In our previous blog post, we made the case that company name, logo, tagline and graphic design don’t really matter that much to building a brand. What truly matters is the experience you consistently deliver to your customers. Everything your brand represents stems from that.
Does that mean things like logo don’t matter at all?
No. Actually, logo does matter (as do – to an extent – company name, tagline and graphic design). In this blog post, we’ll talk about why logo matters, and its proper place in the entire brand scheme.
Why logo matters: brand identification
A logo is an identifying mark. It is the symbol by which people know that the products and services they are experiencing are coming from your company, and not somewhere else. A logo usually includes an actual spelling of a company’s name, though, in some cases, a brand can be strong enough that including the name is no longer necessary, such as with Apple’s apple, NBC’s peacock, the Starbucks mermaid, and McDonald’s golden arches.
Such brand strength doesn’t happen immediately, however. It has to be carefully built and maintained over a long period of time to get to the point where the symbol alone identifies the brand and the experience associated with it.But a brand has got to start somewhere. Even if nobody has heard of your company yet, over time, people will accumulate experiences with your products and services. This will inform their long-term perception of your brand. And as that perception gradually solidifies, the consistent presentation of your logo will help remind customers of the experience they can expect to receive from your brand.
Given time then, your logo will start to take on a life of its own, as a strong reminder of the experience you are delivering and that people can continue to expect. Remember, the logo is not the brand. It is at most a visual reminder of what your brand stands for, based on the long-term accumulation of experiences with your brand.
More than a pretty face
Think of the logo as your brand’s “face,” just like you have a face. Your face is very distinct, and it immediately identifies you to others. When people who already know you see your face, they link that face to the experiences they’ve accumulated with you — what it feels like to be your friend, your spouse, your relative, your customer, and even your enemy.
On the other hand, when people who haven’t met you before see your face, they have no history with you, so they can’t yet form solid perceptions of you. Your face is simply one in a million faces. They might think it is a pretty face, but until they start spending time with you, your face won’t have much meaning for them. The meaning they attach to your face will come over time – time spent getting to know you. Slowly, your face will accumulate meanings and associations for the people who come in contact with you. In essence, your face will become a logo for you – your identifying marker that confirms that you are indeed you, and what to expect as a result.
Your face can be an AWESOME logo if it is associated with a positive experience or meaning. Faces like Gandhi’s, Mother Theresa’s and Audrey Hepburn’s (to name just a few) conjure up great feelings among the majority of people.
A face or logo can also convey something tragic or horrifying, as is typically the case with the faces of certain world leaders during World War II, or more recently, Bernie Maddof’s face. In the corporate realm, it could be BP’s logo after the gulf oil spill, or Enron’s logo after its massive fraud was exposed in 2001.
The point we can’t emphasize enough is that the logo itself is just a placeholder. Whether it is the most beautifully designed logo ever, or one of the plainest, or even one of the ugliest, really doesn’t matter. What does matter are the experiences customers have interacting with a company and its products and services.
No beautiful logo has ever survived being associated with a bad customer experience, nor helped a company when it has treated people poorly.
With brand, beauty truly comes from within, not from just a pretty face.
Does logo design matter, then?
Actually, it does – just not to the extent that most people might think.
The design of a logo helps reinforce the brand promise. Its design plays a part in suggesting what people should expect from a company. When the company delivers on that promise, the visual message of the logo is reinforced.
A logo that is a good representative for its company is attractive to look at, and its theme conforms to what people would expect about that company based on the company’s brand promise and delivered experience.
For instance, the Wendy’s fast food chain promises “Old Fashioned Hamburgers.” (In fact, they’ve registered this tag line.) The Wendy’s logo has evolved only slightly over time, and throughout, has retained a nostalgic, old-time feel that fits with their brand promise of wholesome, authentic, old-fashioned burgers.
Beyond that, the design of the logo doesn’t matter all that much. I know that sounds counterintuitive. But consider the top 100 brands from Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands 2013.” While most of the logos are relatively clean and not unattractive, none really stand out as stunning or brand making. These logos are powerful not because of how they are designed, but because of the accumulation of customer experiences associated with these brands over a great deal of time, and only for this reason.
So yes, logo matters but:
But, only to the extent that the company attached to the logo has consistently delivered a fantastic customer experience over a significant period of time. In other words, the experience matters a whole lot more than the logo.It’s amazing then that so many companies (and graphic design firms) put so much emphasis and effort into logo design, and seemingly so little effort into ensuring a consistently awesome customer experience. This is just backwards.
When is it time for a new logo?
Great question! There are exactly two circumstances when a new logo could really benefit your company:
1. When your company is brand new – this, of course, is the right time to have a new logo.
2. When your company is undergoing a radical transformation that will fundamentally change the customer experience (for the better, we hope). Then, changing your logo, along with other visual cues and messaging, will help support the delivery of a new brand promise to customers.
For instance, BP (British Petroleum) might have been well served to change its logo after the gulf oil spill of 2010, particularly as that logo is all about environmental sustainability.
That image didn’t hold much water (pardon the pun) after the spill.
On the other hand, take the case of Budget, the car and truck rental company. The firm recently, quietly updated its logo:
I’m at a loss to figure out why. Their value proposition is fundamentally the same: low cost vehicle rentals. So why change? What was wrong with the old logo? And how much did it cost for Budget to revise its signage, documents and truck paint nationwide?I wonder how many people actually noticed the change (of course, I did, driving down the freeway one day, when I spotted a Budget truck, but then, I’m a passionate brander, so I notice these things). And what message does this send, if any?
One could argue that the new logo is indeed cleaner and more modern than the previous one. And I agree. But does that really matter? Ford, Coke, IBM, McDonald’s and GE haven’t changed their logos in many decades (and in some cases, a century or more!). This hasn’t seemed to diminish their success at all.
Don’t fall into the logo trap. Don’t fall into the tagline, name and graphic design trap either. Yes, they matter, but only as support and reinforcement of your brand promise: an awesome customer experience. Logo, name, tagline and design should be attractive and congruent with your brand promise, but that’s all that’s really necessary. So stop obsessing over such trivial things. You’ll gain exponentially more value from obsessing over the experience of your customers.
Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.