Neil Roan makes a good argument about the weak relationship between logos and branding in a recent blog entry. He talks about an exercise he conducted during a consulting interview where he challenges those assembled to describe the logos of Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and then the New York Philharmonic.
In one case, one person – a communications professional – remembered one slight design attribute of the Met (lines and circles that reveal how the M character was drawn. She remembered it as DaVinci-esque in character). In all other cases, there were nothing but blank looks. Nobody – not one person, including a bunch of visual arts professionals and designers – could remember the logos for these household-word arts-brands.
Neill points out what I imagine is the obvious truth to most of us– all these organizations have world class brand identities regardless of anyone’s ability to recall their logos. Frankly, if you visit any of these organizations’ web pages, you will see that none of their logos are particularly remarkable that they would stick in the memory. I can understand why only the Met’s stylized M was the only one to elicit vague recall. (Yet I have this nagging suspicion they probably spent quite a bit of money developing those logos.)
The main thrust of Neill’s post is that branding involves much more than just a face lift or a new feel. Magazines and newspapers can project being more hip and modern by changing type face and layout, but superficial changes like that don’t work for organizational entities. Developing a real brand take commitment and a long view about how the organization will develop an identity which is embedded in its very bones.
Neill states that “It requires honesty when it’s easier to opt to look good rather than be real.” It took me a little while to think of an organization that has developed a strong brand being real rather than always being good. Then it occurred to me that the University of Notre Dame football team has developed a powerful aura and mythology that has endured regardless of the quality of the team. (Of course, it probably helped that Catholic priests all over the country would make a brief statement on the team’s behalf from time to time.)
Give the entry a read, especially if you are one of those being pressured to enact quick fixes and feel like no one values substance any more.