A brand’s logo is all about signs and symbols.
We see a symbol – a swoosh, for example, or an ice cream cone – and we make associations. The swoosh can only be Nike. The ice cream cone, on the other hand, could be a number of different brands. How does a logo help a brand? How can it achieve the immediate recognition that Nike has? And how important is having a logo?
In my travels, I have often come across many customers and clients who think that a brand begins and ends with a logo. That all you really need for good branding is a fancy symbol, fancy lettering, and – KAPOW – a brand is born. So many times, when people ask me for branding, this is all they think about.
But a logo is just a part of branding. A small part, in fact. Many businesses, products, and companies have no logo at all. And the ones who do are not necessarily good brands.
Making the Difference
At bottom, a brand is nothing more than a feeling. It is the feeling you get when you think about the brand or use it or hear about it. Your immediate instinctual reaction is the stuff that brands are made of. Everything else – the logo, the stories, the promotions, the advertisements, the trademarks, and even the product or service itself – is just a set of cues to make you feel something about the brand. And the feeling we want you to have is, of course, love.
I love this brand. It is my brand.
Moreover, in my experience the logo is really one of the last things to worry about when you are putting together a new brand – or refreshing an old one. This is for the simple reason that, since the brand is a feeling, you first have to settle on the concept, forge the language with which you will talk about it, dream up the stories that make this concept important for the life of your target consumer, and then, once all that is done, you can take a picture of it.
When Steve Jobs created the Apple 1 in 1976, he did not start out with a half-bitten apple in his head. He started with the dream of making people’s lives easier. He started with a concept that was meant to make people love using a computer…
Once the Apple 1 was ready, however, it needed branding. It needed to be recognized as something completely new and different. It needed reasons to be loved. The ad agency charged with coming up with a logo was Regis McKenna from Palo Alto. The colorful apple with a bite taken out was seen to be a perfect reflection of the brand.
One of the deep mysteries to me is our logo, the symbol of lust and knowledge, bitten into, all crossed with the colors of the rainbow in the wrong order. You couldn’t dream of a more appropriate logo: lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy.
– Jean Louis Gassée (Apple executive, 1981-90)
Without the “lust, knowledge, hope, and anarchy”, the apple would have no meaning at all. Without the dream, the Apple logo could be any random image in the world. But the idea and the feelings came first. The lust and knowledge (Garden of Eden, Sir Isaac Newton), the hope (fresh fruit, springtime) and the anarchy (color spectrum in the wrong order) were the emotional elements that gave life to what is arguably one of the best-known logos in the world today.
The Good Ones
A good logo is a signpost. It is a design or symbol, icon or monogram, that signals the brand behind it. The Nike swoosh, the golden arches of McDonald’s, the apple of Apple, all of these logos stand for something much greater than their picture.
Imagine the ice cream cone logo that we mentioned before. If it is just an ice cream cone, without a story or an emotion behind it, then it stands only for generic ice cream. In fact, some of the biggest names in ice cream today – Baskin Robbins, Haagen Daaz, or Ben & Jerrys – have no ice cream in their logos at all!
Baskin Robbins is a name with a “31” (for 31 flavors) in the middle of it. The 31 has a semi-circle over it to indicate, possibly, a scoop of ice cream, but it is highly stylized. The emotion behind Baskin Robbins is “everything I ever wanted.”
The brands we love are not about the logo. The brands we love are about ourselves – our feelings, our desires, and our dreams.
The logo only helps us remember.