Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Brand Design: Getting a New Logo? Not So Fast!

As a new business startup, you're not necessarily concerned about what your brand is going to be.  There are far too many grassroots issues to deal with right now.  You need to register your business, set up bank accounts and payment systems, line up suppliers, sort out pricing structures, organise staffing and so on.

But at some point during the initial planning, the question of the business logo will be raised.  The subject will usually be brought up around the same time as the subject of advertising and signage. As far as the issue of business branding is concerned, this can be a good thing and a bad thing…

Your brand is your reputation, and your reputation will transcend the best PR your money can buy.

It's a good strategy to have your brand in mind early on, and the subject of logo design is the most common trigger that brings the issue to mind; "What symbol do I want to represent my business?"

Your logo is the visual transference of your reputation, and it will carry that reputation of its own accord.  It has the power to bring to the mind of whoever sees it, an emotional connection that has already been established via that reputation, and it can trigger a subliminal loyalty in potential customers, or a compulsive choice to purchase, even if no other visual elements accompany it.

And yet, because your logo is such an important element of your brand, it needs to be one of the last elements of brand management that you acquire as part of a new business venture*.  If you rush into commissioning a logo, then you may waste a lot of time and money, and scar the longterm reputation of your business.

[I'll expand on that statement in a later post.]

To be slightly abstract for a moment: In order to get your logo just right, you first need to work out what your business is.

Here's a question: Do you have a polished business plan that you understand and are happy to follow? If you have, then well done. You pretty much know as much as any new business manager can hope to know about what your business will be doing, and where it's heading.  You know what your business is.

The beauty of a business plan is that it forces you to think long and hard about what you, and by default your loved ones, are getting yourselves into. It allows you to gauge whether your vision is feasible, and it allows you to know this before you invest too much money and time.

It also allows you to answer some of the crucial questions that define your brand:
..and many, many more!

So your business plan represents the foundation of brand management, and provided you take your plan seriously, you can begin to implement brand design starting with your logo. With the answers to the questions listed above along with others outlined in your business plan, both you and your nominated graphic designer can collaborate and form a clearer idea as to how your logo should look and where it should feature.

You'll know the customer demographic to whom it should appeal.  You'll have a good idea of the various media with which your logo should be compatible (eg: printed stationery, screenprinted shirts, embroidered caps, website display and so on).

In short, you have the key information that a professional designer needs to know in order to create the ideal logo for your brand.

If you haven't got a business plan or you have a plan that you don't understand, or you've simply decided that drawing up a business plan is either too hard or simply not necessary, then you probably don't know what your business is. As such, you'll have a much harder time working out what your brand is, and consequently any brand design will be hit-and-miss.  In this scenario, the best that a logo designer can do for you is produce what you believe you want, as opposed to what your business needs.  There is a crucial difference.

Let's say you've considered all of this and genuinely believe you don't need a well defined business plan.  Maybe you really are the kind of person who works best flying by the seat of your pants, testing the waters as you go and revising your procedures and goods as required until you settle into an ideal niche.

Well, of course you may want to go ahead and get yourself a new logo anyway.  Because all businesses need a logo, right? Well, actually they don't, and my advice to you would be not to bother. Or if you do bother, get it done cheaply, perhaps by a young designer who needs the experience, because I'm guessing you'll want to dump it later on.

Here's how it could potentially pan out: You'll direct the hired designer to create something that reflects your proposed business as you see it in your head.  You may end up with a brilliant icon that is both aesthetically pleasing and functional, and which visually reflects your current vision.  But what happens two or three years down the line when, through your deliberate seat-of-pants strategy, you realise that you need to change your procedures, go into a different line of goods, or target a different demographic?

If you don't change the lure to attract the right fish, you may not like what ends up on your line.

Will the logo you had designed prior to these changes continue to reflect your business' revised brand? In the case that it doesn't, how much time and money are you willing to spend to have that logo revised, or replaced entirely? Keep in mind, also, that if you follow best business practice and register your logo as a trademark, then you may have just wasted the cost of that registration as well.

You might decide to stick with what you've got. Well, think hard on that...

If your business was in commercial operation during that dubious seat-of-pants phase, how obvious has it been to your early customers that you weren't a well-defined operation?  How has that affected their opinion of your business?

If your logo has already been equated with inadequacy, then its future presence in your publicity and promotional strategies may do you more harm than good.

Regardless of how competent and grounded your business has since become, that first generation of customers may never revise their low opinion, and the sight of that logo will bring that opinion to mind.

Remember: word-of-mouth is still the most influential means of promotion;  a dissatisfied customer only needs to criticise you once, and the viral nature of social media will do the rest.  The person who sees that logo doesn't need to have been a past customer to hold a low opinion of your business; they just need to have seen that post on their Facebook page, and the sight of that logo years later will still trigger a negative vibe.

Committing to a logo too early can be an expensive mistake. As stated earlier, your logo carries your reputation of its own accord.  It transcends the best publicity, the cleverest give-away gimmicks and the most expensive celebrity endorsements.

So stick to a list of priorities while you initiate your venture:

  • Commit to a business plan;
  • Use the business plan to help determine your brand;
  • Commission your logo design based on that brand.  

After that, the pieces of your brand management puzzle will begin to fall into place.

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