Change Your Logo Without Confusing Customers

Last Updated Mar 22, 2010 6:29 AM EDT

One of the organisations I work with recently decided to change its logo. Big mistake.

Logo changes are excuses for spending a fortune with a brand agency and having long and pretentious conversations about the meaning of a squiggle. There will be a huge clash of egos as each person tries to argue their case, and at the end of it no one will be happy with the result.

The outside world will not notice the change, if you are lucky. If you are unlucky you will be like Royal Mail and decide to junk all your history and values so that you can switch to the meaningless Consignia.

If we learn from our mistakes, I have learned greatly from this logo exercise. Here is what you need to know about developing a new logo:

Have a clear brief. The brief should be one sentence saying what you will communicate and to whom: "we will look funky and innovative to web developers", "we will look caring and reliable to the disabled whom we serve".

Continuity is good. You may be familiar with your logo, but to most other people your logo occupies roughly one zillionth of their consciousness. The more you change, the more you lose whatever brand recognition you already have in the market place.

Stay focused. If you try to communicate everything to everyone, you will communicate nothing. One simple message to one target group is all you need. Do not overload your logo with messages.

Use research, not opinions. Test different ideas with your target group and see if the logo conveys what it is meant to convey. Avoid having a committee where the decision is based on who argues the loudest and longest for their pet logo. The logo is there to do a job, not to satisfy a manager's ego. Everyone thinks they are experts on logos and everyone has an opinion. Use evidence, not opinions.

Do no harm. If you serve many different constituencies, focus on making an impact on one and then make sure you do no harm to any of the others. The do no harm principle helps achieve the focus principle: you do not have to please everyone.

Simple logos beat fancy logos. The fancier the logo is, the less flexible it becomes. Your logo has to work everywhere: letterheads, reception area, perhaps T-shirts and mugs, poster advertising.

Avoid having real people in your logo. If you include one minority group, every other minority group will feel excluded. If you use Tiger Woods or John Terry you become hostage to their reputation. People are divisive in logos.

The process counts as much as the outcome. A good logo development process will help management think carefully about their values, what they stand for, who they serve and what they need to focus on. These are helpful discussions to have, so involve management fully in the process.

Be brave. Bravery means being prepared to make small changes as a result of a lengthy exercise. Resist the pressure to make a big and dramatic change to justify all the effort you have put in. Ignore the pressure of the brand consultants who want to win awards for creativity: stick with what the research shows will work best.

(Pic Annie Mole cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership