A company's branding is an important part of its consumer-facing identity. No aspect of branding is more visible or immediately recognizable than a company logo. Given the prominence of the logo, how significant is the impact of company rebranding efforts? How can businesses go about rebranding the right way, rather than confusing or upsetting their audiences?
In a recent study, C+R Research examined some major brands and how their logos have changed in relation to their revenue over time. The results shed some light on corporate logo design and the benefits and risks rebranding poses to business. Major companies like Starbucks, Apple, Amazon and Levi's have all taken different approaches to logo redesigns and rebranding throughout their histories. These industry giants' rebranding experiences hold valuable lessons for small businesses considering doing the same.
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Starbucks, the ubiquitous coffee shop, was established in 1971 with a retro, brown version of its now well-known circular logo. It first added the green and white color scheme in 1987, then updated it with a sleeker style in 1992.
In 2011, Starbucks dropped the text – which read "Starbucks Coffee" – from its logo entirely, leaving it with just the central image. Each rebrand was a new iteration of the same logo, with minor changes, often in the direction of a sleeker, more minimalist style.
Founded in 1976, Apple launched with a drastically different logo from the well-known apple it boasts today. The very next year, Apple underwent a drastic redesign that introduced the first apple logo, with a rainbow color scheme. In 1998, Apple rolled out two new logos based on the same image: one in black and the other in a light blue. In 2001, Apple's chrome logo debuted. Then the company started to increase sales and, in 2007, debuted another chrome apple logo, with a shimmery new finish. Finally, the company introduced a new iteration of the simple black apple logo, which it still uses today.
Apple's logo redesigns almost always seem to be moving forward toward a futuristic or advanced feeling. These types of efforts would naturally be useful to a big technology company's brand.
After incorporating in 1994, Amazon rebranded in 1997 with two new logos, one of which would go on to serve as the basis for its modern "Amazon.com" imagery. One year later, the company developed two more logos. In 2000, Amazon rebranded yet again, this time sticking with the logo for the long haul.
Amazon has cultivated a brand around one image after iterating six separate logo designs in its first six years of existence. Importantly, Amazon began as a bookseller, then expanded to "books, movies and more," and now has a hand in seemingly everything. It's common for a company to rebrand when the business model changes or expands.
Levi's is known for one major product: jeans. This famous denim company was established in 1853 and only once changed its logo – in 1936, to the red and white Levi's imagery of today. The brand has used the same logo ever since.
With such an iconic name – Levi Strauss – attached to an easily identifiable product, it's worth asking if Levi's ever really needed much of a logo redesign beyond the simple, recognizable logo designed in the '30s.
What lessons do these brands teach us?
While the study found that each company's revenue sometimes fluctuated around the time of logo change, there was no consistent correlation: The conditions surrounding a redesign and the actual product are service are likely more important, said Matt Zajechowski, outreach team lead for Digital Third Coast.
"One thing this analysis confirms is that a lot of marketers who are fretting about the relation of brand aesthetic to revenue should probably be turning their attention to other things first," Zajechowski said. "There was no consistent, noticeable correlation that showed different logos lead to more or fewer sales. ... The most interesting pattern we noted is that many major brands, particularly tech brands, fuss with their logo a lot in the early years, then as soon as they take off and experience explosive growth, they back off the logo and leave it alone. Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter are great examples of this behavior."
When should you change your logo?
- Your logo's style is outdated.
- Your company is expanding its product line.
- Companies are merging.
- You want to reduce negative associations with the brand.
- The brand has globalized, making language less relevant.
What are the risks in logo redesign?
- If consumers are attached to the existing logo, a redesign could backfire and hurt sales.
- Seeking feedback prior to release from focus groups, for example, can expose weaknesses in the redesign.
- Change doesn't always mean progress.
What do people respond to in a logo?
According to C+R, the most effective logos are wordless and minimalist. Dan Ferguson, CMO at Adore Beauty, advises businesses to keep logos consistent, simple and memorable.
"Whether you’re starting from scratch or just want to give your logo a facelift, think carefully about the colors, shapes, patterns and fonts you use and the emotions they create around your brand," he said. "If there is a mismatch between your identity, values and logo, it can lead you down the difficult path of trying to market a disengaging or downright confusing brand."
Ferguson offered the following insights on different elements in a logo and what each can convey to a consumer.
Color psychology plays a huge part in the messages that your logo sends and the way those messages are interpreted, said Ferguson. What do your logo colors say about your brand? What emotions do your colors elicit? Research by 99designs shows that consumers associate warm colors like red and orange with passion, vigor and energy, while cool colors like blue and green are associated with tranquility, refreshment and nature.
Shapes and lines
Logo shapes mean more than you may think. They can enhance your overall brand meaning and provide further insight into your identity and emotional messaging, said Ferguson.
- Circular designs can convey ideas of positivity, endurance, community and even femininity (e.g., World Wildlife Fund, Chanel).
- Square designs or those that use sharp, hard edges connote messages of balance, symmetry, strength, professionalism and efficiency (e.g., Adobe, National Geographic).
- Triangles communicate messages that are intended to be masculine, powerful, scientific, legal or even religious (e.g., Adidas, Google Play).
- Horizontal lines impart emotions associated with tranquility and community.
- Vertical lines are more related to strength, aggression and masculinity.
Just like colors, fonts become identifiers for your brand and behave in a similar way to shapes. What messages do your fonts carry or reveal about your brand?
- Angular fonts can reveal your brand identity as dynamic and assertive, while gentler, rounded typefaces come off as youthful and soft.
- Bold fonts are more masculine, while cursive fonts are more feminine.
Ferguson notes that one font in a logo is ideal, but don't mix more than two fonts. Whatever you choose should be clear and easy to read, he said.
Looking for more information on rebranding? Check out the benefits of good design and what it can do for your business.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.