What design, re-brand and logos have to do with your digital survival

What design, brand and logos have to do with your digital survival

Last week an executive at a sizeable UK business told me “We’ve just done a re-brand. We have a new logo and everything”. The “everything” amounted to a bunch of new literature.

In the age of digital transformation, I wouldn’t have believed there were still businesses out there that believe changing your logo and collateral constitutes a re-brand.

However, when you take a look at the bigger picture and realise that most businesses who say they are going through transformation are only digitising their past, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m growing accustomed to the fact that most organisations are operating at a level of understanding of today’s business environment that’s well short of reality.

The facts bear this out. While over 60% of UK businesses understand the need for digital transformation only 21% of those have a plan and time has all but run out. So, let’s get a few basics straight. Starting with the misunderstandings surrounding logos and the role of design in the success of a business.

Point one – a logo isn’t your brand. It’s just the badge that represents it. A brand is a community of people with shared values and beliefs and until you understand this and appreciate its implications you will not get very far in the fast-paced digital economy.

Weaknesses such as those represented by this lack of understanding will be revealed and exploited by competitors in the new world order and businesses that don’t wake up aren’t going to be around for long. Current estimates are that a third of today’s businesses will be gone in three years because they didn’t bring transformation over the line and your brand community is the key to you doing that. So, let’s get real folks!

The primary difference between successful organisations and unsuccessful ones is efficiency. That much has always been the case.

Most organisations are inefficient to some extent. They always have been, but they have survived so far because their competitors were no better. However, in recent years digital technology has raised the bar significantly and businesses that have embraced it are achieving a whole lot more than their traditional counterparts, with far less.

In fact, as John Chambers of Cisco famously reminded us, we are entering the era of global businesses with only two employees. You may not like the sound of that, but you don’t have a choice. Traditional businesses simply can’t compete with digital challenges and their leaders have to embrace the new paradigm and do what is necessary to equip their organisations to meet the challenge.  That’s business transformation.

It’s not just about processes and digital tools though. The process of re-inventing your business – which is, after all, what transformation is all about – provides you with the opportunity and probably dictates the need to explore opportunities to increase efficiency in every corner of your organisation. One area that has been sadly neglected in this respect is brand identity and in particular logos.

Stakeholders of every kind – investors, distributors, partners, employees and customers – will buy into your brand if they feel it represents their values and beliefs and design of all kinds play their part in convincing them this is the case. The opening gambit of this conversation is your logo.

Just as all businesses are inefficient, most logos are also pretty poor. Don’t assume the logos of the world’s most successful organisations are all great design, they rarely are.  The value of these logos lies in their familiarity.

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When you’ve invested great sums in a logo over a long period, it will have accrued value. The kind of investment these logos have received over the years wouldn’t be viable today, but remember this will have anyway been achieved in a marketplace where the bar was pretty low and everyone was operating with rules that no longer apply.

In the new paradigm, things move far more quickly. You don’t have the luxury of decades of investment to make your logo work. Many established logos simply wouldn’t measure up if they were launching today. Today a new logo has to be hit the ground running.

Your logo is not only the badge representing your brand community, it’s the first point of contact future stakeholders have with you and therefore plays a leading role in your communications strategy. To be effective it has to communicate a whole lot in a fraction of a second.

When I brief my chosen design team on the development of a new logo I set the criteria their solutions have to meet. They have to:

  • Reflect the personality of the brand as defined by the brand model
  • Stand out among the logos of other players in the organisation’s sector.
  • Be representative of the sector in which they reside
  • Hint at the function the business performs and/or the brand promise.

Every solution the design team comes up with will be measured and scored against these criteria, but this is just the start. Short-listed designs will be subjected to further testing, which, depending on the available budget, timescale and insights required, could utilise a number of different forms of research including online and focus groups.

Your logo opens the door for your wider brand identity and as with every other aspect of brand development, consistency will be your key to success. One vastly underrated component of brand development is office branding.

Brand development is reliant upon your internal stakeholders embracing your brand, which is where internal marketing comes into play. Office branding is an important part of that. An office environment that doesn’t represent the organisation’s brand detracts from the authenticity of the brand and is, therefore, a significant weakness. Not only is this kind of inconsistency confusing to all your stakeholders, but it negatively affects the function of your organisation.

If you attract employees with a brand promise, only for them to encounter an inconsistent office environment you are vulnerable to employee churn and all the costs and inefficiencies that come with it. Don’t profess sensitivity to employee welfare and expect your employees to work in an inhospitable environment. I’ve witnessed a business that did just this, creating, what I refer to as a battery farm where large offices housed ranks of desks accommodating lines of employees with no aesthetic whatsoever and a climate that was either baking hot or freezing cold.

The outcome was high-level staff churn, dreadful employer ratings on Glassdoor.com and the inability to recruit fast enough to maintain growth. If that doesn’t get your attention maybe research commissioned by Mace Metro earlier this year will. They revealed that businesses that don’t pay attention to their working environment could be losing as much as 2 hours per employee per week in productivity with an overall cost to UK businesses as high as £4billion every year.

However, creating a comfortable environment isn’t just a welfare issue, it is critical the development of the deep relationships within your brand community, especially employees, that drive both general efficiency and organisational change.

I’ve talked many times about the focus that’s essential to successful transformation. Businesses don’t transform in the boardroom. Transformation is brought about by employees throughout your organisation. You have to empower people to make the changes that will maintain your relevance in the digital economy, but they can’t do this if they don’t have a consistent understanding of your brand and its promise and are convinced of its authenticity. Creating an environment that reinforces that could be the difference between arriving in the digital era ahead or behind your competitors, or even at all.

Colours, messages and images should all spill from your logo and collateral into your working environment. This way there are no distractions, no contradictions, the message and the ambitions of the organisation are clear to every stakeholder and they can get on with the task of making it a reality. Office branding may be only a component of a wider integrated internal marketing campaign incorporating Intranet, training, induction, recruitment, e-mail marketing, events and a whole lot more, but it is a very important one and it all starts from an appreciation of design and how you apply that to your logo.


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