BrandBox #2: Logos

I’ll let you in on a secret, developing logos is the least exciting part of the branding process for me. There are two reason for this: (1) I genuinely enjoy the other aspects more (defining strategy, colour palette selection, selecting imagery styles, pulling it all together) and (2) there is often so much pressure put on by the client to achieve some very exacting, and often unrealistic, standards. Suddenly everyone has an opinion, and you find yourself discussing feedback that came from the HR Manager’s boyfriend, and scratching your head as to why his opinion has made its way to the brand decision-making table?

A good logo can also be expensive. The ‘simplest’ graphical treatments are often the result of many hours of labour, thought and consideration. The best logo designers are skilled brand thinkers with exemplary illustration skills and, together with the length of time that the logo development process takes, this often puts the cost of quality logo development outside of the reach of small and micro businesses. 

My approach is to keep it really simple. As a business or small organisation, don’t feel pressure to develop a unique logo that is wonderful and awesome and packs up exactly what you and your business are in one neat graphic. That’s what branding is for. A good visual brand is greater than the sum of all its parts, each element working with the other to communicate effectively.

In this article I’m going to run through the benefits of a simpler approach to logo design. I’ll also look at examples of some strong brands who start with a simple logo and leverage all of their elements to create an outstanding brand.

A logo is not an island

Firstly, have you noticed that some of the most well-known brands have the simplest logos?

For these brands, the simplicity of their logo doesn’t stop a core brand promise being communicated. Rather, the brand uses other elements (both visual and non-visual) to build a perception in the minds of their audience.

Let’s take Tiffany & Co, who have carefully selected a simple serif typeface for their logo, conveying a perception of elegance and refinement. This is supported by a simple colour palette of the famous Tiffany turquoise, silver (or grey) and white. Their product imagery style is clear, crisp and close, whilst their wider brand imagery is both iconic and aspirational (good-looking, if slightly WASPy couples in expensive clothes looking very In Love).

Image:  Tiffany & Co

Although there are certainly more high-end jewellery brands, none create a brand experience quite like Tiffany & Co. And it doesn’t end with the visual brand. Once you push your way through the heavy doors to browse the collection the Tiffany brand is all around you. Plush carpet underfoot, fresh white floral arrangements and beautiful light fixtures create an environment where people barely talk above a whisper. Such is the reverie that the brand experience creates.

You may have to wait to be served, but it hardly matters. Once you are served, you can be assured of your sales assistant’s 100% attention, whether you are there for a tiny trinket or 5 carat engagement ring and nothing is too much for the Tiffany & Co staff (I can vouch for this - I purchased a gift for myself on my 30th birthday after a day of walking the streets of Rome. I was rather less polished than the other patrons).

They still served me: my Tiffany & Co loot after a day of hiking around Rome

They still served me: my Tiffany & Co loot after a day of hiking around Rome

Once your selection is made, it is carefully polished and placed into a turquoise pouch, placed in a box, wrapped with the famous white ribbon and, finally, carefully put into a demure turquoise bag. Off you go, out those heavy doors and into the world, a few hundred (or more) lighter, but so very pleased with yourself. It is the consummate brand experience. Whilst their logo sets the tone for the brand experience, it by no means plays a leading role in your overall experience. 

B2B and Fashion: some (unlikely) common traits

On the face of it, what does B2B and fashion branding have in common? Not much. Except when you take a closer look at some logos.  

Some well-known Australian fashion brands:

Typographic + Black: a must-have for the Australian fashion brand

Typographic + Black: a must-have for the Australian fashion brand

On the face of it these logos are simply different kinds of black letters. Sure, there are differences in fonts, but none of these brands have gone out of their way to create anything really unique from their logo. But, if you're au fait with Aussie high-street fashion (or possibly a little too au fait like me) these logos immediately prompt a feeling that you have about these brands - a gut instinct. I see the Zimmerman logo and think of floaty dresses, luxe swimwear and elegant parties; Country Road and I see an all encompassing lifestyle that I aspire to lead and Witchery for a slightly more upscale version of the life I currently lead (mainly as providers of the Mum Uniform - jeans and basics). It's what supports the logo that builds these feelings - the imagery, the window displays and even the sales process. 

B2B organisations don't stray too far from this strategy either, as we can see from the logos of some of the world's leading professional services organisations:

These guys have a different if not harder task in building a memorable brand. They must rely less on the visual cues of advertising and the physical cues of having a shopfront, and focus on the experience that their clients have when they engage with the firm. Each client-facing employee becomes a brand custodian and marketing strategy moves to more covert methods such as Relationship Marketing. Does their logo play into this? Nope. Much like any other brand, these organisations have carefully crafted a simpler logo and support it through other brand building activities. 

B2B done really well: McKinsey and Company

I don’t really have any celebrity crushes, but I do have branding crushes, and management consulting organisation McKinsey and Company is one of them. They are like my favourite (adopted) child; they can do no wrong. Let’s take a look and see how their branding pulls together and what makes it so good. 

They start with a typographic logo. Much like Tiffany and Co, they use a simple serif typeface that conveys a sense of tradition and conservatism. They pretty much ‘own’ the colour Navy in the management consulting sector, and the logo mostly appears in or on this colour. It is supported by a palette lead by a bright cyan; it's a bit more lively than your average corporate palette and to me, suggests that they think of things a little differently. 

…choosing McKinsey is the corporate equivalent of buying a Louis Vuitton bag.  One of the reasons companies choose McKinsey is to show people that they’re able to – McKinsey has honed its image to the point of being a status symbol.
By no means a stand-out design-wise, but their consistent execution is pitch-perfect for their brand

By no means a stand-out design-wise, but their consistent execution is pitch-perfect for their brand

What’s interesting is that McKinsey and Company are pretty much the pioneers of content marketing.  They have been producing the McKinsey Quarterly since 1964 as a means of demonstrating thought leadership and as a useful segway into business development efforts.

McKinsey would also engage in outreach to current and prospective CEOs, sending them what would now be called thought-leadership materials. Along the lines of: “…and if you’d like to know more…"

Long before social media demanded such a dedication to content creation, the McKinsey Quarterly was a well recognised and renowned publication for all types of business thinkers (it became my go-to source as I laboured through my Masters degree). Another interesting point: McKinsey does no traditional marketing. Yet their reputation as the best in the business is almost indisputable. Again, can you glean this all from their logo? You can when you have been privy to all of the other brand building activities, but not as an isolated element on its own.

11 Steps to a Perfect Logo

Can a logo ever hope to summarise every single brand association that you would like your audience to have about your business and brand? Not in a million years. This wonderful series of graphics from Spanish designer Borja Acosta de Vizcaíno summarises it perfectly: 

  1. Does it work vertically?

  2. Does it work with a box around it?

  3. Can you sketch it near-instantly?

  4. Less than two fonts?

  5. Abstract comes before literal

  6. The brand is the sum of everything; the logo isn't [hurrah!]

  7. A logo is a suggestion, an impression, a clue

  8. A logo’s job is to provide a legible, recognizable face to your brand

  9. Don't ask for blue or green, ask for 'technical' or 'trendy'

  10. Define the brand, then execute

  11. And face it, someone isn't going to be happy with your choice!

Brilliant! <slow claps>

Have you gone through the logo design process for your business? How did it go? I'd love to hear all about it in the comments below!

The Amadeus BrandBox