When I begin logo development projects with new clients I like to discover their experience and expectation for logos. What I’ve discovered over and over again from business owners and CEOs is the perception that logos tell a brand’s story. This is one of the biggest myths associated with logos, and possibly one of the hardest to dispel.
The relationship most consumers have with a logo is almost clinical. Logos identify the brands that they are familiar with often at a very subconscious level, and frequently those logos represent the only choice in that category of product. For instance, you’ve made a grocery list which includes orange juice, toilet paper and chips. When you’re at the store, you look for Minute Maid, Charmin and Ruffles, and the logos of these brands help you quickly identify where these items are on the shelf speeding up your visit to the grocery store. While it’s easy to assume that the logos are telling the story of the brand, the truth is that they are just a category label that is easily remembered and easy to spot on the busy grocery store shelves working hand-in-hand with packaging design.
The story of the brand isn’t what creates customer loyalty. It’s the consistency of experience that an individual customer has with your brand. Just as we have expectations for every relationship we’re in, our brands have the same rational and irrational expectations. American Airlines is a national air carrier that has always been my preferred airline over the years. I associated them with safety, reliability and fairness both in business and prices. When I booked a trip, I typically looked at American Airlines only. Over the last few years as they’ve fought through bankruptcy and changing travel safety policies, the expectations that I have for the brand have continually been missed damaging my experience with the brand. Whereas, the logo used to represent the only choice in air travel for my family, the logo now represents the worst choice in air travel for my family. The logo hasn’t changed, but my brand experience has. I still easily recognize the logo which is a great logo, but I identify it with an experience of too many fees, loss of amenities, feuding employees and delayed and canceled flights. The logo is the catalyst for the meaning your customer has associated with your brand story. It is not the brand story itself.
Many business owners and CEOs often force the idea that the logo, and in particular the logo mark, should be a concrete representation of the brand itself. For instance, Starbuck’s sells coffee therefore the logo should be a coffee bean. While this can seem like a logical approach to your logo especially in the infancy of your business, it’s the equivalent of painting yourself into the corner. In the case of Starbuck’s, how do you allow for the representation of tea, iced beverages, free wi-fi, CDs and the myriad other things that Starbuck’s is known to sell? Develop a strong logo that is independent of your product or service and even abstract in it’s execution to allow room for growth, like the two-tailed mermaid that loosely ties to the literary figure Captain Starbuck. Your logo isn’t marketing anything specific, it is just a label identifying who you are in a quick and memorable way to allow your marketing materials to talk about the specific products and services or tell your brand story.
Your logo is your stamp of approval, your customers represent your brand experience, and your marketing creates your brand story. All three elements work together to create a cohesive experience, and understanding the purpose of each is crucial to creating the most effective brand in your marketplace. Your logo is not a great storyteller, so don’t force it.