As a young designer just out of college, design degree framed nicely on the wall, I admittedly subscribed to the mindset that a company’s brand was their logo. This was, after all, job security for me as someone who intended to make a living creating these very things. What is a logo? What can it do for your branding? Those questions had not yet crossed my mind.
Fast forward 13 years, dozens of logo designs and a few gray hairs later (OK more than a few gray hairs) as a career designer and creative director, I've learned a few things. First, never offer a client unlimited revisions; it’s a suicide mission. Second, I quickly came to realize that a company’s logo has little-to-no effect on their brand perception. While it’s an important graphic representation of your company name, it simply does not epitomize a company’s brand.
Now, can a horribly designed logo instantly create a negative perception? Sure. But a great logo means nothing without a solid brand to back it up. Take the following examples:
The Enron logo was designed by legendary graphic designer Paul Rand (also responsible for the IBM, ABC, and UPS logos). Cost was a mere $33,000. What comes to your mind when someone mentions Enron—is it their logo?
How about British Petroleum (BP)? That logo put a $211,000,000 dent in someone’s marketing budget. Yes, you read that correctly. Any resoundingly positive brand attributes come to mind on that one?
Ok, so a multi-million dollar logo doesn’t necessarily equate to a strong, lasting brand. In fact, quite the contrary in some cases. Take Nike’s famous “swoosh” logo which cost just $35 in 1975. (Don’t worry, Nike made good by giving then designer Carolyn Davidson 500 shares of stock which are now worth over $600,000).
Here’s a quick exercise to drive the point home: Take a look at the following logos from several well-known companies. Notice the thoughts running through your head and the emotions that are sparked when you look at each of them.
What did you come up with? What percentage of those thoughts and emotional “keywords” were directly tied to the logo itself and not your own personal interactions with the respective company? If Apple’s logo changed tomorrow would your perceptions of them and their products change as well?
The point is that it’s a common tendency for many business owners, particularly small business owners, to equate their brand with their logo. They often sweat every nuance of color, typography, and image. I propose that small business owners, in particular, should focus first and foremost on establishing their brand.
Branding vs. brand
If you’re keeping up, you’re probably onto the fact that your logo is indeed not your brand—it’s merely the foundation upon which your brand is built. Yes, there is a distinct difference between branding and your brand. Branding is your website, packaging, and marketing materials—each of which should integrate your logo to communicate your brand.
So what is your brand? Simply put: it’s who you are and who you aim to be. It’s your promise to your customer. “It’s what you stand for and where you fit in this world,” proclaimed a young Steve Jobs in 1997 before a room filled with Apple managers and execs.
Moments after this poignant speech, Jobs revealed to them the now legendary Think Different campaign, in which none of Apple’s products were ever talked about or even shown. Instead, it focused on what Apple believed in:
"What we’re about isn’t making boxes that help people get their jobs done (although we do that well)…we believe that people with passion CAN change the world for the better. That’s what we believe…and that those people that are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones that actually do."
As Jobs points out, the best brands in the world don’t even talk about their products. People don’t buy Apple products because they’re the best in the world (though in some cases they arguably are). They buy them because they believe in what Apple stands for.
Brand evolution at Infusionsoft
When I first interviewed with Infusionsoft in 2012, the offices were overflowing with desks and too many people for its meeting spaces, but there was a tangible energy, a buzz, generated by 250 employees very dedicated to their mission.
The marketing team member interviewing me told me that the company had just undergone a rebranding effort to update the logo and colors, which moved from red and black to today’s bright green and softer grays. He informed me that the interior of the space had just been repainted the prior weekend as a big surprise reveal to employees. He credited the switch from the dark, ominous red to bright green with “reinvigorating the place and employees.”
But what had really changed aside from some paint and an updated, modernized logo? The truth is, nothing. What built the Infusionsoft brand then and still sustains it today is our fanatical devotion to helping small businesses succeed. That is at the core of every individual we hire so it’s at the core of our brand—not our logo.
Our logo and colors may very well change in the coming years, but what gives the Infusionsoft logo meaning will not. And therein lies the challenge for every business—a logo can be created in days, but a brand often takes years to build.
4 tips to defining your brand
In a decade of working with everything from startups to Fortune 500 brands, I’ve learned three time-tested tips to define a brand. It’s a good exercise to ask yourself these questions even if you have already established your brand vision. And be honest because your customers can see through the B.S. (Brand Shenanigans).
1. What is your company’s purpose?
What is your “why”? This should drive all that you do. Simon Sinek’s powerful Ted Talk Start With Why is a must-watch video that explains this concept beautifully. If this is off or unclear, the rest will not fall into place easily.
2. What do you want to be known for?
Our Dream Manager Dan Ralphs calls this future-past planning—don’t let your current situation or brand reputation limit you. Identify and declare what qualities you will be known for and then live intentionally into that future every day.
3. Get everyone bought in and on board
Remember that you and your employees personify your brand. Delivering on your brand promise in every interaction helps you solidify or tarnish your image for both current and prospective customers.
Small business owners have an advantage here, since their organizations are typically, well, smaller, so they’re able to manage the brand image at a closer level. The faster you grow, the harder it is to manage a brand. With Infusionsoft, which just surpassed 600 employees, brand management becomes infinitely more difficult (adding significantly more gray hairs on Creative Directors). You simply can’t be there to guide every conversation, email, and touch point. This is where a well-defined company purpose, mission, and values become the lifeblood of your brand. You must hire, train, and fire to those values.
4. Do your research
Know what your customers want and more importantly, what they need to be successful. Don’t go off of what you think they think of you; know what they think of you and your company. Know the competitive landscape inside and out. What differentiates you from them? How will you be better?
Don’t fall into the trap that you must have an amazing logo to be perceived as a company with a strong, lasting brand. Once you’ve identified what your brand will be built upon, and you begin powerfully living into that future, creating a logo and other branding materials will be much easier and more successful.
by Jason Plummer