By Amy Phillips
An effective brand makes a connection and an emotional bond with its customers. A logo is a symbol of what the brand stands for. Some misdirected startups make the mistake of wanting so badly to have some kind of identity; they jump-start the development of a logo before they have a sense of who they are. Some well-established firms in the name of cost efficiency elect to work with an independent designer and this very talented “artist” may or may not be well versed in the effective processes for building brand identity. Sometimes, well-established organizations, needing to update their identity look for a logo that has the look and feel of “modern,” but decision by committee picks the “vanilla” option, which has no apparent meaning behind it.
Logos can seem like ornamentation that marketing people simply hang on an organization. This notion is wrong for two reasons. First, a logo needs to express the organization’s values and elicit a feeling of what the organization stands for. Secondly, the logo by itself is a form of communication so it needs to immediately communicate the essence of the brand in some symbolic way to the world. Getting agreement from the key stakeholders on an expression of that essence in words, first, provides the fundamental foundation for expressing that essence graphically. A look at competitor logos is also an important step at an early stage.
Typestyles alone communicate a tremendous amount of information. Serif fonts such as Times or Bodoni basically seem more formal, conservative and classic. Sans serif fonts such as Helvetica or Futura generally evoke a more modern, informal and approachable feeling. Careful consideration should be taken before jumping on the alphabet soup acronym bandwagon. Does the acronym mean anything? Is it memorable? Or is it only memorable to those inside the organization who use the acronym as shorthand day in and day out. Will there be enough marketing dollars to gain awareness and comprehension of the acronym with the target audience? IBM and KFC had millions backing them, over years.
Icons and shapes take on even more meaning, offering the opportunity for unique metaphoric symbolism. The stronger the metaphor, the stronger the story and the more memorable the logo. Although symbolism is good, there also needs to be an eye on simplicity. The simpler the logo, the more memorable. A good case study is the Starbuck’s logo, which from 1971 to 2011 has evolved in four stages, each becoming more streamlined and simplified with less copy.
Beyond form, many elements need to be considered today in terms of a logo’s function. Color, for instance, looks incredibly different onscreen vs. printed on paper. So things like color standards, sizing variables and area of isolation are extremely important to protect the integrity of the logo. A trained graphic designer determines these things and a brand’s graphic standards need to address as many relevant applications as possible. Developing these documents is an important undertaking.
Obviously, changing a logo, even if the new logo is seen as an improvement, will not make or break an organization. But changing a logo too often could signal a poorly managed brand and a brand experiencing an identity crisis. Additionally, changing the logo for a big organization can be a very expensive exercise. Brand equity is built over time and consistency is a big part of that.
In the end, choosing a final logo (hopefully from a bevy of excellent contenders) comes down to some subjective feelings. Above all, a logo should have some meaning. Meaning, even if a bit controversial, is better than vanilla. The recent development of a logo for Visit Tampa Bay serves as an example of a meaningful, yet somewhat controversial logo resembling skull and crossbones. As we know from advertising’s AIDA formula (Attention, Interest, Desire and Action), controversy will get attention and create interest. However, if the meaning fails to build desire for the brand, people will not take action and then the logo has failed. Time will tell.