When should you continue to drive forward with your current logo and when should you take an exit?
Signs that you need a new logo don’t suddenly appear, and logos don’t have expiration dates. If so it would make justifying a new visual identity much easier. Despite this we see new logos frequently, some we notice some we don’t. In the past few years many familiar brands have changed their logos: Delta and American Airlines, Pizza Hut, Holiday Inn, and most recently Verizon and Google.
A logo, or a visual identity, is essentially a symbol that provides a shortcut to what a company means to each of us. It represents the brand; the accumulation of good will, and enables reflexive decision-making. This cognitive response has “equity” to a company that is truly valuable, so changing a logo can be risky. What if customers can’t find us… or think we are a different company they can’t trust?
And changing a brand’s visual identity can be expensive, especially if changing assets like storefront signage or fleet graphics are involved. Repainting all the airliners in a fleet can cost several millions of dollars. Repainting just one Boeing 777 can cost $100,000 to $200,000.
Some brands have products that can project a relevant or contemporary image (cars, appliances, clothing lines,) so the logo is not burdened with that role. Ford, for instance, has not changed their logo in generations, but their continuously evolving vehicle styling pulls the logo into the future to new generations.
In contrast, packaged brand logos often change more frequently. Companies like P&G or Unilever update the look of bottles or boxes to outmaneuver competitors, and still stay familiar because colors and shapes can combine to retain a familiar look. Often the logo gets refined and adjusted with each new product improvement and we barely notice. Change is driven by ongoing competition for attention at the shelf.
Sometimes “involuntary reasons” do come up to change a visual identity, and these reasons can be a matter of survival for a business. An obvious involuntary reason is a merger or acquisition where two companies need to blend their identities or invent a totally new one. Another less common involuntary reason is that a logo is suddenly offensive due to entering a new market or a shift in cultural norms.
So what is a legitimate, voluntary reason to change a logo, or visual identity for the rest of us? There are three reasons that I have experienced: to signal a change to consumers, clarify what you stand for, or to reinvigorate an organization.
Signal a Change
Businesses that have lost customers to new or aggressive competitors can use the change of a logo to prompt reconsideration. Often we work with clients whom we have helped truly innovate but their visual identities reflect the past and perpetuate old opinions. A new identity can be effective at triggering renewed interest while retaining familiarity.
Clarify Your Proposition
Customers’ needs evolve, and how companies respond can either mean amplifying what they already do to meet those needs, or transforming their business to better meet them. Regardless, a new visual identity can be an effective tool to project new brand attributes, and can communicate a new relevance.
Invigorate an Organization
Often an internal audience can be more important than an external one. Organizations may need to look at ways to galvanize their workforce under a new banner to march forward more cohesively. Management changes, reorganizations or restructuring of a business, or a new mission or sense of purpose can warrant a change of visual identity to mark a new beginning.
Often all three of these reasons to change exist simultaneously and a new identity is the capstone of much deeper and comprehensive re-branding effort. That is a good thing because a successful new logo must signal broader change, and that change should be compelling or else consumers may feel betrayed.
One key thing to be aware of is that consumers will never tell you in any research that you need a new visual identity, and it is ultimately a strategic decision… and lastly, consumer awareness of a logo, or familiarity, does not mean it is appealing, relevant, or hasn’t expired. Exiting may take some time, but if for the right reasons it can be a major factor in success.
Bill Chidley is a Partner and Co-Founder at ChangeUp. Creating Innovating Experiences that Drive Growth. http://www.changeupinc.com
Tweet the author at @chillbidley