Logo Logic: Creating and Updating Your Company’s Core Identity

Your logo represents the heart and soul of your brand. Here’s what you need to know to make sure yours stands out.

Quick:

What do you think of when you see the McDonald’s golden arches or the Nike swoosh? Those two simple yet iconic images speak volumes about the companies they represent. Similarly, your company’s logo becomes a visual shorthand that tells the world your business and what it represents.

A good logo will become a recognizable image that people will immediately associate with all the elements that make up the brand.

–Deborah Ginsburg,
founder and CEO of Strategia Design

Your company’s logo is often potential customers’ and partners’ crucial first impression of your business. A good logo can build loyalty, establish a brand identity, and project the image of an established, professional enterprise, worthy of customers’ trust.

But what makes a good logo, and how can you ensure you’re creating one for your own company?

There are several steps you should follow:

Do some
digging.

 

Explore your offerings and your market until you have a good understanding of your brand strengths, your customer’s needs and wants, and how your company fits into the competitive landscape. This information is essential for the design process, says Tracy McCutcheon, executive creative director for Akron, Ohio advertising agency hfa. Look at your brand strengths and what you represent. Ask customers about their perceptions of your brand and what its promise is. Review what competitors’ logos look like and how they reflect their brands. This upfront review and analysis will give you a solid foundation from which you can create your logo and ensure it’s both resonant with your customers and different from your competition, she says.

Keep it focused.

Over the past decade, logos have largely transitioned from literal images to more iconic forms, Ginsburg says. Don’t make your logo overly complicated with multiple images and fonts. That’s almost always going to backfire. Instead, come up with words that describe your business and brand promise and work on creating a logo that reflects two or three of the most important terms. A logo that expresses the themes “experienced” and “trustworthy” will likely look different than one whose key themes are “risk” and “adventure.”

Make it your own.

“Good logos will have things that are ‘ownable’ to them; they will be proprietary in nature either in their color or in the way their typography is set,” Ginsburg says.

For example, in the soda category, you have Coca-Cola’s red versus Pepsi’s blue, she says, along with their distinctive fonts. If you create a logo that truly reflects your brand in a unique way, you may be able to protect it from copycats by filing for a trademark or service mark. To find out if those options are right for you, consult your business attorney, or visit the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office’s website at http://www.uspto.gov.

Opt for timeless, not trendy.

It may be tempting to use that brand-new font or the color of the year, but think twice before doing so. “Make sure you’re not picking a color that’s too trendy, but look at where the color trends are now and how the color represents what you’re trying to convey,” says McCutcheon. You don’t want a color that screams 1987. At the same time, you don’t want people five or six years from now and be able to guess that you created your logo in 2015.

Be versatile.

McCutcheon also says that you need to consider the various formats in which your logo will appear. You may need to use it for stationery and letterhead, as well as in and on advertising, email signatures, websites, direct mail, and many other formats. Be sure the logo will make your business look good in any format.

Test it.

A logo can require a significant investment of time or money. Before you commit to one entirely, run your best concepts by your customers and get their reactions. This will help ensure that you’ve developed a look that appeals to your most important audience: your customers.

What if you already have a logo, but need an update? Here’s how to make it look fresh without losing your brand equity…

Google did it in 2015. PayPal did it in 2007 and 2014. And Pepsi has done it roughly 10 times since 1893. What do they have in common? They’ve all refreshed their logos. And while the logo changes were, at times, significant, each was done in ways that didn’t make them unrecognizable or lose brand equity.

Even a good logo needs an update every once in a while, says Pamela Long, director of client services at White Plains, New York branding agency Little Big Brands. A logo that has functioned well for your business for years may begin to look tired or dated as trends emerge and fade or your business changes. At the same time, you don’t want to completely abandon the recognition you’ve built with a strong mark that represents your brand well.

“It’s really important to [first] understand what your brand equities are,” Long says. That means getting a good grip on what your customers and prospects think about your brand and how you’re perceived overall in the marketplace. Is your “look” recognizable to those that matter to your business—and does it project the image you wish them to see?

When it’s time for a refresh, pay attention to these three key areas…

Color.

Chances are that your business has a signature color that you’ve used in your logo and marketing materials. Color associations can be strong—when you think about home improvement stores, you likely know the difference between

the “blue one” (Lowe’s) and the “orange one” (The Home Depot). Imagine if either one suddenly adopted red as its primary brand color. The brand would lose the instant recognition that its current color evokes.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re tied forever to a 1980s sea foam green. Christina Tarkoff, owner and founder of Art of Inbound Marketing & Design in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania says you can work within the same color family to update your look while still remaining recognizable.

Style.

Consider the style of your logo. Does it have an image or is it simply typography? At Little Big Brands, the team typically looks at the style of illustration that was used, which may give tell-tale clues about when the logo was created.

“The style of illustration in many cases will represent a generation of designers that were working on a project or a brand manager’s or client’s style. A logo typically reflects, like haircuts do, that time period,” says John Nunziato, creative director at Little Big Brands. For example, logos with swoops—big loopy typefaces and swooshes like the Nike brand—were popular around the start of the internet era, he says.

To update such a logo, his team would first look at what made sense for the brand. If appropriate, they might keep some of the graphic elements, but refine the logo to be neater and look less like something created 20 years ago, he says.

Recognition and representation. As you work with a designer to refresh your logo, it’s a good idea to test the new version with customers and prospects.

Ask some important questions:

  • Do they recognize the logo?
  • Would they know it was your business?
  • Does it represent the image you want to project for your brand?

At the same time, don’t be afraid to take a few risks, Nunziato says. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to deviate from the previous logo a little more than may be comfortable, if it’s going to send the right image to your audience.

The reality is we’re very different from people 100 years ago. We’re much more informed. Things are very different. At some point, we also have to consider, ‘Is this truly relevant anymore?’ he says.

It’s important to dive deeply into the best options for your brand, and come up with a logo that will take you through the next 100 years, he says.

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