I love logos. As a kid growing up in the Sixties, I'd draw variations of my name in balloon type, like Peter Max, or in 19th century Blackletter, like The New York Times banner. It was amazing to me that the same six letters could convey such different feelings. Not surprisingly I gravitated to graphic design in art school, and spent the next 40 years making a career of it and the adjunct skills of advertising. My first big logo job was to digitize the Pfizer trademark, which was done on a Macintosh Plus and a brand new app called Illustrator.
Which makes me old, but still younger than Mick Jagger. Back in 1969, Jagger had the novel idea of branding the Rolling Stones, and sought out a student at London's Royal College of Art whose work he admired, 24-year old John Pasche, who accepted about $77 dollars to draw up a very graphic pair of red lips and tongue. That sexy take on Mick's Mouth came to define the Stones brand for half a century, two years before the iconic Nike Swoosh began to define theirs. The era of modern day Brand Marketing was born.
That era is now dying. According to Advertising Age this month, more than half of kids born after 1980 say they have no interest in brand loyalty. They've been dubbed "The Generic Generation." One reason is logo overdose — There are some 6 million registered trademarks in the USA alone, and the number worldwide is anyone's guess. Another reason is that in the age of the emoticon and snapchat video, the value of standalone graphics like logos is greatly diminished. But perhaps the biggest stake in the heart of traditional branding is the relentless rise of social media, which now determines how virtually all consumer marketing campaigns are designed and built. People don't share logos, but they'll share almost anything else. So, why have a logo at all?
The role of Logos in the new Crowdculture
If you have a product that sells in a store, you still need eye-catching design for display and packaging. If your brand has a whole line of products out in the world, you still need a brand logo and unified graphic style. If you have a service, your logo is your sign over the door, on your menu, your cards. If you work trade shows, having your company logo on staff shirts feels good. But selling stuff just because it has your logo on it? That's so eighties. Even the Branded Content and Sponsorship strategies used by major companies in the early oughts have mostly failed to deliver. The strategies that are working now are what Douglas Holt calls "Cultural Branding," which means tailoring your marketing to the specific social media groups that are interested in what you have to offer. There's a crowdculture for absolutely everything, and you can probably find yours with a couple of clicks.
A good logo's nice to have, but here are the most important things:
The first consideration is your name, or your company's, and/or your product's. It is the one truly unique thing separating you from everyone else. Spend time researching the availability of your chosen name as a website domain name, Twitter handle, etc., and be prepared to fiddle with it to make it original on the Internet. With all the new Domain extensions available, originality is much easier to accomplish. For social media handles, however, a variant on the chosen domain name is sometimes necessary (those 2 billion+ Facebook users are your competition.)
The second is your story. This is the (short) tale of what you do and why you're passionate about it. Unlike boring old Mission Statements, compelling stories are much more likely to be shared, and if they contain a value proposition for the reader, more likely to generate business. A splendid example of this is Brandless™, a new shopping startup with a mission. The irony is killing me here — they trademarked the name Brandless™ — but even the WSJ is watching them closely as a potential retail brand disruptor for the Generic Generation.
The third is your style, vibe and personality, as exhibited by the content you make available to people online, in print and, yes, in person. While your logo can simply be your name in a nice typeface, the first impression people have of your website or Facebook page — indeed, the first 2.5 seconds of engagement — make or break the deal. So how to get the whole package right?
Know your audience. Imagine you've been invited to a party. You have a clear idea of what it will be like and the kind of people who will be there, so you dress accordingly, maybe sharpen your party conversation by reading that "5 things to know today" in your inbox. You're literally tailoring yourself to your audience, and that's what to do with your online presence in the crowdculture — as long as you're being authentic. Dressing it up right means finding a website template that says "you," using only the best and most interesting photos, and — always — writing engagingly, honestly and above all briefly. Keep. It. Short.
Engage your audience. If you want them to do something, say so up front, politely. If you have a compelling product or service, you don't have to explain it too much until your customer is on your website and heading to the Checkout. If your product or service is not compelling, no amount of brand strategy will fix it. The crowdculture is not too forgiving.
Follow up with your audience. One thing hasn't changed in marketing: your best customers are your existing customers. Always thank them, invite them to share, retain their email addresses, send them great news every so often.
Bottom line: Since Naomi Klein's "No Logo" came out in 1999, there's been "a bad mood rising against the corporate brands," and the recent birth of Brandless™ seems to support that. At the same time, a huge sea change in the way people share and shop has changed how we show and sell. One big effect of this pushback against the corporate brand is the urge for transparency, and that is being embraced in a big way. The takeaway for your brand? Be nice, be yourself and don't be shy. Make sure you hire a good graphic designer :-) And totally go for it.
Thomas Mitchell 31/08/2017