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Change of Face

Is your logo losing its luster? Then maybe it's time to transform it with a new look.

Your logo is a visual representation of everything your company stands for. Has it become dated or taken a back seat to other images that represent your company's identity? When you survey customers and examine the competition, is there confusion about what you do? A good logo should communicate something about the nature of your business, product or service. So if this vital component is out of step with your message and customers, it's time to bring it up-to-date.

There are three kinds of logos. Font-based logos consist primarily of a type treatment. The logos of IBM, Microsoft and Sony, for instance, use type treatments with a twist that makes them distinctive. There are logos that literally illustrate what a company does, such as when a house-painting company uses an illustration of a brush in its logo. And then there are abstract graphic symbols--such as Nike's "swoosh"-that become linked to a company's brand.

"Such a symbol is meaningless until your company can communicate to consumers what its underlying associations are," says Americus Reed II, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who has conducted research on the triggers that lead consumers to identify with and become loyal to a brand. Building that mental bridge takes time and money. The Nike swoosh has no inherent meaning outside of what's been created over the years through savvy marketing efforts that have transformed the logo into an "identity cue" for an athletic lifestyle.

Growing businesses can rarely afford the millions of dollars and years of effort required to create these associations, so a logo that clearly illustrates what your company stands for or does may be a better choice. Even a type treatment of your company's name may be too generic, says Placitas, New Mexico, logo designer Gary Priester, principal of gwpriester.com, the Web arm of design firm The Black Point Group. Priester believes customers should be able to tell what you do just by looking at your logo.

Time for a Makeover
Here are three tips to help you create a logo that forges a link between your customers and your company identity:

1. Focus on your message. Chances are, your core message has evolved over time. Decide what you want to communicate about your company today. Does it have a distinct personality-serious or lighthearted? What makes it unique in relation to your competition? What's the nature of your current target audience? These elements should play an important role in the overall redesign.

2. Make it clean and functional. Must your revised logo work as well on a business card as on the side of a truck? A good logo should be scalable, easy to reproduce, memorable and distinctive. When updating a black-and-white logo, select colors that match your image and audience. And choose cautiously if you decide to change your logo colors. "Red is aggressive; blue and green are more passive," says Priester, who takes cues from the product or service and the target audience when deciding what the colors should be.

3. Avoid trendy looks. If you radically redesign a well-known logo, you run the risk of confusing customers-or worse, alienating them. One option is to make gradual logo changes. According to Priester, Quaker Oats modified the Quaker on its package over a 10-year period to avoid undermining customer confidence. But don't expect to make multiple logo changes. Instead, choose a logo that will stay current for 10 to 20 years, perhaps longer. That's the mark of a good design. In fact, when Priester designs a logo, he expects never to see the client again.

Kim Gordon is the owner of National Marketing Federation and is a multifaceted marketing expert, speaker, author and media spokesperson. Her latest book is Maximum Marketing, Minimum Dollars.

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This article was originally published in the September 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Change of Face.

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