Branding has come a long way since its humble beginnings. I won’t attempt to put a date on said humble beginnings, for branding dates back thousands of years. It’s even said that evidence of advertising has been found amongst the Babylonians in 3,000 BC.

When branding began is irrelevant now, in any case. What’s really interesting is the journey and rudimental development of market forces. Unique selling points, differentiation, quality assurance, provenance – all modern terminology, but age-old tenets of the free market.

The idea that we’ve recently transitioned into a third age of branding is one we’ve discussed previously, but it’s a theme so expansive that in many ways I feel we’ve barely scratched the surface. If you consider that the second age of branding (that which we’ve just left) was evident across the majority of those 5,000 plus years, then the connotations of this new world is one with incredibly rich and wide-ranging implications – for brands big and small, young and old, all over the world.

One of the ways in which I’ve previously expressed this shift is that brands are no longer constructed in the ivory towers of Madison Avenue, brought to life and romanticised so brilliantly by Mad Men. The role of the marketer is still important, but, like a parent seeing their child taking their first steps out into the wider world, marketers must have belief and confidence in the integrity of their brand to stay afloat and stand on its own two feet in an environment over which they have fleeting control.

As such, the logo – a relatively tiny, universal mark that embodies the values, ethics, traits and perception of an entire organisation – is something that immediately comes to mind as a dichotomous presence in the third age of branding. In many ways, isn’t the logo the antithesis of the third age? Isn’t a grandiose investment in a logo meaningless when unsupported by a consistent, authentic brand experience?

Indeed, for many, logos are merely a hangover from old-school branding prioritisations, an anachronistic approach to the differentiation of products or services. How much importance do consumers really place on a copyrighted pantone or a brand’s investment in a bespoke typeface?

A discussion on logo change tends to polarise into two view-points. One says that logo changes are unnecessary and meaningless. The other maintains that logo change is at the heart of a brand refresh. Both, however, would be wrong.

The confusion stems from the fact that logos are the most visible part of a brand. When a brand announces a refresh, the logo is the first thing that catches the public eye and attention, and is taken at face value. As a result of this initial impression, different brands – with vastly different strategic approaches to a brand refresh or launch – are tarred with the same brush.

SEE ALSO: Brand Design: A Colour Commentary

As the role and definition of the brand evolves, so must that of the logo. Brands are not static or one-dimensional, just as the name ‘Google’ now evokes connotations of not just a product, but an entire culture of thinking, innovation, creativity and employment. If we look at Google as an exemplary third-age brand, we see that they still use their brand marque as a seal of authentication and quality assurance, but are able to be playful and engaging with ephemeral iterations due to the strong design equity they have built in their employment of colour and composition. Today, the logo is more of a reference point than ever before – an expression and indication of a brand experience that has been cultivated elsewhere by the consumer.

Before making changes to any part of a brand, the short, medium and long-term business objectives must be clearly understood. What is the brand change meant to accomplish? How will this be measured? How will you know if it is a success? Any intelligent brand refresh will start with these questions – to which there are no easy answers. The biggest mistake brands make is to think about answers from a helicopter, 30,000-foot perspective. To say we want our brand to be younger and more contemporary is all very well, but what exactly does that mean for brand and business strategy? How is this reflected in the experience of the brand?

Branding is about establishing a purpose at the heart of the organisation and enabling the expression of that purpose to flow throughout the business, regardless of channel, media or touchpoint. Only then can it be the time to talk about design and its hero, the logo.

The logo can provide the platform for a brand to extend its influence further cross-platform, but it has to be a conduit for that purpose and brands must also be careful to consider how any visual identity changes may be perceived by the user. A change of logo serves almost like a line in the sand between the old way and the heralding of a new way – such is the convention. It raises expectations, and, therefore, if the logo change isn’t supported by a significant change in brand experience, then it could do more damage than good.

Ultimately, its days as a demonstrative brand diktat are over. But if marketers understand how to use the logo as a symbol of change and greater purpose, that could be the platform for it to become a tool more powerful than ever.

This is the second part of a three-part series focusing on the overarching topic of brand design in terms of colour, logo and culture. Stay tuned for next week’s continuation of the discussion!

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