Fix Your Logo — Don’t Break Your Brand

Features Business on Main

When Gap introduced — then quickly retracted — a widely rejected new logo in late 2010, it gave us all a lesson in the high cost of undervaluing how customers feel about brand identities. I asked two widely recognized branding experts to share insights learned from the Gap debacle, along with advice to consider before altering your own logo.

Why was the Gap logo so quickly rejected?
“Customers reacted strongly for a couple of reasons,” says Bill Chiaravalle, founder of Brand Navigation, the strategic force behind hundreds of brand identity programs, and my co-author on “Branding for Dummies.” “People had a good feeling about Gap,” he explains, “and the existing logo was a good reflection of the brand. The changed logo wasn’t better, didn’t signal anything different and was rejected because it was confusing.”

“Consumers develop a brand relationship and the identity can act as an emblem of that relationship,” adds brand strategist and designer Tim Girvin, principal at Girvin Inc. “If there’s change, the presumption would be a deepening of the proposition. The new Gap design didn’t capture that sensitivity.”

When should businesses consider logo revisions?
Logo redesign should relate to two key issues, Girvin says. One is when “the very strategy of the organization is shifting,” resulting in new positioning that requires “a refreshed visualization.” The other is a matter of “cleaning up, clarifying or tuning” a logo to address evolving relationships and consumer attention, allowing a company to say, “We’re listening to what the market is telling us, and truing the connection between our story, our community, and how we tell that narrative.”

Chiaravalle concurs. “You should change,” he says, only if there’s “evolutionary or revolutionary change in the strategy of your company.” Evolutionary strategic change provides reason to make evolutionary design changes to modernize your logo. Revolutionary logo change is necessary, he says, when “you want to signal a major change of direction, when you want to raise a new flag and say, ‘This is what we now stand for.’”

“Identity is the exemplar of consumer storytelling,” Girvin summarizes. “It’s the logo, but also everything that goes along with it — so changing the key graphic connection needs to be about the fundamental bigger picture. What’s the new story? How has it changed?”

How much consumer interaction should factor into the redesign process?
“The idea of researching and understanding relationships should be ongoing and consistent. It can’t be just a test,” Girvin says. It should be a “dialogue that perpetually examines the relationships,” contributing to logo redesigns that resonate and are relevant to customers. A good redesign basically says, “We know our customers, what they care about and what they want. Therefore, we’re changing our image to reflect that positioning.”

Chiaravalle agrees, advising research to determine how consumers feel about the existing logo. “Logos have equity in the marketplace,” he says. “So you want to understand the levels of recognition, understanding and loyalty consumers have for the current mark.” If equity is high and your position is unchanged, “you really have to weigh how much change to put your logo through,” he says. If equity is damaged, then repair is necessary.

What’s the most important thing to keep in mind when revising a logo?
“The real key lies in the story,” Girvin says. “What’s the story? Who’s telling it? What does it feel like? What should it look like? And, finally, who cares?” Answering these questions, he says, helps develop a strategy that unites “the turning of identity and brand cohesion.”
Chiaravalle agrees. “What position do you want to convey? What position do you know you can deliver on? What resonates with your key market? Your logo needs to reflect that tone. That’s why people were confused over Gap. Consumers liked the Gap position and felt the new logo communicated a shift to a lower-price position — and they took it personally.”

What mistakes should business leaders avoid?
“Don’t change just for the sake of changing,” Chiaravalle says.

“And don’t think there won’t be costs associated with the effort,” Girvin says, to which Chiaravalle adds, “Actual implementation is much more expensive than creative development, and just as important.”

Barbara Findlay Schenck is a small-business strategist, the author of “Small Business Marketing for Dummies” and "Selling Your Business for Dummies," and the co-author of “Branding for Dummies” and “Business Plans Kit for Dummies.”

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