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Black Coffee: Are logos dead?


I appreciate your efforts to integrate a brand-mark-based brand-handling language with your metaphor of Brand Signals but I do have to make a strong objection. Brand Marks and Brand Signals are related but different types of thinking about brands.

A brand-mark is, primarily, a direct reference to any term of an identity, particularly an identity that can also be usefully held as a brand. This means that, firstly, in a brand-mark-based brand-handling language all the terms of a brand are handled as marks in a direct and literal sense. Secondly, handling the terms of a brand as marks offers many benefits including (and beyond) a metaphorical relationship to the marked terms.

Just in case I have to explain the importance of understanding a brand as made up of terms, the terms of a brand determine the experience of a brand. Terms determine conditions and conditions establish environments. Such an 'environment' is the 'space' of a brand and this notion is relevant across all types of space. These 'environments' are formed and configured by determining the terms on which they are constructed. This is not only true of the experience of brands but the experience of any distinct environment. A distinct environment is effectively a distinct identity and a distinct identity is effectively a distinct brand.

Only insofar as the terms of a brand are held as marks is there a correlation to your notion of Brand Signals. The notion of a brand-mark in the sense that I have proposed is far more profound than the Brand Signals metaphor and consequently not limited only to a metaphoric relationship to the terms of a brand. A Brand Signal is clearly a metaphor for the signifiers of a brand but the notion does not seem to offer more than an attractive analogy.

The strength of working with marks is that a mark not only offers a means to handle the terms of a brand but exists a part of a language that is also made up of marks. A language-based system that offers both an as literal and direct as possible means to handle terms (ie. non-metaphorical) as well as enables metaphorical understandings of a brand such as the one you have proposed in Brand Signals.

In thinking about brands as made up of marks, a mark such as a word or image is used to mark a term such as a sound or logo and then as a mark it can be usefully handled both as a mark marking the term and a marked thing handled as a mark. These types of marks are generally of two types but a single mark can exist as both (1) a known tag that has reached social consensus such as a dictionary definition of a word or the generally accepted recognition that Nike's tick means athletic apparel or (2) a cue to other possible interpretations of the marked thing handled as a mark such as a work of art with 'open' readings. Within the second type (ie. a mark as a cue) it also makes sense to talk about the metaphors involved in a brand experience but a mark as a cue is not limited to metaphor alone. Apple is a good example of a brand-mark that works as a tag and a cue. For the sakes of brevity I won't elucidate exactly how. I'll leave you to work into this idea based on what I've written above.

So, if you ever want to get serious about the difference between Brand Signals and Brand Marks this post is a taster of what I mean. And, as I wrote earlier 'simple is relative'. I believe consumers and people who buy brand consulting services have tired of the kind of simple you have suggested is still relevant to contemporary brands.

I believe it's time for a real change in how we handle and understand not only commercial brands but the world in general. I believe a brand-mark-based brand-handling language will make such an ambition possible.


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