How to talk like a brand pro: words you need to know (part 1)

Whether you are a DIYer designing your own brand or hiring a professional, it is extremely important that you are using the right words. Too often, I have noticed that lots of people do not seem to know the proper definitions of certain words. If you are talking to a designer or a public relations professional, using the right words according to their correct definitions helps better communicate with them and avoid any misunderstanding that you might regret down the road.


In short, a brand consists of any visual symbol (also called marks), name, words, and phrases you use in order to distinguish your business, service, or product from others for the purpose of ready recognizability. Sometimes, a brand extends to sounds (such as jingles), smells, or even a small customer service gesture. A company may have one or more brands. Some businesses use different brands for different lines of products, different geographic areas, or for different target audiences. A brand may or may not be the same as the legal name of a company.

It is important to note that a brand is an all-encompassing term that seeks to evoke and create a certain set of customer experiences, well beyond merely a set of symbols and words.

Read more on the Brand Fairy: What is a brand?

Trademark and servicemark

It has been said that the first trademark law was enacted by King Henry III in the year 1266. Businesses have long affixed their marks on their products to distinguish their wares from those from their competitors. Protections of trademarks ensured that no other businesses manufacture and sell imitation products, which often are inferior in quality and therefore tarnish the reputations of the original trademark holder.

In practice, trademarks and brands are almost interchangeable terms. The word “trademark” (or “servicemark,” if the brand refers to an intangible service) is often used in a legal context.

To protect your trademark, you must document the usage of your trademark. A stronger level of protection in the U.S. is afforded by registering it with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), an agency within the United States Department of Commerce. Some state governments (such as Oregon) has their own trademark registry. In the United States, it is not a legal requirement to register a trademark.

Before creating your own brand, it is very important that you look up the USPTO Trademark Electronic Search System (TESS) to ensure that your proposed brand is not yet taken by other companies. (In countries other than the United States, inquire with the respective national trademark bureau. Large public libraries may be also able to assist in locating trademark information.) Using existing trademarks belonging to another business, or something too similar to them (i.e., “may mislead or confuse consumers”), can result in a lawsuit.

Logo (logotype)

This is perhaps one of the most misused words on the list here. A logo (short for logotype) is a design that is used primarily for the purpose of branding, consisting of one or more stylized letter(s). A logo is to be distinguished from a wordmark (see below), an icon, or an emblem.

According to the Merriam-Webster, the first recorded usage of the word logotype was 1816, referring to a specially-made single metal plate that contained a stylized name of a newspaper (masthead). The “logo” in the modern sense of the word emerged in 1972.

Corporate logos came in vogue during the corporate identity boom of the 1970s through the 1990s.


Above: Some examples of logos. (1) Oregon Public Broadcasting [Letters O, P, and B are stylized in three squares of three colors symbolizing Oregon’s nature]. (2) Safeway logotype consisting of a white letter S in a red oval. (3) Portland Streetcar logo consisting of a stylized green letter S (for streetcar) behind two white parallel lines. (4) Portland State University logo, in which you can readily find the letters P, S, and U. This style of design draws from classic monograms. (5) Clark County Public Transit Benefit Area Authority (C-TRAN). The letter C (for Clark) in a circle, accented by two arrows pointing left and right.


Unlike a logo, a wordmark is a stylized design of an entire brand name or a company name.



Above: Some examples of wordmarks. (1) Fred Meyer. (2) Government of Canada.


An emblem, unlike a wordmark or a logo, is predominantly made up of pictures, symbols, or geometric shapes. They may be encircled by words, but the visual focus is not on letters.



Above: Some examples of emblems. (1) Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The emblem prominently features a Hong Kong bauhinia flower and five stars, the latter being symbols of five major ethnic groups of China. (2) Government of the Macau Special Administrative Region. The emblem depicts a lotus over the Governor Noble de Carvallo Bridge and water. (3) Starbucks. The iconic siren emblem has undergone several redesigns. (4) Key Bank. A quite self-explanatory picture of a key in a distinct design. (5) The old Portland State University emblem consists of a geometric pattern, a ribbon with the university’s Latin slogan (Let knowledge serve the city), encircled by the words “Portland State University” and founding year 1946.


A lockup is a predefined arrangement of multiple brand elements, such as a combination of an emblem and a wordmark. They are called “lockups” because their relative positions to each other are “locked up” in a specific configuration. A lockup may also include a slogan (tagline), or an extra geometric shape (such as a circle, an oval, or a rectangle). The purpose of having a lockup is to ensure that brand elements are always presented in a consistent manner.



Above: Some examples of lockups. (1) Portland Streetcar [logo + wordmark]. (2) Rivermark Community Credit Union [logo + wordmark]. (3) King County [Martin Luther King, Jr. emblem + wordmark]. (4) Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) [wordmark + emblem + slogan].


An icon is a small graphics file created for Web sites, social media, and mobile apps. While an icon may be the same as a logo (e.g., Facebook) or an emblem (e.g., Twitter), an icon must be designed to fit certain technical requirements. For example, a favicon (short for “favorite icon”) is used to be displayed on top of Web browsers to identify a Web page and it must be in the size of 16 pixels times 16 pixels. Larger icons (such as 64 pixels times 64 pixels) are used for mobile apps. Social media profiles may require different sizes.

Often a design of an icon is very similar to a design of a logotype. Because icons often appear in a very small size (especially on a mobile screen), it must be simple and clearly distinguishable.

You may also want to design specific icons (aside from your brand elements) for your own Web sites or mobile apps, such as a “send us a message” icon and a “buy now” icon, in order to conform with the overall design scheme of your Web site.


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