, or service.

Managing an institutional brand additionally implies the integrated management of all domains of the brand so that the brand is successful in its path of creating notoriety and credibility:

  • Brand elements – brand name/logo, symbol, if any, institutional colors and possibly a signature – these elements must have congruent meanings and be mutually supportive;
  • Scope of the brand – refers to the options that the brand can represent: if the brand has only corporate/institutional functions, it means that its entire organizational offer will have product/service brands different from the institutional brand; there may also be a hybrid option in which an institutional brand is common to a part of its products/services
    • Architecture – refers to the brand’s visual representation structure – graphic elements. It can be divided into 3 types: monolithic (use of a single brand name/logo by an organization), endorsed (typical of companies that have more than one business unit: different business units can have their own visual representation of the brand, but in visual terms, it is always recognized as part of the “institution/mother brand”) and independent/ branded (each business unit has its own brand and is communicated independently to stakeholders, not existing in terms of no link to the parent brand, although it belongs and can be managed by the same entity).
    • Brand identity: consists of the attributes that the brand has intentionally chosen for itself and that it wants to be captured, recognized, and confirmed by its stakeholders, being essential for the organization’s success. According to Kapferer (2008), to build a clear identity it is necessary to have some aspects of the organization well defined: vision and goals of the brand, what makes it different from other brands, what is the permanent need of the brand, what is its nature, values, area of ​​operation and what signs make the brand recognized.


As we have seen throughout this article, we cannot reduce a brand to its visual representation, especially when we talk about the brand in the institutional domain. In the current market, institutional brands are one of the main intangible assets of a company, constituting an excellent way to add value – financial and non-financial – to a company/organization.

On social networks, there is a message that has been circulating recently that says that brands should not only assume a B2B or B2C stance, but rather H2H – Human to Human, since people’s experiences brands are gaining increasing importance among consumers. In this sense, the creation of an institutional brand is a strategy to strengthen the side of human relations in the business market, since it involves all of a company’s stakeholders – administration, employees, customers/consumers, suppliers, media, local society, among others.



Balmer, JM (2001). The Three Virtues and Seven Deadly Sins of Corporate Brand Management. Journal of General Management, 27(1), pp. 1-17.

from Chernatony, L. & Riley, D. (1998). Defining A “Brand”: Beyond The Literature With Experts’ Interpretations. Journal of Marketing Management, 14, pp. 417-443.

Kapferer, JN (2008). The New Strategic Brand Management: Creating and sustaining brand equity long term. London: Kogan Page.

Sequeira, AM (2013). Visual identity: the symbolism in organizational identity. Retrieved from

Silva, M. (2017). The Brand in Higher Education Institutions: The impact of the P. Porto brand on students in the 1st year of ISCAP, in 2016/2017. Master’s Dissertation, Master’s Degree in Administration Assistance, Superior Institute of Accounting and Administration of Porto.


This article was written by:

Muriel Silva, Executive Assistant, Goweb Agency

Arminda Sá Sequeira, Professor of Organizational and Strategic Communication, Porto Accounting and Business School

About the author

Muriel Silva

View all posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.