Doomed by Logo Lust
Written by Erik Hansen
The big challenges brands are facing right now are tricky to solve. The reality is that a logo is only one part of a complex brand ecosystem and most often, it is not the sole answer to those big challenges.
There are fundamentals in building strong brands that transcend industries, geographies, business models and product portfolios. The primary fundamental is consistency. Almost every business executive I have ever met understands this simple fact about branding.
I have several examples and discussion points around this topic, but one surfaced for me this past week… Why do association chapters, regions, or SIGs still feel compelled to “differentiate” themselves from the parent association they support and represent by adopting alternative logos and visual manifestations of the brand?
At Mekanic, we understand brand families and that brands need to pivot to effectively communicate to varying audiences across a range of channels, given a marketplace where new platforms emerge every day. However, this need for fluidity does not justify the creation of different logos. Association charters do need to differentiate their messaging and delivery of value in some capacity, given variances in audience profiles (attributes, interests, and needs). But, they should forgo a unique logo, as this move is self-serving and detrimental to the long-term sustainability of the parent association. We see that associations already face an uncertain future as the private sector and technology continue to disrupt their space, so let’s not make it even harder for them to deliver value and advance the fields they represent.
My earliest experience with this dates back to more than a decade ago when I was working in-house for a national association as the Director of Marketing & Brand Strategy. I won’t dwell on the details, but I spent the better part of three years trying to help national and chapter volunteer leaders understand the need to evolve while building a unified voice, identity, and overall brand experience. At almost every major milestone, I was challenged with a desire to be “different” at a chapter level because (as I am sure many of you have also heard) “New York is special,” and so is Georgia, California, Ohio, etc. From logos to colors to websites and everything in between, some chapter leaders wanted each touch point to be different. I enjoyed working with this association very much, and over time I think I was able to shift the court of public opinion among most of the leadership I was fortunate to work with.
However, this same challenge to continues to present itself as we work with a wide range of associations, nonprofits, and philanthropic organizations. Luckily, we continue to convince our client partners of the need to unify more often than not.
Just this past weekend on a road trip, my wife and our co-founder, said: “hey, did you see IIDA rebranded…” My response was, as it always is, “oh really, let’s see.” After 5-minutes of light online searching, it turned out IIDA had in fact launched a great organizational rebrand. Another top result revealed that the organization’s NY Chapter had also announced a major rebrand just a year earlier. Why? What? Really? It’s possible I will ruffle some feathers, but please tell me how this serves the association, its industry, or the professionals working within it? In all fairness, I have not read the bylaws or strategic plan, and I am not privy to their executive meetings, so perhaps there is a bigger plan at play. However, I’m not sure I could come up with a compelling reason for it unless secession is on the table.
When the average person spends almost two hours a day across five social media platforms, is exposed to 3,000 brand impressions daily, receives over 120 emails per day, and is checking their phone over 80 times a day, you have to work hard to get their attention—let alone keep it—and engaging them is the ultimate triumph. The only things an organization achieves by creating competing visual languages, websites, core messages, and logos are brand dilution and more obstacles to cultivating qualifiable brand advocates and ambassadors for life.
If you are working for or with an association and you aren’t beginning to operate with a start-up mentality to reimagine the justifiable (and hopefully indispensable) position you have in the market and how you will sustain the next decade, you are doomed. If you are wasting your time designing different logos, instead of defining how you will get non-joiners to join, or better yet, developing a business model that isn’t dependent on joiners, you are doomed.
Coming from someone who dreams about logos – stop positioning your logo as a starting place for brand worries and start worrying about disruptions in your profession and how you will overcome them. Once you’ve made progress and have recreated value you can stand behind, and then you are ready for brand development.
I promise your logo won’t matter if your organization doesn’t matter. If you want to chat about what does matter these days, our ears are open, and our ideas are ready. We’d love to hear from you!