Don't Invest in a Logo. Invest in a Brand

February 21, 2019

Many of you may be asking yourselves, "Isn't a brand mostly just a logo?"

This misconception about branding has started to die a slow and painful death (hooray!) thanks, in part, to a brand strategist named Marty Neumeier. In 2005, Marty Neumeier defined a brand as "a person's gut feeling about a product, service, or company" in his book, The Brand Gap. Thankfully, this definition has made its rounds in the business community. The concept of Personal Branding has also helped to eliminate the misconception since influencers like Kim Kardashian have strong brands without a logo.

The issue is, despite this definition becoming more widely accepted, quick and cheap design companies have boomed since The Brand Gap was first published in 2005. These companies promise a $5 logo in minutes. They also severely devalue the hard work of designers, but I won't argue the ethical issues with companies like Fiverr and 99 Designs here.

Instead, I will explain why skimping on design will hurt your bottom line. That's right, you won't just be out $5 when you "save money" by hiring a designer to simply design a logo for your company. You could be missing out on an opportunity to make millions, depending on your industry.

So why is a brand so valuable?

A brand builds customer loyalty.

Branding is just like matchmaking. It's finding the "customer of your dreams," attracting them, getting to know them intimately, and doing whatever it takes to keep them. A good brand courts its ideal customer, proposes to them, and keeps them happy.

Dunkin Donuts is a great example!
Meet my friend (pictured below). She's from Boston, drinks Dunkin every day, and HATES Starbucks with a passion! When Dunkin Donuts intentionally decided not to have WiFi at any of their locations to emphasize their focus on speed, she was all for it despite her deep desire to want to live in a Dunkin Donuts. When she got engaged? Well, see for yourself...

Engagement photos featuring an obsessed Dunkin Donuts brand fan with her fiance and two Dunkin Donuts cups in their hands.
Engagement photo featuring a Dunkin Donuts cup with an engagement ring on top.

Incorporating a brand into your engagement photos is one thing. Branding your body with your favorite logo is next level. My future father-in-law is one of many who have a Harley Davidson tattoo. Those things are so popular, it doesn’t even seem crazy anymore when you see it! My other friend has the Intel logo tattooed on his head. Still, another has the Arkansas Razorbacks logo on his ass… Tattoos are FOR LIFE!!! These are not rare examples. I promise I’m not just friends with crazy people.

David Aaker Quote: Branding adds spirit and a soul to what would otherwise be a robotic, automated, generic, price-value proposition.


So why do people literally brand themselves with a commodity? Their favorite brands stand for something bigger than their products. To my Dunkin friend, the brand represents her hometown and the blue collar worker. When my future father-in-law is on his Harley, he feels the most free. Intel fuels my other friend’s passion for working with computers. The Arkansas Razorbacks logo represents home. A good brand is much more than a commodity. It’s a lifestyle.

A brand is strategic.

Strategy is a loaded and abstract word. The word "strategy" is often used as a buzz word these days by designers to charge more. The difference between a designer and a brand strategist can be pretty extreme. A ton of marketing and design agencies SAY they focus on brand strategy when designing your brand. In reality, they are nothing more than a designer who wants more of your money.

How to spot a "strategist" who is all talk.
Before working with someone claiming to be a brand strategist, ask about their process. If they send you a questionnaire without sitting down with you in a workshop, they aren't a brand strategist.

Many brand strategists start with a questionnaire to get to know your company, but if a questionnaire is their final step before the design phase, they are misleading you and possibly themselves. A good brand strategist doesn't just rely on you alone to tell them about your company, your competitors, or your customers. They trust you to be the experts, but experience has told them that key insights are often buried in the back of your head or discovered during the research phase. A brand strategist's job is to draw out the "big idea" that defines your brand.

You can't read a label from the inside of a bottle.
You might have heard this saying before. When developing a brand, you need an outsider perspective. Often, business owners are too personally invested in their company's success to leave the task of branding up to the experts. I want to emphatically validate your passion for your company! I also want to be quick to point out that passion can be misleading.

Do you want to work with high end clients, but you don't provide what they are looking for? Lean into what you do provide. Are your customers gravitating toward a new product when you built your company around another? You might want to lean into that new product. Are you a millennial entrepreneur trying to appeal to baby boomers? Research what motivates them.

For these reasons and countless others, you can't always see your company clearly. A good brand strategist listens exceptionally well to not only you, but the customer, and helps facilitate insights.

A brand will make you money.

People don't buy products, they buy brands. What's the difference between a BMW and a Toyota? It's not just a logo. You can see the difference in their tag lines. BMW's current tag line is "Sheer driving pleasure," while Toyota's is "Let's go places."

The Toyota logo with the tagline "Let's go places" under it vs the BMW logo with it's tagline "Sheer driving pleasure" under it.

Toyota wants you to depend on them to get you from point A to point B, while BMW emphasizes luxury, power, and the experience getting there. These fundamental differences drive (no pun intended) everything they do. BMW wants to sell more expensive cars to fewer people, while Toyota wants to sell cheaper cars to more people. Both companies are extremely successful because they are relentlessly focused on their unique markets. Brand strategy can help you define yours.

Branding can dictate the direction of your company moving forward.
A good brand strategist isn't afraid of change. Twitter used to be a podcast company, Starbucks only sold coffee machines and beans, and YouTube was a video dating site! They all had one thing in common. They listened to their customers and gave them what they really wanted. Not what they assumed they wanted.

Twitter, Starbucks, and YouTube make a lot more money now than they used to.
Need more convincing? Significant rebrands have saved these 10 companies from the brink of failure.

Logo design matters.
Think of the biggest brands you know. Now picture their logos. Having trouble? Of course not. That's the power of a well designed logo.

Some of these companies got really lucky. They paid almost nothing (or nothing in some cases) for a logo that has lasted for decades. The Twitter logo cost $15 and the Nike swoosh cost only $35. However, Pepsi spent $1 million on their latest, The BBC spent $1.8 million on their letters inside 3 black boxes, and BP's current logo cost $211 million.

Why do the world's biggest brands invest so much on design? What do they know that we don't? They understand a logo is the first thing a person sees when shopping for a product or service. You have 5 seconds on average to get their attention.

So what makes a logo good? They must be simple, memorable, and appropriate. You need to be able to identify its shapes instantly, it can't get confused for another logo, and it must match your company's goals and style. One misconception about logos is that they have to "say something." Everyone wants their logo to hide some hidden message like the FedEx logo, but if you look at the biggest brands in the world, their logos are often abstract.

The most recognizable logos are so recognizable because of their company's equity over time. However, a logo that isn't simple, memorable, and appropriate won't ever be recognizable. Or worse, it weakens your credibility.

A brand will save you money.

Imagine for a second, you are a startup or a tiny company just starting out. Maybe you don't even have to imagine. Let's pretend you spend $300 on a logo because you just need something to get started. There is virtually no risk associated with that logo for your company.

Now, it's 5 years later and you have grown to 20 employees and $1,000,000 in revenue. This type of growth is rare without a well defined brand, but let's pretend for a second.

All the sudden, there is a lot of risk associated with a simple logo. If you skimp here, a logo could be a disaster for your company. In the case of The Gap, they wasted $1 million on a logo that failed so bad they changed it back within a week...

The bigger the company, the riskier the rebrand. A $10,000 branding project now, could cost $100,000 5 years from now. Save money by investing in a great brand early on.

Logo redesign timeline for Coca-Cola and Pepsi logos. Coca-Cola hasn't changed, while Pepsi has redesigned 10 times.

A brand is essential.

The other day, I was given the task of explaining branding to a 5 year old.

I was telling my friend that I started my own branding company. Her little girl proceeded to ask me, "What is branding?" I asked her if she has ever seen a coke bottle. Of course, she said "Yes." I responded, "Do you know how, when you see the words "Coca-Cola," they are cursive?" "Yes," she replied. "What color is the bottle?" I asked, knowing she would say red. Sure enough, she did. "That's branding. It's how you know that bottle is a Coca-Cola bottle, and not a Pepsi bottle." Her eyes widened and she instantly understood. "Oh!"

She probably doesn't know enough about Coca-Cola's ad campaigns to know that they go beyond their logo and color scheme to emphasize "Happiness" and "Unity," but she definitely already understands the importance of branding at 5 years old.

Branding is essential, it’s not optional. This isn’t news. The question is, “How much should you invest?” Today, there are more brands to choose from than ever before. If you went to the grocery store 50 years ago, you would see 1–3 brands of tomato sauce on the shelf. I counted 23 the other day… Branding isn’t just for huge corporations anymore. It’s essential for any company, no matter how small, to stand out. Rest assured, without it, your growth will hit a ceiling.

Conclusion

A logo without a brand won't get you far. Even Twitter and Nike, who spent under $50 for their logos, have invested millions of dollars in branding since. You might not be ready for a defined brand right now, but eventually your growth will depend on it. My advice? Spend the extra money on a brand.

But then again, I might be a little bias.

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