A well-designed logo can strengthen a brand by creating consumer interest, by differentiating from competitors’ brands, by increasing brand recognition, and by appealing to potential investors. Having worked on the launch or change of various logos during my career, I was interested to recently read a Harvard Business Review article about research on what makes a logo effective. The research findings were based on several studies reviewing the attitudes of thousands of consumers towards a total of 597 logos. You can read the article here (subscription or purchase needed).
A logo is a graphic mark, emblem or symbol used to aid and promote public identification and recognition. An organization’s logo may appear on products, website, formal documents, eg annual report, stationery, marketing material, advertising, signage etc.
There are two broad types of logos: descriptive and non-descriptive. A descriptive logo includes textual or visual design elements that indicate the type of product or service that is being promoted. For example, the Burger King logo shows the company name within a circular design that conveys the shape of a hamburger. Non-descriptive logos comprise design elements that don’t indicate the type of product or service being offered, eg McDonald’s golden arches.
Research shows it is generally easier for consumers to visually process descriptive logos and understand what product or service is being offered. Descriptive logos tend to:
About 20 years ago, when I was a corporate affairs manager, I managed the design or updating of several corporate logos, including the design and launch of a new logo for the electricity utility I had just joined. Western Power, the new utility, had been hived off from the previous trading corporation that had supplied both gas and electricity to the whole State.
The attempts of several graphic designers to create a new logo over some months before my appointment had been very disappointing, and the amount of time remaining to finalize the logo design as part of the launch of the new entity was getting extremely tight. The new logo had to be suitable for many large and small settings, ranging from business cards and stationery through to the signage on buildings and power stations. Noses at the utility’s advertising agency were out of joint because the agency had not been invited to submit a logo design, and so they volunteered a design for free when I arrived at the utility. Fortunately, their offering had the germ of an idea that I was able to convert into a suitable design (below), which was approved by top management. Overall, implementation of the logo across the organization cost US$9 million – a big logistical project!
Our CEO directed that certain colors couldn’t be used for the Western Power logo because those colors were featured in new logos for other organizations at the time, such as a local bank. I tried dozens of different color combinations and decided on the ones you see on this page. I classify this logo as a descriptive logo because the zigzag orange shape was intended to represent an electrical charge while also being reminiscent of the shape of the letter “W” (as in “Western”). The font used for the name “Western Power” was intended to be strong and readily visible in all applications of the logo. I’m pleased to say the logo was successfully used for more than 10 years until Western Power was further split into four smaller entities: (1) generation, (2) electricity transmission and distribution, (3) retail, and (4) regional areas.
The Western Power name has been retained for use by the entity that runs the State’s electricity transmission and distribution network, and so my logo was replaced to minimize confusion. (I had left the organization by then.) I reckon the current logo (above) is not as effective as mine – (I’m not biased at all!). I still get some satisfaction from seeing my logo on the number plates of some of the WP vehicle fleet. Last year I saw it in place on a windpower station…
A descriptive logo has a positive effect on brand equity for both familiar and unfamiliar brands, but the effect is smaller for familiar brands because consumers are already aware of the brand and are less likely to be influenced by the logo design. The researchers recommend using a descriptive logo that indicates the type of product or service. For instance, if you are going to open a bookstore, your business would benefit from using a logo incorporating the outline of a book.
The research found that descriptive logos have a negative effect on brands that market products or services associated with sad or unpleasant occasions or actions like funeral directors and bug repellents.
If your brand tends to be associated with negative concepts, a non-descriptive logo is probably better. Also, it is likely that non-descriptive logos are best for conglomerates that run several different types of businesses under their umbrella, such as The Walt Disney Company, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Samsung and even Google (Google’s activities include productivity tools such as Gmail and Google Drive, enterprise products such as Google Search Appliance, online advertising and publishing services such as AdWords and AdSense, and other online services such as Google News, Google Translate, Google Maps, and YouTube as well as others).
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