At last, we reach the top of the pyramid and the face of your company: Your logo.
SAY IT IN PICTURES
As mentioned in the style guide, humans are visual creatures. If I asked you if you know John, you would likely hesitate before answering. There are a lot of Johns in the world. We might be thinking of the same guy, we might not.
But if I held up a picture of a man’s face and asked you if you knew him, your answer would likely come more quickly and with more confidence.
People don’t think in words. We think in pictures. This is why one name can bring multiple faces to mind. John may be a specific name, but it is also a category for Men Named John in your mind.
When you brand, your job is to create an identity where people think of a general category, like John, and immediately think of you.
MAKE 1+1= YOU
If you want people to think specifically, you need to provide them with a specific image they can pull up each and every time they hear your brand name. The quicker they pull up a “face,” the stronger your brand recognition.
There are several men with the name Brad Pitt, but one face will likely jump to mind when you hear that name. Why? Because Brad Pitt has been branded. It would take a whole lot of interaction with one of the other Brad Pitts for you to replace the image of the celebrity Brad Pitt as your default image attached to the name.
However, if you hear the name Brad all by itself, your mind might bring up a friend or no face at all. It’s like saying hamburger. Maybe you think of one hamburger in particular; maybe your mind brings up hamburger as a category; or maybe you visually recall every hamburger you’ve ever seen in the order you saw them. Same goes with Pitt or pit. That label could mean any number of things, so your mind hesitates on pinpointing one result as the “right” result.
But when you put the two terms together:
Brad + Pitt = One image rising to the top with no real visual competition
This is branding.
Use What Comes Naturally
This same general-to-specific visual recognition occurs when someone hears your business name. If all a customer knows is your name, recognition might be iffy. It would be like asking them if they know Brad. But if they can connect your name to a mental image they’ve seen multiple times, people will recall your brand more quickly and confidently.
Don’t believe me? Look at the list of companies below. Which companies do you know, and what image comes to mind as you read the name?
- Warner Brothers
- Bad Robot
- Castle Rock Entertainment
Did you know some companies better than others? How long did you have to look at each name before you could confidently identify your familiarity or lack of familiarity with it? What was the image that came to mind that helped you identify the company? Was it a logo or a moment from a movie?
Whatever came to mind, I’m betting it was an image or a series of images, and not words.
The recall process you just used to think about the list of production companies is the same process people will use to bring your brand to mind when someone mentions your brand name. They’ll search for an image. They won’t remember words or lettering. They’ll remember images, experiences, and emotions and the faces they attach to each.
Your logo is the face of experiences you create. It’s how you are recognized by peers and customers alike. You need to use this face to create the visual recognition process that helps people pick you out of the trillion other things they have stored in their brain and say, “Oh, yeah. I know them.”
Logos Should Give You Room to Grow
Your logo does not need to be a literal representation of who you are and what you do. All the image needs to do is be true to the rest of your brand pyramid—especially your Voice, Values, and Mission Statement.
Before setting out to create the logo for your company, look around at the logos all around you.
Is McDonald’s logo a picture of food?
Is Microsoft’s logo a picture of a computer?
Is Verizon’s logo a picture of a phone?
The purpose of a logo is not to identify the industry you work in. The purpose of your logo is to create a face for your company that is harmonious with your brand promise.
That said, there also nothing wrong with having a literal image as a logo, especially if you are a small business. If you’re a new cupcake shop, then having a cupcake in your logo isn’t the worst idea ever. People will look at your logo and immediately know you sell cupcakes. But if you ever grow to the point that you make other baked items as well, the logo might hinder your growth because everyone just sees you as the cupcake shop. It doesn’t occur to them to buy a birthday cake from you.
So as you create your logo, take care that you do not approve an image that limits future growth. Your logo should visually capture your values and add to your credibility.
Your logo should be:
- Eye catching
- Easy to describe
- Easy to stencil or embroider
- Something you want on your body (shirts, hats, etc.)
- A design that prints well on packaging
- Discernible from 10 feet away
Make Sure Your Logo Fits Into the Family
You should never copy a competitor’s logo, but your logo should look like it belongs in your industry. Do a search to find the logos of the top five or ten companies in your industry, then put their logos all on one page.
As you look at your competitors’ logos, ask yourself this question: How can you fit in while simultaneously standing out?
To illustrate this concept of blending in while standing out, let’s take a look at some branded social media icons you likely see every day.
Most pages you visit online will have buttons similar to these available—simple, visual buttons that help you share content. Now ask yourself:
- Do these icons look like they belong together?
- Can you tell them apart?
There are only six icons in the example, but look at them closely. Notice the use of color, font, and layout. Three of the buttons are predominantly blue, and three are red. (If you are seeing these images in color on a device like a Kindle or a Nook, you can also see that none of the blues or reds are the same shade between the companies. If you are looking at the icons in black and white you can see that even without color differentiators each icon stands apart visually, while looking like it belongs.) The style guides for these companies are so strong that each icon is easily identified based on the font alone.
Your logo should fit into the other brands of your industry in a similar fashion.
The Red Carpet Test
I like to apply what I call the Red Carpet test to any logo.
Pretend there is a huge event for something you care about. Maybe it’s a fund raiser for a nonprofit or a huge event for your favorite sport. Maybe it’s a film festival or a local race. Whatever the event may be, you have chosen to sponsor it as a company.
As part of your sponsorship, the event is displaying your logo on banners for the event’s red carpet or podium. You’re not the only sponsor. A local TV station is sponsoring the event, as is a radio station, and several other large businesses in your area—all your logos placed together to form a wallpaper backdrop for the event.
Does your logo fit in?
If the first test is: Does your logo fit in with other industry logos? Then the second test is: Does my logo look good next to the logos of companies I would like to sponsor an event with?
You want to emphatically answer yes to both questions.
Kick Emotional Attachment Out the Door
No matter how much I hit on this next point, there will be somebody who thinks a cartoon teddy bear is a great logo for their coffee shop. They’ll argue that the logo has sentimental history behind it—like their young daughter drew it—and isn’t it such a perfect representation of the roots of the business and what they’re working for?
In short: No. It isn’t perfect. Not for people who don’t have the associated memory and emotional response you do—which is everyone but you.
I don’t mean to sound heartless here…no. Scratch that. I do mean to sound heartless. Because the fact is that if your logo was created by you or anyone you know, you are likely not treating it objectively. This is why I highly recommend having a professional artist design your logo. Once money is on the line, you will become very objective and critical, and that’s exactly the mindset you need when designing the face of your business.
A weak design is a weak design. Good intentions don’t improve technical execution. And while you may not have the heart to tell that nephew of yours who wants to be an artist when he grows up that he just isn’t there yet, chances are you’ll fold and use what he gives you to spare his feelings. No one wants to look into the eyes of someone they love and say, “This is subpar and unusable, so how about we just save ourselves a bunch of pain and suffering and admit you’re not a fit for this job.”
Very few people are willing to have any version of that conversation.
But if a professional sends you a picture of a gopher he designed for a project last year to be a logo for your golf cart company, your response will be swift and strong. You won’t try to make the gopher concept work to make the artist feel better. You’ll reject the offering and move on.
That’s how it should be.
It is not your job to stroke the ego of a budding artist who is still figuring things out. It’s your job to create a face that customers can quickly trust and identify. So unless you are an artist who is branding yourself, hire someone to create your logo. Pay someone you have no emotional relationship with to create the final version of your logo. It’s the best way to remain objective.
There are instances where your actual face will be the face of your company. Actors are an example of this, along with authors, fitness instructors, and others. Making your actual face your logo works just fine so long as you remember that the same rules apply: people remember things in pictures.
This means that you need to become a consistent picture of your brand on and off the clock. Once you brand yourself, people will expect to see consistency. Lack of consistency in even the smallest of acts creates disconnection and distrust as to whether you really are who you say you are.
If you never wear makeup in real life but are all dolled up in your headshot, that’s a disconnect. If you’re wearing a high-end suit in your profile image but always wear Tommy Bahama in real life, that’s a disconnect. If your brand is upbeat and optimistic and you’re having a day where you just can’t turn your frown upside-down, that’s a disconnect.
Your face can be the face of your business, but if that is your choice you need to keep in mind that people still need brand consistency. Maybe you’re consistent in the fact that you never wear the same thing twice, like a celebutante; or maybe you have more of a Steve Jobs turtleneck thing going on. Either way, the important thing is that people know what to expect every time.
For cues on how to best be the face of your brand, look to your style guides. Are there ways you can dress that will help others recognize you in person from across the room? Is there a style that works well on you that you can consistently apply in professional situations? These questions go for men and women both. You don’t need to revamp yourself or transform into something you’re not to be the face of your own company, but you may need to assess and edit the visual messages you are sending to others through your visual presentation and voice.
For your logo brainstorming session, I’m going to ask you to do something new: let someone else do the brainstorming for you.
It’s finally time to create your logo, and that’s not a task for just anyone. Just like you are probably not the right person to design the engine that goes in your car, you are also probably not the right person to create an iconic logo for your brand. And while it’s quite possible that you think you already know what your logo looks like, there’s a 99% chance that any logo you’re imagining at the moment is not your best option.
It’s time to let go of preconceived ideas and let a skilled artist take you to higher ground. The good news is that you’ve already done all the leg work. If you’ve completed all the building blocks leading up to this point, then you have everything a strong artist needs to create some strong images for your consideration.
Working With Your Artist
If you’ve done all the work outlined up to this point, designing your logo will not be a laborious process. In fact, nearly everyone I’ve ever worked with has had their logos after three rounds of interacting with their artist. If you follow the process below, you should have your logo within a week or two of hiring the artist.
Round 1—Initiation and Concepts
Start by finding an artist who has created imagery similar to what you would like for your logo. If you can’t find an artist you like, use a crowd-sourcing site like 99designs.com to access multiple designers at the same time. Once you’ve hired them:
- Introduce yourself and your business by sharing your mission statement with the artist(s)—see Foundation Tier.
- Tell them the industry you work in—see Personality Tier.
- Describe the personality of your brand with the artist (e.g., fun-loving, detail-oriented, punctual, luxurious, etc.)—see Personality Tier.
- Tell them your brand promise—see Personality Tier.
- Give them your entire style guide, including font family and color palette—see Style Tier.
- Give your name and your tagline (both need to incorporate well with the final logo image)—see Style Tier.
- Show the artist the logos of your competitors (the family your logo should be the most memorable member of) —see Style Tier.
- Show them the logos of large companies you like—see Style Tier.
- Share any imagery you think they should consider with people you trust to give valuable feedback.
Once you’ve done these 9 steps, let your artist work. Set a firm deadline for their first deliverable. In general, three days is usually a good amount of time for your artist to knock some concepts out.
Keep in mind that concept sketches are NOT refined finished products. First round offerings from your artist will be quick mockups to see if you like the approach. Concept image quality will vary from artist to artist, but their job at this point is to see what catches your eye, not deliver diverse perfect images.
Round 2—Feedback and Revisions
Once your artist has gotten back to you with your first deliverable, give yourself a few days to develop your feedback, and bring people you trust into the process. More than once I’ve thought one concept was a clear winner, only to find that everyone else who was less attached my project chose a different design.
Your vote matters, but it will also be biased. So ask around.
Within 72 hours you should get back to your artist and let them know what your top pick(s) is, or if you have directions for a new approach.
Be specific and share the reasons behind your change, if possible (e.g., “We want to get rid of any points or hard edges in the logo, since our product is known for being soft.” or “I like option 5, but the landscape layout doesn’t work with our packaging. I need a logo with a 1:1 ratio.”). The more your artist understands what you need, the more likely they are to send you something that will blow your mind.
Your feedback should provide the artist with a firm understanding of what you want, because now they’re going to start putting some time into any remaining designs so you can see the finished look. Ideally, your artist will only put this level of effort into three designs, or less.
Round 3—Nailing It Down
The next round of images you receive should have a finished look to them. This is the point where you approach the designs with a microscope. Give yourself another 72 hours, then reconnect with your artist. If you can sit down with the artist in person and explore changes together, all the better.
By this point in the process there is usually a clear winner. You’ll know which one it is because no one will be able to talk you into the other designs. You’ll get stubborn, and that’s par for the course. Whichever design that is (even if you ditched it back in Round 1), Round 3 is the time and place where you push everything else aside and finish your day with an image you can sign off on.
You’re Ready to Go!
Three rounds. That’s it. It may seem like that’s too fast, but if you’ve done the work in this book and you have an artist who knows how to make logos, you’re going to have a great experience.
Even better, you now have everything you need to get your business up and running. You can now:
- Set up your website
- Make a sign
- Create packaging
- Order business cards, menus, or other printed materials
- Design marketing material
- Put your design on a vehicle
Of course, this is all just the beginning. Now that you’ve established your brand you need to spend every day living up to it. That requires systems and schedules and training, which are a different matter entirely.
But if you stay true to your branding pyramid your efforts will be focused and consistent, and that will save you a lot of time and money in the long run. So now that you’ve finished your pyramid, don’t put it in a drawer or bury it as a file in a folder on your computer.
Reference your pyramid often. Keep it in a visible place. Share it with people—especially people you hire to work with you. Make it a firm reference point for everyone on your team so that you stay on message and have fewer messes to clean up.
Your Custom Brand Pyramid
Once your branding pyramid is complete, take a moment to see how simple you’ve made it for others to understand what you do, how you do it differently, and why they should choose you.
Foundation Tier: The Bedrock of your Business
Pyramid Element #1: Motto (cornerstone)
Pyramid Element #2: What do you sell?
Pyramid Element #3: Who is your target audience?
Pyramid Element #4: Why should consumers buy your product/service? (What is the difference between you and competitors?)
Pyramid Element #5: What do you stand for?
Pyramid Element #6: How does your company impact the world at large?
Pyramid Element #7: Mission Statement (cornerstone)
Personality Tier: Your High-Level Values and Unique Business Attributes
Pyramid Element #8: Establish your Voice
Pyramid Element #9: Create your Brand Promise
Pyramid Element #10: Define your Values
Pyramid Element #11: Define your Industry and your role within it
Pyramid Element #12: Share yourExperience
Style Tier: Your Brand’s Consistent Visual Identity
Pyramid Element #13: Create the perfect Tagline
Pyramid Element #14: Strategically choose a Name
Pyramid Element #15: Define yourStyle Guide
The Face of Your Brand: Your Logo
Pyramid Element #16: Your Logo and how to use it
Once you’ve completed these sixteen elements, you will have a pyramid a six year old can understand and explain to others. And that’s exactly what you want: simplicity and clarity when it comes to understanding who you are and what you are about.
The more developed your business identity is, the more customers you will attract.
Potential customers need to know what you do and why you do it. They should know how you are different, why you’re different, and what they’re going to get each and every time they interact with you.
Experiences create reputation, and that reputation is your brand. It’s what people say about you when you’re not in the room. You will know your brand is strong not only when people recognize your brand name and logo on sight, but also when they describe you to others using the exact words you want them to use.
You don’t need to be as big as Apple or Coca-Cola to make that happen. You just need to be consistent in communicating your four tiers:
And within those four tiers, always have each of your sixteen building blocks on display in your office or work area, not buried in a file.
Remember to treat each of the sixteen building blocks explored in this book as free employees that work for you 24/7 doing exactly what you ask them to do. Approaching each tier of your brand pyramid strategically and consistently will attract your ideal customer. If you’re not seeing the results you want to see, chances are that one or more of these pyramid elements needs to be adjusted.
If you’re a brand new company, take a stand and give a strong push, but be open to tweaking what needs to be tweaked. And remember that making a branding change is like getting a nose job. You don’t get to keep both the old and the new. If you change something, change it. You’ll notice that change usually involves an investment of money, but if not changing is losing you money then biting the bullet and moving forward is your power move. Do it.
Ultimately, branding is simple. It is a matter of defining and creating the reputation you want. But the effort required to establish and maintain a brand reputation is what separates the adults from the six year olds.
Living up to a brand is not for sissies. Only the committed follow through. You can be that brand when you remind yourself that just because something is simple doesn’t make it unessential. Because now you know that the opposite is true. It’s the little things we do that create consistency, build reputation, and create loyalty.
So go out there and do the little things. Implement the sixteen building blocks of building your brand day-in and day-out, and I guarantee that people will take notice of you.