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Why Your Logo Is Not Your Brand

It was like some kind of sick mantra:

I can’t build my business until I have some kind of online presence, but I can’t put up a website until I have a logo to put at the top!!

Ahh, my early obsession with logos.  A ridiculous linchpin that stopped me from moving forward for I’m-afraid-to-say-how-many months.  After all, I was going to build a brand, and real brands need logos, right?   And besides, how could I watermark any of my photos, print any business cards, or sign any correspondence without a logo?  I need something to unify my brand!!  But when I started my business, I had a zero operating budget and zero design skills, so I was stuck wasting time in a logo-less pit of despair.

Let me tell you something:  You DON’T need a logo to start creating a good website. 

So if you’re using that as an excuse not to get online, stop it right now.  (**Gasp!!**)  I know.

To better make this point, I’m bringing in some serious backup.

Michelle Cormack (the brains, beauty, and brilliance behind A Girl Named Fred Design + Communication) is in the house today, and she’s got two things to say on the subject of logos.  Listen up:


Let’s get one thing straight: a logo is not a brand.

No amount of clever design is going to support your business if your images aren’t up to snuff.

There isn’t a pretty package in the world that will soothe your clients’ frustration if your customer service is consistently not up to par.

And let’s face it: a snazzy business card is not going to get you new clients if your current clients aren’t willing to rave about the experience of working with you.

See what I’m saying? Your brand has a heck of a lot more to do with your customers’ experiences with you than it does with how you present your business visually.

In short, your brand is all about the relationship you have with your client.

It has very little to do with what you want that relationship to be; and everything to do with what it is.

I know, kinda scary, right?

But when you think about it, what an opportunity! Because there’s only one you.

You are unique.

Which means you bring something unique to the way you make images; to the way you interact with your clients; to the way you offer products and services.

And that essential “you-ness” is what you need to focus on when you think about your brand.

So, before you even think about starting down the road toward building a visual identity (or logo) for your business, you need to figure out your brand.

Here are five key questions to ask yourself:

1.  Describe your business in a nutshell. If you could use only one sentence, what would it be?

2.  Describe your ideal client. Why is that your ideal?

3.  What draws your ideal client to your photography business? If you’re not attracting your ideal client, why is that?

4.  What do you differently from your competition? What is your key advantage?

5.  Describe the experience your client has when working with you (what is going well?; what is causing problems?; what are your strengths?; what are your weaknesses?).

I promise you, the energy you invest in figuring out your brand will pay off in spades down the road.



“a logo doesn’t mean anything until the brand makes it worth something.”

—seth godin

This is kind of going to sound like crazy talk coming from a designer, but you don’t need a logo to start a photography business.

You DO need to understand your brand (see #1).

You DO need some vehicle for marketing your business (a website or a Facebook page).

But you don’t need a logo.

Here’s my advice:

In the first year, maybe two, of your photography business, don’t spend too much of your energy or resources on developing a visual identity. Remember, your visual identity needs to represent your what your business actually is. And chances are that is going to change over the first few years of your business.

Instead, spend your energy and resources building a business.

And while you’re doing that, use good design principles to present a professional appearance to your ideal client that aligns with your brand.

Here are five key design guidelines to keep in mind as you set up your website and communication materials:

1. Use professionally-designed type; it’s just better quality. The Adobe suite comes with typefaces that express a wide range of brand personalities.

2. Avoid trends—they come and go. Stick with simple, classic typefaces and shapes. They’ll never let you down.

3. The same rules that you use to compose your images work well when you design your materials: choose a focal point; think about the rule of thirds.

4. White space is your friend. Give your work room to breathe.

5. Don’t reinvent the wheel. InDesign comes with a set of templates for business cards, letterhead and brochures that look professional and are easy to customize.

Trust me when I say that it’s OK if your materials aren’t all “pretty” to start.

Because design is not decoration.

The goal of design is to inform and attract your client. You don’t need a logo to do that.


The woman knows what she is talking about.  (Where was she when I was wasting hours trying to design a logo for a business I didn’t even have yet?)

Look, we get it – having a logo makes you feel more ‘official.’  And creating a logo is an inevitable and eventual step in developing a visual identity.  No question.  But don’t put the logo cart before the business horse – find out what you want to say with your business first.  And while you’re at it, lavish attention upon your clients, shoot every week (whether you have clients or not), and get your work online already.

Don’t let “a logo” get in the way of moving forward.


Want to know more about A Girl Named Fred Design + Communication?  Right this way:

Now don’t let this come as too much of a shock… but my name isn’t Fred. It’s Michelle.

And I’m pleased to introduce myself properly!

Here’s what I think about design. It’s not decoration. It’s communication. Effective design needs to be a lot more than just a pretty picture.

Good graphic design boosts brand equity by reflecting the experience a customer can expect to have with the brand it represents. That’s why I approach my work from your customer’s point of view… what will attract them? What design solutions will help you tell your story most effectively?

Because, here’s the thing… I get a lot of satisfaction from helping organizations of all shapes and sizes tell their stories effectively. It’s what I love to do. Over my career, I’ve worked with organizations big (National Hydrogen Association) and small (Garnish); public (Ballard Power Systems) and private (Solar Photographers). I have experience in brand development and promotion, editorial design, writing, visual iden- tity design, marcomm and more.

I believe my ability to communicate effectively in both pictures and words is a distinct advantage for both me and my clients.

If you’re interested, you can read the real life story of A Girl Named Fred right here.

And you can view my portfolio here. It’s filled with great stories!



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  1. Bessieakuba on August 7, 2012 at 6:42 pm

    Boy, oh boy, oh boy…this is so on point. I wasted SO much time going through SO many logos when I could have been using that time to create more. Very informative and helpful post.

    • Jenika on August 7, 2012 at 7:26 pm

      Haha, I just looked myself and saw all the iterations of early logos, and it made me smile…I agree, I could have spent more time figuring out what I was trying to say before trying to visually represent it!!

  2. Gale Wall on August 7, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    I so needed to hear this last week. Sigh!

    • Jenika on August 7, 2012 at 7:27 pm

      Aww. *hugs*

  3. Amanda on August 7, 2012 at 6:56 pm

    Wow…Sandy Puc’s workshop on creative live this past weekend said something completely different than this posting. I do not agree with this at all! A brand is an entire package, including customer service, packaging, business cards, and yes a logo and even more. If I change my look every month people wont know who I am, how to recognize me, or how to recognize me from competitors! No, don’t run out and the first thing you do is get a logo. Take your time with it, and figure out what works best for you, your clients and your complete BRAND!!

    • Jenika on August 7, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      Haha, I knew someone would bring something like this up. In my three years of studying brands and branding, I’ve run into more definitions of the word ‘brand’ than I can count. I don’t think we actually disagree, the word “brand” has just become a very broad label that refers to many things. What Michelle and I are saying is that your brand is separable from the things you use to visually represent your brand (one is the message, the other is what you use to communicate that message). And you have to figure out what you’re representing first before you can create a logo (or packaging, or business cards). Far too many people focus too much, too early, on the visual things and not what lies underneath the visual things – the actual brand message. The process of branding overall, yes, includes developing visual representations and customer service experiences, etc, but they all need to align with the message you’re conveying – the thing that (hopefully) makes you different from everyone else.

      • Amanda on August 7, 2012 at 8:08 pm

        I do agree with that. I think to many people go out buy the camera and jump both feet in way to fast. More people need to stop, take a breath, and spend a lot of time trying to define their business and what they are trying to achieve with it. I learned that lesson the hard way! 🙂 I personally think that everything should tie together. With all the “competition” out there, especially in my area, I want people to see or hear about me and say that’s Amanda with no question. Thanks so much for replying!

  4. Allison on August 8, 2012 at 1:06 am

    I feel soooo much better having read this. Every time I see someone talking about their new logo (great for them), offering to design logo sets for photographers, talking about putting together your brand and logo as one… I have this rock in my stomach. This just helps me feel so much better, that I’m not behind schedule, that I didn’t screw the pooch by not putting this together when I started my business, and I have time to figure it out as I figure out what I’m doing here. Thank you for a great post!

  5. Iryna on August 8, 2012 at 1:39 am

    I’ve listened to Michelle’s interview on this subject, and while what she says makes perfect sense, I still can’t figure out how should I design my business cards at least. I am just starting out, I am planning some marketing events to put my name out, and I need to have some physical way of giving away my contact information. I have zero designing skills and while I understand and agree that I need time for the visual presentation of my identity to evolve, I have to figure out what to do meanwhile. Any ideas?
    Thank you for this great series!

    • Jenika on August 8, 2012 at 2:43 am

      As I think Michelle mentions in this post, you can find pre-designed business cards that will do nicely. Lots of business cards just have names and info – no icons or logos needed. You should be able to dig through Adobe’s files (or look online for free templates) and come up with something that you can print off nicely. Personally I created a temporary logo and just changed over to my current one when I raised my pricing, though if I could go back I would have just picked a nice typeface and done info only to start.

      • Iryna on August 8, 2012 at 6:33 am

        Thank you, Jenika. And what is your take on putting images on the business cards?

  6. Kismet Jewell Nakai on August 8, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Are you living in my head? :”/

  7. Addie on August 8, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    This is so hard to hear when you are first starting out, but it is something everyone needs to hear!

  8. Kay Brown on May 27, 2016 at 5:09 am

    I really wish I knew about the business of photography, branding, etc. I majored in photography in college a few years ago (in my middle aged years), and there were never a class on the business of photography. Now, I’m on student loan debt over a photography major that I’m doing nothing with except photographing just for the sake of photographing. I’ve never been paid for any work I’ve ever done except for a nifty little photo I did as a student and was paid to have it featured in the college newspaper. I really need a mentor.

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