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Why are logos so important and what makes a good one?

22/06/2021

Modern research has changed the way the humble logo is thought of, taking it beyond a simple graphic with aesthetic appeal, to a communication device that can perform incredibly complex tasks for a business. Studies into the influence of branding over the past decade demonstrate that logos and branding are so important that they can actually profoundly influence decision-making in customers by themselves (Philiastides & Ratcliff, 2013). This month we explore what makes logos so important and what contributes to the effect they can have.

Why are logos important?

First Impressions & Perception

A well-designed logo will make a strong positive impression within the first few seconds a customer sees it; this impression will often stick in their memory, sowing the seeds of brand trust and loyalty that can make a customer choose you over a competitor. This initial assessment by the customer happens almost instantly, typically at a subconscious level, but research tells us that a lot more is going on inside a customer's head than we may have been previously aware of.

A study in 2016 by an international team of researchers (Jiang et al.: Does Your Company Have the Right Logo? How and Why Circular- and Angular-Logo Shapes Influence Brand Attribute Judgments) found that something as seemingly trivial as the use of circular vs angular shapes in a logo could influence participants' perceptions over how comfortable/durable a shoe would be, based on a piece of advertising. Participants shown the version using circular shapes associated the product with higher levels of comfort than participants that were shown angular shapes, who associated the product with higher levels of durability.

Not only does research show that a logo can influence the way in which customers will perceive your business, products and services, but it even suggests that logos can influence future behaviour. A study in 2008 (Fitzsimons et al.: Automatic Effects of Brand Exposure on Motivated Behavior: How Apple Makes You “Think Different”) demonstrated that logos had the ability to prime participants into performing better or worse on certain tasks, suggesting that branding had an automatic behavioural effect; in other words, a logo can influence the way you behave.

Recognition & Recall

As well as influencing perception and behaviour, logos have also been shown to play an important role in helping customers recognise and differentiate businesses from their competition. When logos and complementary branding are applied consistently, customers are more likely to recognise what's unique about a business and recall this when making key purchase decisions. Neuroscientific research supports this notion by showing us that our brains have a natural and incredibly organised system of processing, memorising and assigning meaning to shape; this can help to explain why some of the simplest logos (think of the Apple logo or the Nike tick), that don't even heavily rely on colour, can make such a lasting impression. Furthermore, since we know that trust is a very important attribute that influences customer behaviour, it can help to explain why a strong, clear logo and brand identity can help drive customer loyalty. 

Our brain's ability to memorise shape and the meanings we associate with it is a phenomenon that marketers have not ignored. As consumers, we can hold onto powerful, lasting emotional associations with logos, that upon recall, can elicit a wide range of feelings and even nostalgia. In fact, as consumers, we can be so wedded to a logo or brand identity that attempts to alter it can be met with serious backlash – especially for historic and iconic brands. The global clothing store Gap offers us a great example, who went down in history with the 'worst rebrand of all time' when they decided to update their logo back in 2010. The furore caused by the change – referred to as Gapgate – caused so much backlash on social media that the new logo was scraped in under a week. The mistake didn't just disgruntle customers however, it also cost the business an estimated $100 million dollars! Importantly, the lesson to be learned from the Gap case study is that consumers didn't care that the old logo was 'broken' (being originally designed for print and very problematic for digital application), and didn't care that the new logo was technically designed well to work across a range of applications – all they cared about was the fact the new version didn't resonate or connect with them, and it didn't symbolise what they felt Gap should stand for.

Interestingly, marketers have begun to use iconic and retro designs as a tool to help connect customers with memories they have about a brand or service, even though from a design perspective they may look outdated. The nostalgic feeling customers get from older versions of logos can help to elicit feelings of familiarity, comfort and safety – all very valuable feelings for customers to have towards your brand. Whilst inspiration can be taken from the past, the execution can still be different to the original version and remain highly effective if the overall 'feel' of the logo remains the same. A good example of this is Burger King, who went from their more detailed, bold, and stylised logo with highlights and the blue ring, to almost identically recreating their logo from the ’90s of just the word “Burger King” between two plain bun shapes. The change was widely accepted and barely criticised at all.

What makes a good logo?

Logos unknowingly elicit more feelings than we might realise. Colours, fonts and overall style can be used to communicate a lot about your business, whether you use a clean and sharp style to give off an air of corporate seriousness, or round and bold styles for a playful and approachable feel.

Simplicity

A good logo must work well at all sizes, especially when you think of the things you could apply your branding to. Ensuring it will be legible if printed on the side of a pen, to being scaled up for a large sign or the side of a van will show whether a logo has been well thought through, or not.

Keeping the logo simple also aids in recognisability and being versatile for any application. Remember, you don't have to try and communicate every aspect of your business through your logo; your branding should centre on portraying the key aspects of your core values. 

If you decide to use an icon in your logo, rather than just a text-based logo, the icon should be clear, simple and provide a clue as to what your business does rather than being just an abstract shape, for example. This encourages trust and can draw consumers into learning more about your company. To summarise, logos should be unique, scalable, flexible and clear simple.

Colour

Colour can have a powerful psychological impact on customers since it is often cognitively associated with different feelings, depending on the context. Whilst there are individual differences in how we interpret colour, there are also observable trends when you widen the lens out. As an example, blue is often associated with feelings of trust and dependability, which is why a lot of banks and social media channels use this colour. Green shades are often associated with nature, growth, energy and health, which is why it is often used by healthcare or food brands to convey peace and wellbeing. Importantly, whilst you may think you know which colour is appropriate for your business, it's worth conducting customer research to validate whether the colours you choose actually convey the notions you expect, since these can change depending on the context they're applied to. Brown is a great example of this, since in the wrong context it can look very dull and lifeless (e.g. for a professional services business perhaps), but in the right context can create wonderfully warm, luxurious feels (e.g. for a cosmetic brand, chocolate company or coffee business for example).

Having a variation in colour for light and dark applications is also essential in making sure your logo will work on a variety of background colours. Ideally, avoid using more than three colours in your logo and use gradients sparingly, or ensure you create a non-gradient variation too for certain applications.

Finally, the colours you choose should compliment the style of your logo in general. For example, pairing bright colours with a logo that has a rounded, playful feel and relevant iconography would help a nursery or after school club to instantly communicate what they do to potential customers. 

Shape

We have already mentioned how shape can play an important role in the design of a logo, since it can convey certain emotions subconsciously. After all, both the natural and man-made world is made up of shapes, which we subconsciously analyse and assign meaning to. More often than not, the most memorable logos are the ones that use simple shapes to the greatest effect, creating something that sticks in your mind and is instantly clear and recognisable.

Fonts can play a very important role in shaping the way your logo looks and feels. A serif font for example can suggest you operate a business with traditional, dependable values, ideal for a butchers or lawyers perhaps. Conversely, a sans-serif font can be used to communicate the fact that you're very modern and progressive. Outside of the actual font itself, the way you use type in your logo can be incredibly powerful; a great example of this is the FedEx logo with it's famous arrow hidden in the negative space between the E and X of the logo. It's a tiny detail, but it helps to denote speed and precision in an almost subliminal way without adding to the complexity of the logo at all.

Another good example of how simplifying a logo can work in your favour is the Twitter logo. Their infamous Twitter bird, named Larry, used to be more cartoony and have extra flourishes, which have since been toned down or removed. They also slightly tilted the design upwards to show growth and looking forward. While these are fairly subtle changes overall, they make a huge difference in modernising the brand and being easier to recall too.

If you have been thinking about updating or creating a new logo for your brand, get in touch today to see how we could help you.

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