What's in a logo? Does imagery impact a brand so significantly that it can affect revenue? 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.
C+R's study includes some of the most common household names, including Starbucks, Apple, Amazon, and Levi's. Some of these companies changed their logos often; some seldom. A few made drastic redesigns, while others didn't.
Starbucks, the famous and 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 than 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 age 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 especially 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 their logo to the red and white Levi's imagery of today in 1936. Since then, the brand has used the same logo.
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," he added. "Amazon, Microsoft and Twitter are great examples of this behavior."
Still, C+R drew several conclusions about benefits, drawbacks and pitfalls surrounding logo redesign.
When should you change your logo?
- Your logo's style is outdated
- Your company is expanding its product line
- Companies are merging
- 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. Marketing expert Dan Ferguson agreed, advising 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 are your colors eliciting? Research by 99designs (cited in this Business News Daily article) 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're used to 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. (World Wildlife Fund, Chanel)
- Square designs or those that use sharp, hard edges connote messages of balance, symmetry, strength, professionalism and efficiency. (Adobe, National Geographic)
- Triangles communicate messages that are intended to be masculine, powerful, scientific, legal or even religious. (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 are more youthful and soft.
- Bold fonts are also 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.
For more insights on what good design can do for your business, read this Business News Daily article.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.