The article answers the question of why both underestimating and overemphasizing the role of a brand logo can lead to risks:
“Is building a brand all about designing a logo?” This is perhaps the most common question that individuals or teams in image design and brand building have received in recent years.
The desire to build a brand is present, as is the awareness of the importance of positive brand perception. Therefore, it’s not surprising that “brand building” has become a hot topic for many investors, founders, and business leaders.
However, the rapid access and exposure to the concept of branding, at an accelerated pace, have created numerous misconceptions for those aspiring to create a positive, effective brand and gain a competitive advantage.
Sol Sender, an individual with 20 years of experience in the branding field, once remarked:
“The most effective logo designs often narrate the simplest stories.”
Regrettably, reality doesn’t always align with this perspective. Building a positive and effective brand isn’t as simple as just designing a logo.
The process of brand perception encompasses logo design, but a brand logo alone isn’t sufficient for founders and their teams to win over customers.
In fact, “too much of anything is not good.” When brand founders and leaders overly prioritize the role of logo design, it can lead to unpredictable consequences and hinder the development of a positive brand perception.
Why is it problematic to underestimate the role of a brand logo and, at the same time, overemphasize its significance? This article by Vu, titled “Why is a Brand Logo So Important,” will analyze and provide answers to these questions.
Why Did Brand Logos Emerge and Gradually Become Significant?
If we rewind human history to the pre-Middle Ages era, roughly from the 5th century to the end of the 9th century, we’ll find that, aside from the nobility, the majority of people were illiterate.
From around 900 onwards, extending to the late 14th century, the global population surged, leading to a trend of people migrating to large cities for settlement. The demand for goods began to soar, and individuals gradually transitioned from self-sufficiency in goods to a specialized and diverse commercial economy.
During this time, King Richard II of England issued a decree mandating that all merchants and businesses, regardless of their size, prominently display their business signs and brand images, whether through written words or various images.
King Richard II is recognized as the pioneer of brand logos (image: Encyclopedia Britannica).
Brand logo identification in its early days was relatively rudimentary. Most brands followed a common design language, with the brand name and the representative image of the brand placed together within a geometric shape.
Therefore, it can also be asserted that the technique of designing logo emblems was the starting point for the diversity in modern logo design techniques. The representative images of that time were clear, visual, and not deeply abstract in style.
For example, a pharmaceutical brand would use symbols like pill packaging, tablets, or a medicine bottle. A beer brand named “The Green Dragon” would undoubtedly feature a green dragon as its representative symbol.
The simplicity and clarity in the design language of brand logos persisted until around the 19th century. With the advent of the printing industry, brand imagery and, especially, brand logo design could be displayed through various tools and forms.
Brand logo design gradually asserted its importance when it was no longer limited to being a visual representation of the brand. From that point on, brand logos also served to convey the journey and memorable brand stories to all target customers, not just the founders and personnel.
The technique of designing emblems is the origin of brand logo design.
What happens when you underestimate the role of a brand logo?
Brand logo design is indeed the most significant asset of a brand. The brand logo is the simplest way to maintain recognition and positive emotions between consumers and the brand itself.
Not everyone can easily recognize CEO Tim Cook on the street, but it’s not difficult to spot the iconic half-bitten Apple logo that can appear anywhere.
Apple has sold more than 1 billion iPhones, which means that in a group of 10 friends, at least 2 of them can exchange images via Airdrop instead of Facebook or Zalo.
Not everyone knows the name of the automotive magnate Henry Ford, but when they see the Ford name on an oval-shaped, sea-blue emblem, everyone knows it’s a famous car brand.
Some people know that Henry Ford is an automotive magnate and that Ford is a world-famous car brand, but they may not know that Henry Ford is the founder of this brand.
These are just two of many stories and situations that highlight the role and mission of brand logo design in a crowded market like today.
No one buys an iPhone to please Tim Cook, even though he is a tech idol to many. Likewise, no one buys a Ford vehicle to glorify Henry Ford personally, even though they firmly believe that Henry Ford deserves the title of “The King of Cars” in the world.
The commonality between Vũ and many others, including Tim Cook, is that we all use iPhones (image: Hindustan Times).
People buy iPhones because they are satisfied and convinced by the value system that this device provides. Similarly, they choose to own a Ford vehicle because of its practicality in operation or the distinctive muscular design – something that embodies the unmistakable “American essence” of the brand.
The Apple logo on iPhone devices or the familiar blue logo on every Ford vehicle not only serves as an iconic representation of these two American brands.
They also serve as emotional connectors that help maintain and enhance the positive perception that loyal customers have had for these brands from the beginning. There’s nothing too extreme about buying an iPhone just for the half-bitten Apple logo or owning a Ford vehicle during times when the brand faces issues related to fuel leaks.
Brand logo design and the value system that a brand pursues are closely intertwined.
Just like when you see the Starbucks mermaid logo, you know that you’re about to enter a space designed for students (RMIT University) and creatives – those who always seek to escape the confines of four walls to let their creative spirit flow, the will to create something different in a space that is entirely different from the rest.
The advantage of many global brands is currently the weakness of many domestic brands, especially those in small and medium-sized business models.
Most of them underestimate the role and importance of the brand logo or equate the logo’s purpose with other brand identity materials – as a solution to polish and “beautify” the image of the business model.
The Ford brand logo serves as a crucial emotional connector (image: Vezess).
The perception of a brand logo as merely an image of a business model has caused many domestic brands to fail to establish strong touchpoints and sustainable emotional connections between customers and their brands.
Over time, what remains in the minds of most customers is whether the brand sells products at a low price, what promotions are available, or worse, the times the brand has been (or intentionally) “exposed.”
So why should we not overly emphasize the brand logo?
The Nike brand logo with the iconic swoosh has become legendary, but the story that many people remember the most is the tale of the design cost, which was a mere $35.
Completed in just 17 hours by a design student named Carolyn Davidson, who was given the honorary title “Nike Brand Logo Designer” by Philip Knight, the founder of Nike.
However, from Vũ’s perspective, those who think that the logo of a globally renowned company should come with a “staggering” design cost overestimate the role of brand logo design in general.
A brand logo should bring value to the business, leadership, and staff, and it doesn’t necessarily require an exorbitant budget for its design. If that were the case, companies like Adidas, Nike, Apple, or Samsung would spend billions each year just to redesign their brand logos.
Instead, Vũ believes that an impressive, effective, and valuable brand logo design must achieve optimization. This means delivering maximum impact from the target audience with the lowest cost within the shortest possible time frame.
The Nike brand logo was designed at a cost of only $35 (image: Investopedia).
Overemphasizing the role of a brand logo can lead to the misconception that logo design is all that’s needed for a brand to establish itself, grow, and leave a positive imprint in customers’ minds.
From this perspective, many leaders, to save time, effort, and costs, might wait until the logo design process is complete. Then, they apply this logo design to various brand materials and communications without a well-structured plan, ultimately diminishing its effectiveness.
As seen in practice, world-leading fashion sports brands like Nike only require a logo design that costs a few dozen dollars. Similarly, the Swedish automobile brand Volvo, with a brand value of $17.7 billion, higher than Audi’s, chose a logo design that draws inspiration from the ancient element Iron (Fe) in chemistry.
For these top global brands, logo design is merely the starting point. They undertake numerous subsequent actions to build their image, and position, and earn positive customer perceptions.
For instance, Volvo’s brand logo features the Iron element, representing safety, durability, and reliability. However, throughout its history, leadership and staff failed to prioritize safety in production and didn’t focus on delivering safety and reliable performance when introducing products to customers. Therefore, the role of the Volvo brand logo was nearly nonexistent.
On the other hand, consider the half-eaten apple on Apple’s brand logo. Numerous hypotheses have been proposed, such as the apple symbolizing the story of Adam and Eve, the apple representing Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity, or simply because Steve Jobs liked apples.
None of these hypotheses have been officially confirmed by Apple, but it doesn’t matter because, regardless of the origin story, the Apple brand logo with the image of the half-bitten apple has become the most friendly, positive, and recognizable image in the world.
The Apple logo has now become the most recognizable image in the world (image: IT Forum).
This design has garnered support and trust from many people and created such a positive effect that many “brand design experts” have attempted to impose the golden ratio on it. They have incorporated it into theories and textbooks to serve their perspectives or use it in the teaching process.
This is also an expression of overemphasizing the role of a brand logo, simultaneously reflecting two common psychological effects in humans: the Loaded Question and Overthinking.
Many people cannot or do not want to accept the truth that when creating the bitten apple logo, the “author” Rob Janoff simply wanted the apple to be bitten to prevent people from mistaking it for another type of fruit, such as a cherry.
Then they “overthink” to the point of proposing countless hypotheses for that image and imposing a golden ratio that is essentially irrelevant to the Apple brand logo. In reality, the Apple brand logo serves as evidence that logo design doesn’t need to be overly expensive or adhere to any specific standard to achieve optimal effectiveness.
A brand cannot exist and spread its identity without logo design, whether it’s a simple wordmark logo like Samsung and Coca-Cola or an iconic image like Apple’s bitten apple or Twitter’s blue bird.
While the brand itself doesn’t exist in a physical form or have a fixed shape, the brand logo is tangible and has a specific form. Its usage and display must adhere to specific brand image guidelines.
Coca-Cola’s logo design is simple yet legendary (Image: Katie Peake).
Therefore, a brand logo is not as “powerful” as many people perceive it to be. It cannot directly enter the marketplace and help the brand maintain its competitive edge, nor does it guarantee that the brand’s identity, even if beloved by millions of target customers, will be perpetually maintained and developed.
The current state of a brand may rely on its image or logo design, but the future of a brand lies in the hands of its leadership and team.
Logo design is just one of many tools applied as part of a cohesive system to ensure that every smallest piece of the business accurately represents the brand and that individuals take pride in being a part of the team.
Ultimately, it is essential to empathize and pursue values that contribute to the most effective and sustainable development of the business or brand.