First some general things about branding (and I´ll try to stay away from too many of my own personal opinions here): A brand is not a logo. The logo is, or should be, a visual and emotional representation of the brand, on a symbolical level. The brand, in turn, expresses the essence of the company, and that is often about storytelling. What the company does are mere facets and physical outputs of the brand, they do not define the brand. What unites these different facets is a story or a metaphor of our own. Through this metaphor, we attempt to become immortal, to tell a story that reaches beyond any single manifestation of the company and becomes a mythology; a recurring story we try to perpetuate. Often, this mythology and this metaphor exists in both the name and the logotype and, in my opinion, that combination makes a corporate identity stronger, more cohesive and more recognizable. I would not advocate change – for any company – that removes that recognizability. If the idea of redesigning a logotype has surfaced, for whatever reason, what really ought to precede this decision is the question of repositioning.
- First, we need to fully understand: what is the company´s position on the market? Do clients recognize us, what do they think of us (if they think of us), what do they think we stand for? In short: who are we to them?
- Second, we need to ask if the company needs to be repositioned on the market, which would ultimately potentially result in a logo refresh or redesign, among other things.
- Third, if so, why and in what way is the old position inadequate? (Could be for instance that the brand has become associated with something negative, such as the BP oil spill, or that the old position just doesn´t fully reflect the company´s current identity).
- Fourth: Which position is the company trying to move to?
- Fifth: Are there competitors in that space and, if so, how do we differentiate ourselves from them?
- And, finally: Do we need to ensure some level of continuity in the brand, to preserve brand equity? Usually, the answer would be yes, even if there´s a BP oil spill disaster in the company´s history. Otherwise, the company should probably be renamed altogether.
To tie a logo to a specific, practical discipline or implementation of a company´s business is, in my opinion, a mistake; one that betrays a fundamental lack of understanding what branding really is. It is also a somewhat narrow and short-sighted take on visual identity as it relates to branding. Creating a vehicle (or “container”) for the physical acts that make up a business – film making, scriptwriting, programming, design etc – is a marketing tactic, not a strategy, and branding resides firmly in the realm of strategy; in the long term visual representation and presentation of a company. The logotype is not an appropriate container for messaging in this sense; it should not be wielded in the short-term prespective as a communicative tactic.
More specifically, the logo is not an ad or a banner or a piece of collateral – a communicative unit used to project targeted, shifting marketing messages. The logo and the visual identity is, in fact, what ties all those tactics together and creates a sense of continuity between them, so that the sender and the message are kept separate to some degree, since they operate on different levels.
As an example, Coca Cola does not have a bottle or a brown liquid as its symbol. Volvo does not have a car as its symbol, Ericsson does not have a phone as its symbol, etc etc. The brand, and ultimately the logotype, should frame the personality of the company, to make it more relateable and recognizable – not be an inventory of the acts that comprise the business. Branding and corporate identity is, in fact, in this sense somewhat analoguous to personal identity. As people, as personalities, we don´t walk around with labels on our foreheads, describing what we do. Our names are not titles or labels; we are not “Joe Filmmaker” or “Steve Programmer”. Neither should we, as a business, use our visual identity or our name to describe our actions, we should use it to describe ourselves. What drives us, what motivates us, what we´re like, who we are – not what we do.The “what we do” issue is a tactical consideration that is more aligned with sales than with branding. And that is my starting point, from a professional perspective, when it comes to a brand, its visual identity, and the logotype. As for my personal opinion in the matter, I guess I am usually initially sceptical about why a logo no longer reflects the company´s identity; exactly what it is that has changed. That a company may to some degree do more things now, or even different things, should really not be the main reason for a change, as described above. The logo is not the inventory that tells people what the company does, it is the symbol that tells people who they are and what they stand for. And that doesn´t change nearly as often as what one does. People (and companies) learn new things all the time, without it necessarily fundamentally changing them as people. Your face doesn´t change just because you switched jobs or got new responsibilities.