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Evolution Or Revolution? When And How To Change Your Logo

A company's logo is its visual shorthand, and good logos send a direct message -- they are clear, unique, and memorable. Most importantly, they represent the authentic story of what a company stands for. A strong logo can support a company for decades, but as companies change with increasing speed, the lifespan of a logo has decreased with a greater need to be nurtured to keep up. So how do you know when it is time to update your logo? And how do you determine whether the change requires a nip tuck or a complete facelift?

Sometimes the need for a logo change is obvious and follows a major business decision like a merger, acquisition, spinoff, reorganization or a complete industry transformation, as in the case of categories like health care. Other times, there may be a disconnect between what a brand stands for and what is resonating with customers. Or it might be a matter of modernizing a traditional logo that was designed well before the days of Twitter and Facebook and simply doesn't translate well across these channels.

Risk and reward

Whatever the case, it's important that making a logo change is rooted in strategic purpose rather than the pursuit of the next shiny object. Success will be driven both from the top down through company leadership and from the bottom up through the employees and everyday customers. Social media has given the customer an amplified voice, and if the company does not have a thoroughly reasoned rollout plan, there can be serious brand repercussions. Gap is the prime example of hell hath no fury like a customer scorned.

The truth is, you may think you own the logo, but your customers may believe otherwise. They have emotional attachments and are the ones making a daily choice to badge themselves with it. At a minimum, this means a very deep understanding of your customer -- or in some cases, as Yahoo's current “30 days of change" campaign, it can go as far as offering direct involvement in the process.

When and why to change

Changing a logo comes with a big price tag emotionally and financially. Companies only make this investment once a decade or so -- and they owe it to themselves to consider all the possibilities. And while it's important to address the “why?” you should also ask “what if?” Below are three degrees of change to consider.

1.    Change without change:  Brands often will opt to keep their logo but change the message and design system that surrounds it. IBM and GE are prime examples. With the launch of Smart Planet and EcoImagination, both brands have refined their brand story, while leaving their logos intact. It's important to note that both these brands are operating from a position of strength and one where they can proactively nurture their brand elements to be relevant on the road ahead.

2.    Evolution:  Many companies continuously tweak and refine their logos without fundamentally altering its character. Changes can range from functional to cosmetic, subtle to significant, but the overall message is one of continuity. Apple and Nike have continuously refined their logo over the years, to keep it vital yet still immediately recognizable. “Evolution” can be a good option when companies are trying to reach new audiences or signal a change in their business strategy.

3.    Revolution:    Revolution is most typically associated with a major strategic shift or cataclysmic event including both internal and external factors. This can include a merger, spin-off, name change, legislation or worst-case scenario, a catastrophic event like bankruptcy or a customer crisis. We have seen a lot of change in this arena in the airline and health care space, and we anticipate more to come. “Revolution” may also be necessitated as a company matures. While many hold Apple up as a symbol of modernity and simplicity, its first symbol was quite intricate and downright folksy. Similarly, Microsoft's first effort would be at home on a disco album from the late 70s.

Where do you stand?

As you consider when and how to make a change to your identity, ask yourself these questions:

1. Does the logo reflect your future business strategy?

2. Does it translate well in new media?

3. Does it resonate with your current and future customer base?

4. Does it convey vitality?

5. Is it on par with your industry standards? Does it positively differentiate from your competition?

If you answered “no” to one or more of these questions, it's probably time for a change. Ultimate success will be achieved by tying the logo to your brand story, your employees, your customers -- and ultimately, your business success.

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