A Brand is a Very Emotional Thing

Posted by Robert Weitz on November 17, 2011 8:15 AM

Logos are a very important part of building a living brand. They are too easy to do for beginners, and too difficult for masters! They are completely misunderstood by most people, and they have the power to drive countries to war, inspire immense humanity or great irony. Put the wrong 2 symbols together and one might become so offended that they take physical action to remedy the situation!

So much emotion and storytelling can be packed into a logo that just by seeing it, we are willing to trust our lives, fortunes or happiness when they are present. Some logo symbols like the red cross are so powerful that they allow a vehicle to enter a hot war zone and not be blown to pieces. What is it about these singular symbols that evoke such emotion, and commands such attention, that it will sometimes weigh more than a life or a country’s well-being?

First let’s talk about form, and then let’s talk about how the owner of the symbol sees it, and how the user sees the same symbol. If they align you have success, if they don’t you have symbols that are meaningless, convey the wrong things, or out and out lie! Having designed many, many corporate and personal logo identities, I have seen the thought process people try to go through and all of the potentially bad moves and silly assumptions. So here are some of my observations:

  1. The back-story means little or nothing to the consumer/user.
  2. The most important thing is that the logo is clear, easy to understand, and looks good in every media it will appear in/on.
  3. Forget about the owner’s favorite colors, fonts, animals, or that he/she likes turnip shapes. What is important is that the brand and logo identity touches and connects with the intended audience.

There are back-stories to the symbols we anoint to stand for our ideas, but they are either post-rationalizations or often opaque to the everyday follower or customer. The weakest logo designs try to tell the story directly, while the most powerful stand for great stories.

They allow us to condense our understanding of  a story into a tiny compressed form. That’s why these symbols and logos are so powerful. Symbols and logo identities that try to explicitly tell a story can work, but the story is rarely evident or interesting to the user. The symbol is an efficient, compact way of storing the feeling people have about you in general. So, when companies like Toyota have reputation failures, the symbol that stood for safety and reliability becomes sadly ironic, and all that story works against them.

I’ll leave you with a sobering thought: If we mix any of the above logos and symbols in an insensitive way, we could evoke emotions that would drive people to kill and destroy, or at least sue or prosecute. Conversely, the right combination of symbols or logos could result in peace and reconciliation, or great commercial success. In future postings, I will go into some of my ideas about the power, mystery, humanity and usefulness of logo identities and how they work, don’t work, or act silly and spoil everything!

 

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