Logo Variations – What You Need to Know for Brand Identity Success

Oct 4, 2023 | design

Learn about the different logo variations available for your brand’s identity and how to best use them in your visual marketing.

If you’re on the hunt for a logo designer, it might be confusing to read about all that is often included in a logo design package. After all, you just need a logo and a color palette, right?! Why then, are words like submark and alternate logo and wordmark, being thrown around like confetti?

You see, it’s commonplace to think that as a business, you only need one logo version (called a primary logo) to represent your brand. After all, as a consumer, you probably don’t realize the different versions that your favorite brands use. You see the logo on the storefront or on their website and think that is it.

But, if you dig in a little more or put your own logo to use, you’ll soon realize that one logo just doesn’t cut it. Yes, it looks great on the website but when you try to put it as a profile photo on the ‘Gram, it’s too small and illegible.

My friends, let me introduce you to the world of logo variations.

What is a logo variation?

It’s a modified version of your primary logo that gives your visual brand identity the ability to be utilized in a variety of different applications and use cases.

Why are logo variations important?

When you’re just getting started, it’s likely that your logo will only be used on your website and maybe a business card or social media profile.

But as your business starts to grow and evolve, the needs for your visual brand will start to expand. Maybe you start to give presentations and want an accompanying handout. Or, perhaps you’re launching a course that’ll have workbooks. Or, maybe you’re going to start attending trade shows and want to hand out swag. Whatever the case may be, it’s not likely that your primary logo will be able to do the job well in all of those use cases.

And by well, I mean checking off the boxes of effective brand awareness and legibility.

Which is where logo variations come into the mix.

By having a variety of variations or iterations of your main primary logo, you’re allowing your brand to put its best visual foot forward and be more versatile, all while maintaining cohesiveness, legibility and consistency.
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The primary logo is your main logo – the main identifier of your brand. They likely have the most detail and contain the most amount of information, so you want to use them in places that give them room to breath.

How to use it: When in doubt, use the primary logo. Because it’s the main visual identifier of your brand, it will always be the first choice.

Examples of where to use it: Well, ideally as many places as you can, without sacrificing legibility. Think website and large print.

Quick tip: Make sure you also receive a black and white version of this logo to use in different applications, i.e. when you’re overlaying the logo onto an image or graphic. 

The secondary or alternate logo variation

The secondary or alternate logo is arranged in a different composition than the primary version. For example, if the primary is in a stacked layout, the secondary or alternate will be in a horizontal layout. The goal here is allow for flexibility by emphasizing a different orientation.

How to use it: When you need a simplified version of your logo but still want to include the core elements of the logo.

Examples of where to use it: In use cases where you need a different orientation to maintain legibility; if it’s horizontal: presentations, business cards; if it’s stacked: social graphics, rack cards.

The wordmark logo variation

If your primary logo has a logomark (a graphic element) the wordmark variation is just the text – no graphic or illustration element.

How to use it: When you aren’t able to have a lot of detail or need the brand name to be legible at a smaller scale.

Examples of where to use it: Watermark on images, branded swag, sponsorship mentions.

The submark and brandmark logo variation

This is a compact version of the logo. If it’s a submark, it has your business name and/or tagline and is circular in composition. If it’s a brandmark or logomark, there aren’t any words – just a graphic element or monogram (your business initials).

How to use it: When you need a brand identifier at a small scale.

Examples of where to use it: A social media profile picture, printed as a sticker or a watermark over images.

The icon logo variation

This is the most simplified variation the logo and is often just a graphic element, with no text.

How to use it: When you need a brand identifier but the scale is small, so words or text are not legible.

Examples of where to use it: A watermark over images, a website favicon or a social media profile picture.

How many logo variations do you need?

At the very least, I’d recommend having a primary logo, alternate logo and brandmark or submark. This will cover most of the uses that you’d need for your business.

That being said, every business is different and it really depends on how versatile your brand needs to be.

For a more personalized answer, start simple and ask yourself: Where is your brand showing up on a consistent basis? Think both digital and in-person.

From there, you can identify the use cases that the logo needs to fills and what variations are needed to maintain legibility.

Because it can be helpful to have a starting point here are common logo applications:

  • Website
  • Social media profile
  • Social media graphics
  • Blog post graphics
  • Podcast artwork
  • Sponsorship
  • Presentations
  • Business cards
  • Brochures or rack cards
  • Video
  • Letterhead
  • Thank you cards
  • Branded swag
  • Proposals
  • Postcards

Once you have a list of where your logo will be used, you can do an audit on whether or not your primary logo will serve your communication needs well in all your brand touch points. If not, determine the type of variation that makes the most sense to have.

If you’re working with a brand partner on your visual identity, they should be asking where your logo is going to be used so that you receive all the variations you need right from the start.

With that, happy branding!

All my best,

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