I have read dozens of books on brand identity, and one of my favorites is The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design is a good one. It's not because of the depth of the subject, but how the author selects the most important elements of what constitute a brand. The book is lucid and a quick read.

Icons and Avatars

A brand icon is a name and visual symbol that communicate a market position. An avatar is an icon that can move, morph, or otherwise operate freely as the brand's alter ego. For Icon, think shell; for avatar, think Cingular. Icons can sometimes be upgraded to avatars, as AT&T has done by animating its striped globe icon in its TV spots.

Dino Icon/avatar by Dino D'Romero

Logos are dead! Long live icons and avatars! Why? Because logos as we know them-logotypes, monograms, abstract symbols, and other two-dimensional trademarks-are products of the printing press and mass communication. They evolved as a way to identify brands rather than to differentiate them. Today marketers realize that branding is not about stamping a trademark on anything that moves. It’s about managing relationships between the company and its constituents, conducting a conversation among many people over many channels. We still have the printing press at our beck and call, but we also have the Internet, TV, telemarketing, live events, and other media to work with. Icons and avatars respond to this new reality by jumping off the printed page and interacting with people wherever they are.

pg 87, The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design, by Marty Neumeier

When conceived well, an icon is a repository of meaning. It contains the DNA of the brand, the basic material for creating a total personality distinct from the competition. The meanings that are packed into the icon can be unpacked at will and woven into all the brand communications, from advertising to signage, from Web pages to trade show booths, from packaging to the products themselves. An avatar goes even further by becoming the symbolic actor in a continuing brand story. As trademarks go from two dimensions to three and four dimensions,the old-style logo may begin to seem more like a tintype than a motion picture.

pg 88-89, The Brand Gap: How to Bridge the Distance Between Business Strategy and Design, by Marty Neumeier