Ideas can be complex and difficult to communicate. Language can be insufficient. A blank piece of paper poses a difficult challenge. So how do you create a logo — a set of letters and symbols — that encapsulates everything a company stands for?
Step One: Choose the Meaning
The idea behind a dog icon is fairly simple. It doesn't take a great leap of imagination to understand how this icon relates to the real world and what people want. But this can be much more difficult when an organization is based on an abstract idea or offers complex products and services. How do we create a logo for a company that offers thousands of different items? How do we create a logo that describes serving the needs of the poor? Developing these sorts of logos is much more difficult.
Once a logo has been created it becomes exactly what a word is in our language — a visual container for meaning. After many years, you don't need to be told what the Coca-Cola logo represents. You don't need to ask what FedEx does. Through years of brand development and mental association, the average American understands how these companies can serve their needs.
This is why it is so important for entrepreneurs to execute a compelling visual identity for their company — everything they do, everything they offer, and all the interactions that occur with every customer will become associated with that single icon. When you start a new company you are building a tiny piece of language that's all your own; you have the opportunity to create a word and its meaning. When this task is performed well, it becomes easier for your customers to remember who you are.
Step Two: Decide How You Want To Create That Meaning
Sometimes the meaning of a logo comes from its association to a place. The Eiffel Tower or Cinderella’s Castle at Disney World are easily identifiable and create the idea of a location whenever they appear in a logo.
Meaning can also come from a person. Kentucky Fried Chicken uses Colonel Sanders in its logo and advertising, an homage to the man who founded the restaurant during the Great Depression. A little girl walking through the rain while holding an umbrella appears on every box of Morton Salt. She was developed to remind customers that Morton salt would not form clumps in humid weather. These characters add meaning to their respective logos — they tell a simple story that provides depth to the offering.
Logos can be associated with a time. The old Dr. Pepper logo contained three numbers — 10, 2 and 4 — to remind customers to take breaks during the day to drink soda. (Three cans totals 450 calories and 120 grams of sugar — probably not the best advice.) Time can also be conveyed through style; until 2012, Wendy’s employed a vintage look in its logo to reinforce the idea of “old-fashioned” hamburgers.
Of course, logos can also drive meaning from a thing. The panda referenced in the logo for the World Wide Fund for Nature clearly reminds people of the need to preserve the species. Apple uses an apple. Jaguar uses — you guessed it — a jaguar.
But many companies want to present meanings that are far more abstract, and these kinds of logos can be difficult to develop. Those meanings must be created using style or metaphor or context. These challenges can be met, but only if the company has clearly defined its offering, its mission and its audience.
Step Three: Understand How the Logo Will Be Used
You may offer the greatest product in history. You may provide the most sterling service. But without the logo, they won’t know that your company is behind it.
Using the logo well is one of the most important things you can do to create brand recognition. A logo is never just handed to a customer on a sheet of paper; it appears on trucks or billboards or the side of an airplane. It may be printed in tiny, almost invisible spaces. It may be embossed in plastic during the manufacture of a product or added to clothing. It can appear in vertical spaces or horizontal spaces or square spaces. Logo creators must understand all of the potential uses and applications for each mark, and design with the future in mind.
In terms of brand recognition, logo applications have a much higher return on investment than marketing — you can add a logo to almost anything for far less than you can produce and distribute an advertisement. In many cases, the logo will be seen far more often than any piece of marketing — just open your refrigerator to see this dynamic in action. Therefore, logo design is a vital first step in the marketing process. It pays to do it well.
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