A brand’s logo is the most recognizable symbol it has — it’s how consumers identify and distinguish a brand, and it’s what competitors measure themselves against. As any good marketer knows, a strong logo that appropriately represents the brand, what it stands for and its messaging is critical if a brand is to succeed in the marketplace. For some, the logo turns into such a recognizable element that it eventually stands alone as an iconic symbol — think: Nike’s swoosh that omits the brand name entirely — and acts as their brand’s sole identifier. Some brand logos leave consumers wanting more, or the brand finds themselves falling behind while competitors thrive. While a logo isn’t the only thing that makes a brand, it definitely makes a first impression, and knowing how and when to redesign a logo to stay relevant and maintain equity is of utmost importance.
Before updating the brand logo, it’s imperative a brand thoroughly research the pros and cons of the impact a shift in visual identity may have on consumers. As consumer perceptions change, a brand may blossom; or otherwise, it may falter. But it’s more than simply consumer perception and brand identification at stake. The financial considerations for modernization or complete overhaul affects all entities of the brand — website, advertising and communications, both in-store and digital signage, product packaging, etc. — are massive, and the undertaking must be thoroughly vetted before such a progressive decision is made.
Part of the vetting process includes identifying what makes a logo work and what doesn’t. A logo should represent the brand, and when it doesn’t — like when it’s outdated or out of touch with today’s consumers, that impression will remain with consumers — it’s something that can’t be ignored.
When Redesigning the Logo Works
The first factor to consider when determining if a logo change is necessary is how much equity is already in the existing logo. An older, more iconic brand must be careful with logo redesign because there are consumers who are loyal to the logo and strongly believe in it and what it stands for. It’s important for brands in this position to maintain some continuity when changing a logo — it can’t be unrecognizable from the previous version. A smaller brand doesn’t have to worry about that as much and has more freedom to completely reinvent themselves.
Cedar’s Foods is a family-owned hummus company that, as a brand, grew up in-house. After 40 years, their high-quality products resonated so well with consumers, they decided to go after the market leader in the category. To do so successfully, they needed a brand refresh. That’s where we came in. While being family-owned was a message they still wanted to instill, that was a message that could be achieved through a cleaner and easier to read brand logo, on par with other brands in their industry. We updated the font, simplified the tree and removed unnecessary elements. In Cedar’s case, the tree is meaningful and represents a natural brand by matching their name and story, so we utilized the tree and took it to the next level. Their refreshed logo gave them a current, fresh look, and their business exploded. It brought their look up to date with the modern CPG brands without taking away what makes their brand special and unique.
While a logo simplification and modernization may be just what a brand needs to reinvigorate their identity, others may benefit more from a complete logo redesign from the ground up. That was the case with United Bank. For them, their core structure had changed when two banks combined and created one united brand. Their old logo was not representative of an organization that was the size and caliber of the new United Bank. The new brand logo told the story of two banks coming together — signified by a unique typeface that merged the “u” and the “n.” The refreshed logo shows they’re unified, continuous and balanced. The “un” also became more than a type treatment; it became a symbol for the bank (like the Nike swoosh) and was used to represent the brand in a variety of applications, like their mobile app. While the logo makeover was a massive change for United Bank, it was necessary to represent the organizational change and to connect with new and existing customers.
When It Doesn’t
Contrary to the successes of Cedar’s and their logo rejuvenation and United Bank and their complete logo redesign, there are numerous well-publicized cases where a logo change has led to disastrous results. One of the most famous of which — not our client, thankfully — was Gap. As the adage goes, “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it,” and that’s exactly what happened here. Making a change for the sake of making a change — especially when not considering the history and equity the logo has built up with consumers, even more so when being a well-known and easily recognizable brand — often doesn’t lead to success. Gap decided to switch things up and abandon their distinct white type with a blue background in favor of a completely redesigned black type with a cluttered smaller blue box behind it. In doing so, they added unnecessary elements, ignored the brand equity that had been built up with their original logo, made the logo less simplified and modern rather than more, and threw tens of millions of marketing dollars away. The results were so bad — which included serious uproar from Gap’s consumer base — Gap scrapped the new logo a meager six days after its launch and reverted to the previous version. The estimated cost for the poorly examined impact assessment and execution was around $100 million. The Gap debacle serves as a proof point for how important a logo is — whether it’s a simplification and modernization, a complete redesign, or in this case, not touching it when the equity it’s built up is so great, especially when there’s no business need to do so.
It’s true logos are incredibly important, but it’s not the only thing that makes or breaks a brand. A logo is a visual mark that conveys a brand’s personality and can help them differentiate themselves and make it memorable, so it’s important to make it represent the brand in a way they want. That said, since a logo is just one part of a branding strategy, changing a logo in isolation won’t help a brand, and sometimes — as proven by Gap’s experiment — doing nothing is the best move. But if a brand needs to bring its logo “into the new generation,” then all its creative elements should match that look and feel — that’s when a simplification and modernization or a redesign makes sense.
Brands should keep these elements in mind before making a major change to their logo: How much equity is in the existing logo? And why are they considering changing the logo in the first place? If the reason makes business sense and extensive research is carried out prior to implementing the change, a logo revitalization can be a great way to jump-start a brand — or infuse a stagnant one with new life and purpose. If a logo needs an update from a modernization or simplification perspective, or if a brand went through a major business change, it may be time for reinvention. Brands just need to make sure they do it the right way, and for the right reasons.