In an era of crowd sourcing and online $100 logo design, the specialized skills and talents involved in identity design are seemingly being marginalized even further. Are big iconic brands moving in that direction?
“If, in the business of communication, image is king, the essence of this image, the logo, is the jewel in its crown”. – Paul Rand
Throughout the brand strategy and marketing blogosphere, there’s been a lot of buzz and chatter about the recent logo / identity changes Starbuck’s has implemented to help it move closer to its next incarnation. A few months back, the Gap made a similar move with less favorable reviews.
In both these instances, it’s pretty clear people in our business continue to care about these changes. The question is–do customers care? Do they really care what your logo looks like? Does it matter that much to your marketing success?
In my view big brand identity changes of any kind illustrates a couple of interesting points. Mainly that people pay attention to the marketing shifts brands they care about undertake. Secondly, there appears to be a huge gap in people’s understanding of the difference between a trademark and a brand. They are not one and the same. And finally, the critical importance of brand management to align all customer facing communication (of which trademarks are a primary component) to evolving strategic imperatives that effect business performance in the future. The stylistic aspects of these types of changes are less important than the potential to diminish brand meaning in the process.
Generic corporate and brand identity: a growing trend?
Throughout my marketing career, the heart of my work has always been centered in the discipline of corporate and brand identity design. Certainly it has been in my own interest to care passionately about the value that visual design adds to building a strong identity in the marketplace. Lately, I’m not so sure visual design, and the management of visual brand assets, really matters to anyone but designers. In an era of ubiquitous online $100 logo design, the specialized skills and talents involved in identity design are seemingly being marginalized even further. And now big iconic brands seem to be moving in that direction.
After the Gap’s generic logo appeared, I was even less confident that marketers value the specialized expertise involved in creating trademarks that reflect, enhance and enable positive business outcomes. I began to wonder if there is a growing trend these days for brand marketers to devalue their brands by being represented in the marketplace by generic trademarks. After all, the sole purpose of a trademark is to provide differentiation between brands.
Thinking back on it, I remember how sad I was to see Paul Rand’s elegant package symbol for United Parcel Service be cast away in favor of a generic shield with a monogram letterform– so commonly delivered by the big branding consultancies today. Identity designers like Rand and his contemporaries (Saul Bass, Walter Landor, John Massey, Ivan Chermayeff, and the early founders of Pentagram) represent a school of thought few clients embrace these days. Identity design today seems to be more of a crowd sourced decorative act rather than a strategic business imperative.
Corporate brand identities evolve over time.
Business, markets, products, management, cultural trends all change over time. Likewise, the corporate or brand identity evolves in a similar path along with the organization it represents. Starbucks is just one of hundreds of iconic brands whose identity has evolved with the pace of organizational and cultural change. There is nothing new here.
The decision to drop the associated typography from the Starbucks symbol is one that many iconic brands have made (Nike, Apple, McDonald’s quickly come to mind). Whether this supports the strategic imperatives facing Starbucks’ next level of growth remains to be seen. But the visual design tactic is hardly without precedent.
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.
At the end of the day, consumers (and all other stakeholders) care about the promise delivered. In time, people will accept whatever symbolic form the brand’s promise represents. In a me-too marketplace, the importance of developing and managing a highly differentiated brand identity is more critical than ever. It’s still my passionate belief that the specialized discipline of corporate and brand identity design brings tremendous value to how the promise people care about is best represented and managed.
Your comments are most welcome.