How Symbols Shape Brand Perception

Hey there, Creators! Let's talk about brand identity and how it’s tied to your logo. Your logo is a key player in how your brand is perceived and we have some fresh insights on the subject. As one of the most important elements of your brand, we're here to help you choose the perfect logo that can truly transform the way you view the entire concept.

Logo examples of large brands

"A great logo is a story. It has a narrative. It has depth." - David Airey


The term "logo" originates from the Greek language, meaning "word, speech, statement, discourse," and notably, "understanding." A logo is a communicator, a concept simplifier, and a symbol. It's a universal language we use to understand and share our perception of the world. All forms of communication, from spoken and written language to emojis and hand gestures, consist of symbols. These symbols help us interpret the world around us. We attach ideas, meanings, and emotions to them. Your logo's significance lies in the universal importance of symbols across all societies and cultures.

The world is a collective creation of human beings. We interpret and comprehend it through symbols, imbuing them with significance through our culture, experiences, and emotions. Almost anything can serve as a symbol to represent an idea! For instance, consider a cake. What does it represent and what emotions does it evoke? You might have a negative association with cakes due to unpleasant childhood memories. However, for most of us, it is a symbol of celebration. Similarly, in the Western world, spiders are often considered frightening symbols, whereas in the East, they represent healing, patience, wisdom, and even good fortune. The spider itself transcends these concepts, but we are predisposed to assign meaning to the world around us, whether on a personal or collective level.

The theory of symbolic interactionism centers around the difference in the conceptualization of symbols. It is a psychological and sociological theory that focuses on the role of symbols and human interactions in shaping behaviour and perception. This theory explains our natural tendency to derive meaning from everything, not just by attaching ideas to symbols, but also through interactions. These interactions can modify and create meaning. The meaning can either be derived from personal encounters or cultural reinforcement. For example, if you grew up reading books that portrayed spiders as wise and patient creatures, you are more likely to associate these ideas with the symbol of a spider. However, if you have had negative experiences with spiders, such as getting bitten or being scared, your association with the symbol of spider may change to that of danger. On the other hand, if you take a moment to admire the intricate work of a spider's web, it reinforces the initial positive association. Therefore, with each interaction, ideas and beliefs associated with symbols can change and evolve.

"I believe in a visual language that should be as strong as the written word." - David LaChapelle

A logo is often the first encounter with a brand, making a significant first impression. It should accurately represent the brand's mission, values, and product type since we are conditioned to attach meanings to symbols. The process of choosing a logo begins with determining what your brand wants to communicate.

Understanding your target audience is the second step in creating a logo. You need to recognize the symbols that will resonate with them and evoke strong emotions. The cultural background, age, and lifestyle of your target audience greatly influence their perception of the symbol you select.

The impact of the logo on your brand cannot be overemphasized. If the meaning is unclear or too niche, customers may feel confused and disengaged. Furthermore, any negative associations they might have with the logo can discourage potential purchases.

Your logo is what your brand stands for; the hard-to-explain concept of your brand identity simplifies for others. It is its representation at the essence.

This is where it gets interesting. Symbols are intricate. They carry multifaceted feelings and nuances that embody an entire concept. For instance, the English word 'messy' is an amalgamation of meanings such as entangled, complex, opaque, untidy, chaotic, and confusing. It's gentler than 'dirty', but perhaps more discouraging. It's challenging to articulate our understanding of a symbol, whether it's a word or a more literal symbol like a cross or a web. Our experiences and encounters with these symbols inform our understanding. We often feel their impact rather than explicitly explain it. Our perception of this word surpasses its literal definition; we sense its connotations through our experiences and how it's been used by others and ourselves. Therefore, when you choose a symbol for your brand, you accept all the layers of meaning it holds. This is where the magic happens. A symbol has the power to change perception through close association if chosen wisely.

“The strongest logos tell simple stories.” — Sol Sender

All the concepts associated with a symbol transfer to what they represent; this is how symbols have the power to shape our perception. They act as a lens through which we look at what they have been associated with, distorting or adjusting focus on certain elements instead of others. A good example to demonstrate this comes from World War II, where the symbol of the Sakura flower influenced the decision of kamikaze pilots.

There is a whole book about it, but we will keep it short. The Sakura, or cherry blossom, holds a central role as a symbol in Japan, signifying not just beauty but also the life cycle, which includes both mortality and rebirth. This symbol harmonizes contrasting elements, where renewal softens the concept of death. The Sakura was chosen to represent these soldiers for all that it embodied but also because it is a strong nationalist symbol. After all, the kamikaze were asked to die for their nation. The association of renewal and beauty added to the existing concepts of what they were about to do morphed the way they were looking at it and helped convince them to take the final step.

The concept of symbol-based transformation is applicable in branding and logo creation. Like the Sakura, a logo symbol carries multiple interrelated messages. These layers can influence a brand's perception. Just as the Sakura's associations with renewal and beauty influenced the kamikaze pilots' mission view, a logo's elements can reshape public brand perception and add depth to the brand's mission and values. These layers can suggest new ideas and associations. Symbol influences are potent, albeit often subconscious, as they shape our perception and relationship with our surroundings, including the brands we come across.


Need help creating your brand identity? Contact us to get the conversation started!



  1. Ohnuki-Tierney, « Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms: The Militarization of Aesthetics in Japanese History » The University of Chicago Press, 2002. xvii + 411 pages.
  2. Airey, « Logo Design Love » Peachpit Press, 2014, 214 pages

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