From cave walls to hieroglyphics to the printed word as we know it today, symbols are a powerful way to communicate concepts at a glance.
This is true not only in popular culture but also when it comes to business, marketing, and branding.
Symbols offer a powerful and effective way for companies to communicate their brand identity. As we emphasized in our guide on how to start a business,
A strong brand identity is the most effective way your new business can gain a competitive edge in an increasingly crowded marketplace.
Symbols are a visual shorthand that businesses can use to imbue their brand identity with a deeper meaning.
While great business names can create a deep meaning too, symbols can be more powerful. You know the saying … a picture is worth 1,000 words.
The effective use of a symbol in your brand identity, including your business logo, can have a subtle or powerful effect (or both!).
Not sure which symbol to use for your business? Here are the more common ones (and their meanings).
Besides love and romance, roses also can represent appreciation, friendship, passion, and much more. The color of the rose is just as important as the flower itself. Roses have experienced a resurgence in popularity; the symbol has emerged at the forefront of many modern designs.
Fire conjures up thoughts of anger, passion, and destruction. It can also signify rebirth (as in the myth of the Phoenix). Fire can also convey a blaze – of energy, speed, and bright, burning passion. Look no further than the iconic Firefox, the Mozilla logo that communicates a brand dedicated to speed and durability.
The “King of the Jungle” carries with it authority, strength, royalty, and steadfastness. The power and force that a lion communicates makes it a go-to choice for any business looking to demonstrate a respectable, strong standing in their marketplace.
The wolf is often used to show independence, freedom, the wild, strength, and guardianship. Logos that use a wolf in their design demonstrate a ferocity, agility, and clever edge that work especially well for sports-related logos.
The triangle is connected to ideas like stability, power, harmony, women’s health, and illumination. A dynamic shape, the triangle conveys focus, balance, and innovation. When shown oriented base-down, stability and strength become clear. However, when shown at an angle, relays an energized, spontaneous feeling instead.
Circles can evoke the concepts of wholeness, completion, infinity, cycles, and also represent the self. The cyclical, inclusive feeling a circle lends a business is an effective symbol for many businesses – Google Chrome notably uses it to great effect.
Dragons are especially revered in Asian culture and are often used to represent strength, wisdom, good luck, and potency. Dragons are commonly used in businesses looking to convey a nearly mystical power, unearthly wisdom and a fierceness that is intuitively understood by every viewer.
Trees are a common symbol for life and the outdoors. They can also signify fertility, good health, and calm. It’s a popular design symbol for a reason and can be found in many businesses seeking to emphasize their nature-oriented products and services.
Arrows can mean direction, speed, progress. They can also point out that something is important. They reinforce the idea of movement and are great for conveying expedient service – like FedEx’s iconic negative space logo (notice the white arrow between the E and x).
The sun is a potent symbol of life, power, glory, and energy. The heat and intensity the image of a sun communicate to a viewer creates a lasting impression of warmth, endurance, and limitless power. Businesses with a focus on stamina, eternity, and prosperity are quick to incorporate the sun in their logo designs.
The moon represents the rhythm of time, peacefulness, femininity eternity, and enlightenment. The moon can be used by a company seeking to demonstrate an ongoing relationship with their customers.
Flags can have many different meanings depending on the context and what color they are. White flags can mean surrender or peace, red can mean warning, attention, or caution, and blue often symbolizes freedom. Using a flag in a design can, therefore, represent a number of meanings – be careful that your color choice doesn’t send a potentially conflicting message about your brand.
Owls are synonymous with wisdom, insight, the night, grace, mystery, and learning. Education and literacy institutions are quick to adopt the owl into their organizations.
Water can represent life, cleaning, creation, and purity. The cleanliness and health water conveys is powerful, and can be used in a variety of forms: water droplets, waves, and rain showers are commonly used in businesses seeking to demonstrate environmental, calming, or cleansing brand values.
Clouds are commonly used by climate/weather businesses, but recently, have also become a major symbol of online storage. Any business that uses cloud imagery should consider their specific marketplace. Using a less literal representation is effective with technologically oriented businesses.
Hearts are a straightforward way to demonstrate love, romance, and enthusiasm – the retail industry, in particular, uses hearts to great effect (especially on Valentines Day). Other businesses focused on health, vitality, and emotional welfare also use the symbol to great effect.
Tips on using symbols in your brand identity
There are some important considerations if you want to incorporate symbols into your brand identity. Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Tell a story. Do your research to ensure whatever symbols you choose are clear and concise, and add to your brand’s story.
2. Think internationally. Symbols can mean different things in different cultures and countries. For example, the bald eagle may be a symbol of the United States of America to most, but to Native Americans, it is a symbol of nature and a messenger from the Creator.
3. Avoid conflict. Symbols can be combined in very powerful ways, but be careful. You want your brand to have a unified message, and whatever symbols you choose should help and not hinder this.
4. Be intentional. Choose a symbol that forms a strong connection to your brand’s values, mission, and personality. If you aren’t careful, you risk sending confusing, mixed, or even negative messages to your customers.
If you’re looking for ways to connect your brand message on a deeper level with your consumers, symbols may be just what you’ve been looking for.
Amanda Bowman is a Branding and Support Specialist at crowdspring, one of the world’s leading marketplaces for crowdsourced logo design, web design, graphic design, product design, and company naming services. Amanda guides crowdspring customers through the easy process of obtaining affordable, high-quality custom designs and names for their business. She regularly writes about branding, entrepreneurship, small business, and design on crowdspring’s award-winning small business blog.