Some further thoughts on logos

So the new F1 logo has finally appeared. The furore was certainly intense, but also rather short-lived. Last week I had the pleasure of running the ‘Business of Motorsport’ module for our MSc in Advanced Motorsport Engineering, along with course director, Clive Temple. We were very fortunate in being able to spend a day at Mercedes AMG F1 at Brackley listening to how they operated a world championship team from their senior management, including Toto Wolff. There was an impressive array of trophies in the building and I remember looking at the old F1 logo and thinking that it already looked a bit out of date. The logo is dead, long live the logo!

In order to get a bit more perspective on the importance of logos I made a call to Professor Simon Knox. Simon is an emeritus professor here at Cranfield and an expert on branding and brand management. I thought I would share a few of his responses to some questions I put to him on the subject of logos.

How important is a logo to building a brand?

At Cranfield, we often consider a brand, whether a product or service, to consist of a logo with an identifiable personality which acts as a risk reducer to customers in their purchasing process. In today’s market, the brand, whether structured at a corporate level or presented as a series of sub-brands within the company, has become the most important intangible asset of the business.  However, unlike any other business asset, the brand exists in the mind of the customer as a bundle of socially-constructed meanings, experiences and trust built through repeat purchases.  Ultimately, the brand is a driver of shareholder value as top brands can build purchase loyalty and reduce volatility in sales.  Thus, the logo is the visual and verbal ‘badge’ for the brand promise; a short hand for the primary features offered and benefits derived by customers.  The logo is a vital component of the brand!

What are the dangers of changing a logo?

Herein lies the paradox of successful brand building and logo re-design. It is true to say that the biggest brand in any market will have the greatest number of loyal customers who chose to make repeat purchases rather than switch to the competition. In other words, through this behavioural reinforcement, brand purchasing can become a matter of routine. So, the introduction of a new logo for any brand will cause customers to sit back and take a second look…which may lead to unintended consequences!  The danger here can be when the logo changes and nothing else about the brand is modified; a change for change sake without noticeable development in the brand value proposition can be a colossal waste of senior management time, energy and money, never mind the heightened expectations of their customer base!

When could changing a logo be a good thing?

There are five situations when logo change can be fully justified:

  1. When the brand has become toxic and senior management scramble to resuscitate the brand with a new name and logo. Accenture which grew out of Andersen Consulting after the brand’s equity was destroyed by the Enron scandal, is perhaps the best know example of such a survival through a timely logo change.
  2. When the brand wishes to signal gains in competitive advantage through product, service or process innovation (or a combination) which enhance the perceived value to customers. A well-known example of successful rebranding and market repositioning during the nineties and noughties was Tesco the retailer as it gained market share nationally and internationally through fast-pace innovation and world-class implementation to become the dominant market leader both in the UK and internationally.  
  3. As a result of an acquisition or merger between two companies. In 1997, Diageo was formed from the merger of Guinness and Grand Metropolitan which, as a corporate brand, brought together the two separate brand portfolios to create the world’s largest distilling company over a 20 year period. The corporate logo ‘Diageo’ in Latin means ‘day’ and ‘world’ is short hand for giving pleasure, every day, everywhere.
  4. When top management change in a company and a re-design of the logo provides the back cloth for changing management practices which add value. However, if such changes go undetected by customers or worse are seen to destroy value, no fresh logo alone can ever revamp diminishing brand equity!
  5. Periodically, the logos of even the most established brands do need to be modernised or updated as the competitive environment changes and visual styles alter. Many of the iconic brand from our past which are still current today will make subtle changes to their logos over time.  Coco-Cola and Cadbury’s Dairy Milk logo revamps over the decades are two great examples of ‘change with continuity.’

So it looks like point four above may be the one to watch as far as F1 is concerned. You can find out more about Simon’s thoughts on branding on his website:

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