If you’re asking yourself if your brand identity design should include a symbol, take a look at your market. If the industry you’re in requires you to develop a symbol-based identity, then yes, go for it. But if you’re in an industry such as cosmetics, well, they’re more word-based brand identities. Research first and then decide on a branding approach.
One type of industry that requires for it to have a symbol-based identity is the automotive industry. Look at the picture below. I’m not a big car geek but I recognize every single one of those symbols and can identify them if I see them passing by on the streets. Not only that, but I connect them with whatever positive or negative associations I hold in my mind of the car and of the driver.
For example, the driver of a Jaguar will be immediately associated with having money, being successful, and having an interest in luxury. A Mazda driver may be more associated with being a middle-class person that enjoys quality things and has a sense of style. On the other hand, a Honda driver is a hard-working individual who doesn’t care for luxury items and rather enjoys spending time with his family and friends.
Every symbol (or logo) represents something different. Airbnb’s symbol-based identity (called Bélo) represents belonging, respect, and appreciation. This company did their homework and researched what their target market wants and needs. Take a look at this video to understand the urge for a sense of belonging.
Nike’s swoosh is another symbol-based identity that carries multiple layers of meaning with it and that was done extremely right; so right that they have built a Swoosh community and people can become Swoosh members. The branding of Nike was derived from the Goddess of Victory but meant to depict motion and speed. Athletes look down at their shoes and feel the embodiment of victory, movement, and speed with what they’re wearing.
When creating your brand identity, ask yourself what you want to portray. In many occasions, a symbol can communicate brand associations with more effectiveness. It can also be more memorable than the actual name of the brand.