Let’s take some pressure off logos–they really don’t need to work so hard. Here’s what drives your brand instead.
Somehow companies have gotten into the mind-set that a logo–this thing that does nothing more than identify us–is incredibly important.
We build our brands around them and when we get bored or when shit hits the fan, we redesign them. We manipulate them until they look better, sharper, cooler–anything to try to tell people, “Hey, this is who we are,” or, “Look! We’ve changed. Please forget about that sex scandal thing.”
But logos on their own actually say nothing. While they can make people aware of your brand and help with discovery and recognition, they can’t tell your customers who you really are, or what you actually care about unless you build meaning into them.
Your logo is not your brand. Your brand is the experience your customers have and then tell their friends about. All the design craft in the world can’t make a logo that can convince someone your product or service is great if it isn’t. That’s a job for advertising.
Don’t get me wrong: We still need logos, but it’s nonsense to make a logo the foundation of your brand.
So let’s take some pressure off them, they really don’t need to work so hard. They can put their feet up for a while while we dig into what makes for a great brand.
So if my logo isn’t my brand, what is?
A CLOSER LOOK AT EXPERIENTIAL IDENTITY
Take a look at most of the brand guidelines floating around, and they probably look something like this:
- Our Amazing Logo™
- Logo Dos and Don’ts
- Our Font
- Our Pretty Colors
- Our Visual Language
- Flashy examples of our brand on a poster, a tote bag, business cards, and other things that will never get produced.
This is all important of course, but it’s surface level. It’s your visual identity system, what your customer will see.
But what about the non-visual identity, your experiential identity? You know, what your customers will feel and experience? Why are you in business, what do you believe in, what are the values that drive you, what’s the experience you want your customers to have? Those are much rarer inclusions in brand guidelines and yet so much more important.
Great brands are built from the inside out; they are built around a strong belief system and are driven by values. What your customers experience every time they interact with your company is the brand, not the visual identity. No one cares that your airline logo has been crafted out of unicorn tears and your visual language is AI-generated if their flight keeps getting cancelled or they get involuntarily de-boarded because you overbooked the flight.
So instead of fretting over typefaces and clever negative space logo executions, ask yourself this one question: “Why do I get out of bed every morning and go to work?”
That’s what your brand should be built around. That is what you want your customers to remember and tell their friends about; not your logo.
Take a quick look at Nike. Phil Knight had a vision that if everyone went for a run once a day, the world would be a better place. He believed in that vision so much that he only hired people who shared it. Why? Because if you have a purpose that people can believe in, then you have a product that the people building the brand will advocate for, and you can bet they’ll do a good job of it. The swoosh is just a swoosh; any emotional connection you have to it has nothing to do with the logo itself and everything to do with Knight’s original vision.
If your brand doesn’t have a purpose, then stop everything and find it. Once you do, you’ll see that everything’s a hell of a lot easier.
AVOIDING PARTIAL BUY-IN
The bottom line is, customer experience is more than the product or service and more than the brand. It is every single interaction and touchpoint people have with you, from the person in the call center to the app error message they receive.
I had a conversation with a marketer recently who told me this: “I don’t believe in brand by committee. Brand is a function of marketing. Marketing should come up with the brand platform and values. We’ll give them to the team and they’ll work with that.”
Developing your brand in isolation and then launching it to your unsuspecting staff is a recipe for disaster–as if they’ll just accept this new world order and immediately fall into line. The more likely result is partial buy-in, which ultimately results in a sporadic customer experience that does not reflect the behaviors or the vision that your brand is advocating.
So bring them along for the ride, listen to and then work with them to develop a brand that is reflective of who you are and who you want to be. Staff engagement is built into the process, not an afterthought.
When your staff are on board, the task of delivering a customer experience that reflects your brand purpose is a much easier one.
DECENTRALIZING YOUR BRAND
We’re almost there now. The logo is off its pedestal, you’ve got purpose, your staff is on board and pulling in the same direction. The last, most critical–and probably most contentious–step to making a great brand is decentralizing it.
Here’s the current state of play: Marketing has traditionally been the custodian of branding. Generically speaking, they tend to shoulder all the responsibility, while other teams passively contribute.
HR, customer service, product, technology, finance–all of these departments have a huge impact on the brand, but it so often appears that marketing people are the only ones who really care. Why is that?
Put it this way: If only one department owns and controls a company’s brand, then other departments simply don’t think about it because they have no attachment to it.
Now think about the impact they could have if they were aligned with the same purpose and journey as everyone else. Think about how they could behave in a way that backs up the brand purpose.
How do you go about the challenge of decentralizing your brand so that it is shared and nurtured across your entire business? A good place to start is with a shared perspective. As a whole, you need to agree that branding belongs to all of you; this is not about taking the brand away from any one department. It’s about each and every one of you sharing the load. This shared perspective will enable each department to take ownership of the brand in its own way. When branding becomes everyone’s responsibility, then everyone becomes customer-centric and your experiential identity will take care of itself.
THE LAST THING YOU DO
This is a strange article for me to write. I’ve been a graphic designer for almost half my life now and have lovingly crafted all sorts of logos over the years (plenty of shit ones, too). The hidden arrow in the FedEx logo still makes me smile. Was it all a complete waste of time? No, I appreciate a well-crafted logo as much as the next person–I just don’t believe it’s that important anymore. I have come to believe in the power of a brand that is built on really solid experiential foundations, not just graphic design.
The logo is the last thing I do when designing a brand. I’ve repositioned it from the cornerstone of a company’s brand to just one image within a flexible visual system that works in conjunction with a non-visual system of beliefs, values, and purpose. Brands are multifaceted and shouldn’t be reliant on one element to be effective. Your visual identity is what you use to communicate the purpose, values, and ideas you have in your experiential identity.
Remove your logo from your product, your website, your app, and your ads, and your customers should still know it’s you. Give your logo a break and focus on delivering a great customer experience–that’s what will turn your customers into advocates.
This article first appeared in www.fastcompany.com
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