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Why We Care About Corporate Logos

I’ve been thinking a lot corporate logos, their meaning, and what it contributes to the customer experience. In a bit of serendipity, today I read this post from Derrick Daye at The Blake Project entitled Branding Debate: Does Logo Design Really Matter?. He writes:

What’s important are the associations people have with a logo–not the logo itself. A logo (trademark and its associated visual language) is the symbolic representation of a whole narrative story built into an organization over time. Brand equity is the result of successfully delivering on the promise your brand represents in the hearts and minds of consumers. Indeed, there are some time-tested design guidelines all enduring trademarks share, but that is not what enables them to endure. What makes a logo endure (and be cared about) is not the design, but the promise it represents.

When The Gap changed their logo (then backslid after an uproar in social media channels), I started to think about this enduring quality of logos and their meaning to consumers. At first, I was actually critical of the company for reverting their decision on the basis of a minor uproar. No one likes change so it’s always going to be a battle when a company decides to change something meaningful like a logo. And there’s always a segment of design creatives that will bitch and moan about anything that doesn’t please their own narrow aesthetic philosophy.

But then, I got curious about what all this might mean to the relationship between a company and their customers. Approaching it this way, a consumer’s attachment to a company’s brand, logo, and promise is a far more interesting exercise in seeking out symbolic meaning. The anthropologist, Victor Turner, argued that symbols are important because of their ability to both condense meaning as well as contain a multiplicity of meanings. While it may sound paradoxical, it actually illustrates the various layers in which a symbol – such as a logo – resides.

Let’s take Southwest Airlines, for example.
When we think of Southwest Airlines (even if we’ve never actually flown with them before), images and ideas come to mind. We know certain things about the business and the promise it represents. The logo becomes a sort of shorthand for how customers and company relate to each other. If Southwest decided to change their logo, it might signal a potential shift in this relationship. And because each customer has their own personal experience with the airline, the customer generates several meaningful impressions when confronted with the logo. We might think of their “Bags Fly Free” commercials or a memorable time we flew with them. We then attribute positive or negative meanings depending on these experiences.

Now, let’s juxtapose that with Enron.

A very different set of meanings are involved, right?

Here’s an exercise. Take a look at these logos and think about what the business is trying to convey to you. Now think about what that brand means to you. What feelings does it invoke? What brand promise does it represent? What’s the overall symbolism?

Logos and brands are just simplified, symbolic constructs that make it easier for customers to recognize and related to your business. Whether or not you decide to change your company’s logo, think about all the different ways you generate meaningful relationships with your customers. And then consider how your customers have created (or want to create) relationships with your business. It’s these relationships – embodied in your logo – that will prove a strength in good times and bad.

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