The picture worth a thousand dollars…or more
Nike’s swoosh. McDonald’s golden arches. Chevrolet’s metallic cross. Apple’s, umm, apple. These logos have come to signify, at a single glance, the essence of the corporation that uses them. A business’ logo is the picture that represents a thousand words (give or take) all about the brand identity. Logos are trademarked and counted as an official business asset, the most popular and identifiable ones valued at millions of dollars.

National companies devote serious manpower (and often budget) to the production of that one visual element, and customers become attached. Last fall, clothing retailer Gap rolled out a new logo online with plans to implement it in print and signage in their brick and mortar stores. The immediate tidal wave of negative feedback from fans and loyal customers caused the company to quickly revert to their classic white text on navy background.

What is it about a good logo that draws such an emotional response from the public? For that matter, what makes a good logo? Visualize for a moment those first few logos mentioned. The swoosh, the arches, the cross, the apple. When was the last time, not counting news articles, that you saw the company name without the logo? On the flip side, it’s not uncommon to see just the graphic without the company name. That one element has come to symbolize the company, the product, and the culture of the organization. It’s the marketing knockout punch.

Now consider the graphic itself. The most striking commonality between the Nike, McDonalds, Chevy, and Apple logos is simplicity. With the barest scratch of a pen you could recreate them from memory. None of these examples include text, but even the top text-based logos have the same minimalist approach–FedEx, Google, WalMart, VW.

Simple is important because, generally speaking, it makes a logo memorable, and that’s the whole point. You want people to recognize at a glance that the logo represents your company; beyond that, you want customers and potential customers to have a positive emotional association with your brand.

To help generate that emotion, your logo should also have meaning, preferably something that resonates strongly with the public. In the most basic terms, the swoosh means winning; the arches mean happiness; the apple means cool-hipster-ironic-anti-establishment-mellow-whatever-artistic-freedom-stick-it-to-the-man (take your pick). Of course, the meaning not only resonates with consumers, it also relates directly to the products sold by the companies attached to the logos.

Finally, since the logo goes everywhere (think stationery, web sites, shirts, signage, ads, bags, pens, vehicles, price tags, and the list goes on forever…), it has to be versatile. Will it look good shrunken down into a tiny thumbnail size? How about enlarged to a giant outdoor banner wrapped around a building? Will it fit into a square? Can it be vertical and horizontal? Your logo must remain recognizable in all of these circumstances. Again, simplicity helps.

At first glance, choosing the right logo for your business sounds fairly simple. After all, the parameters are clear: pick a graphical symbol that is simple, meaningful, memorable, and versatile. But once you venture down that road, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Should it be square or circular, or maybe non-geometric in shape? How about color? Should it include words? If so, which font should you use? Every detail seems agonizingly critical.

Establishing a consistent, meaningful logo is vital to your branding efforts, but it doesn’t have to be painful. This is the point where you turn to a professional graphic designer for some assistance. Graphic designers are a special breed. Part artist, part marketing wizard, part computer geek, they bring practical application to an emotional subject. A good graphic designer will work with you to identify the most compelling aspects of your brand and what kind of visual best represents those aspects.

Developing a logo concept is a challenging prospect, but it’s one of the most important steps you can take to solidify your business identity. A good logo is kind of like one of those songs that gets stuck in your head for months (those are called “earworms,” by the way). It’s the easiest way to communicate to your customers and stick with them.