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BW Businessworld

Case Analysis: Fixing The Logo? Think Again

A consistent brand should instill confidence rather than engender confusion. Consistency protects your investment, your winning formula, your message, your reputation, your equity

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Green ribbon for breast cancer. Pink is so feminine, men won’t sport or support it — since our audiences are expanding, let’s make that ribbon green.” How does that sit with you? Yup, I thought so. To assume that the target market is really ‘cool’ and ‘current’ and hence the logo must keep up couldn’t be farther from the truth. Instead, it is the history or the collection of stories behind that logo that conjure up mental visuals of the brand and all that it has stood for its entire life. Pink ribbon for me brings up a world of marathons, the month of October, fight against breast cancer, charitable campaigns, women survivors, my child’s fundraising and everything that the campaign meant since 1992. ‘Think Pink’ means nothing unless there is a positive story behind it. No, we don’t love the logo, rather we love its narrative, those values and attributes we share or desire. It has always been about trust, belonging and its innate symbolism that we have grown to love.

In the corporate world, the most persistent refuge of outright charlatanism is ‘rebranding’ and the only thing more offensive to honesty than a ‘rebranding’ campaign is the lack of need to do so in the first place.

Agreed, some fonts, colour combinations or even shapes might make your company look behind the times. That said, our case discusses supermarkets, not quite known to ride that steep technology curve or be inherently futuristic; if anything, people nowadays are going back to enjoying the produce that uses sensible farming, ‘good old methods’ organic and wholesome roots. Sure, a merger can be an opportunity for a new logo, or potentially even a new name, but this is not a merger, just a ‘change in management’, as they say. Not because something wasn’t working but just because someone richer bought it out. I agree, branding these days is a conversation, set in very erasable pencil and not the stone of pre-digital era — besides, it is no longer just the territory of Kaavya or Jay or Devang. It belongs to all stakeholders. But, the basics remain unchanged. It is still the same business and there is no research to prove that the logo doesn’t resonate with its customer base.

Kaavya is spot on, if the reputation of the old ownership is solid, there might be more lost than gained in making a change. FarmO’s logo doesn’t hint at being dated or show any cobwebs, hence knocking out the most compelling reasons to redesign. It also seems to accurately represent its identity, product and services, that checks off another reason not to redesign. The people within the company, the customers and the agency, all like the existing logo, that’s a good sign.
More importantly, customers clearly identify with that logo, respond positively, sales haven’t dropped and feelings haven’t changed. Then why tinker? Now, if Vinayak Morro wants to expand, geographically or into new product categories, or online, then a slow evolution is on the cards, starting with maybe reworking the tag line, the store look-feel, the online presence or a slight logo makeover rather than the suggested logo overhaul. In short, a logo makeover can be viewed as a few coats of makeup on your logo, a new hairdo versus an overhaul that is an entire facelift. Of course, other things to consider are age (logo shelf life) — when was the logo first designed? When was it most recently updated? Most businesses are identifiable through their name, their tagline, or their logo and no brand can live solely off any of those marketing aspects forever. Just like any marketing campaign, logos need to be revitalised after a certain period of time if they stop staying relevant. As the digital world has become such a large part of our lives, we have seen companies go through rebranding to adapt their logos and to be more suitable for online marketing. If a logo doesn’t convert well on a website or Facebook page, it may be time to redesign. However, as an offline grocery brand, this transitionary characteristic is of not much impact or importance.

Another key moment for logo change usually is when a company experiences a ‘dramatic’ change to its structure or services. This could be a great opportunity to rebrand a business and hence redesign a logo. Usually, a large merger or major change in a business calls for a 360-degree transformation of its marketing strategies. Jaywant points out that only the ownership has changed, that is not enough to justify logo redesign. Customers have stuck with FarmO’s logo for seven decades and their audience is most likely emotionally vested in it, identifies with it and trusts it — there is no real reason to recycle or upgrade it. All too often a new logo is seen as the antidote to real company issues, like change, churn or stagnation. As Marty Neumeier once famously said, a brand “isn’t what you say it is — it’s what they say it is.”

Would Amir’s ‘tiny variation of colour or font’ in his artworks sit well with, say, leading brands like Coca Cola? No and for a reason. Their formula is based on consistency – consistency that helps you manage perceptions, that which connotes professionalism, purpose and stability. Through the timeless font, it conveys your outlook and attitude. Through that solid red, it eliminates issues surrounding brand confusion.

A consistent brand should instill confidence rather than engender confusion. Consistency protects your investment, your winning formula, your message, your reputation, your equity. Most of all and of prime importance to FarmO, consistency builds upon previous successes . Brand logo is its visual shorthand, and we all know FarmO’s logo sends a direct message — it’s concise, memorable and has stood well over time.

I echo Devang’s frustration, for Morro’s lack of strategic focus, what this design saga reveals is fairly troubling. If anything, leaving those artworks without any explanation or logic, smirks of an indulgent, unproductive and an attention seeking tantrum, something that only Morro wants done, because he “desires” it so. If the overarching issue is that this logo redesign is based purely on aesthetics, or Morro’s gut and not analytical data or feedback from users, then it’s impossible to determine if it will resonate or work. It is tempting to swing for the fences and revamp your supermarket in one fell swoop, but Kaavya is rightfully anxious, as history and analytics prove this model of redesign simply doesn’t cut it.

When new owners or CEOs look at designing a logo or refreshing an old one, to signify ‘change’, what may seem like a simple task simply is not. Behind that design, it is like a Tardis, that one image, with that one strap line, that represents countless hours of work, not just by Elbus Ad agency but by thousands of people into making that brand what it is today.

Big things can be said in small words, and the right logo can last generations. Besides, as Vishal inquires, since when is a change in font or a curl sufficient? A new logo must bring with it new training, new design templates to ensure brand standards are followed by all vendors, packaging, point of sale and point of experience changes, new layouts, uniforms, promo materials, guidelines for brand and supermarket sub-brands, complete set of trademarked and digital assets and the list goes on.

Whether it is Tropicana’s packaging makeover as pointed out by Jaywant or Gap’s revamped logo in 2010, it is easy to draw up a list of recent logo makeovers that, at least initially, landed with a thud. There is Airbnb’s much-mocked redesign, Hershey’s equally maligned update and the social media meltdown that accompanied Spotify’s decision to adjust its logo’s bright green to a cooler variety. It is a risk brands are often willing to take, knowing well that with a logo change, the underlying brand will be expected to change too, resulting in a possible negative reaction from loyal customers, often accompanied by a dip in sales. With every redesign, then, a brand risks alienating — through the megaphone that is offline, online and on social media — its core audience, a group that can easily vocalise its displeasure. If my grandma shopped at FarmO and so did my mum and they trusted it, so will I. Logos like those are so beloved, so iconic, that as long as we live, we simply never want to see them radically redesigned. If our basic needs have been met consistently by that brand and, in turn, by that logo, then it is like family — a botox fix won’t help it buy more love.

Vinayak Morro’s success or the great Vitthal Morro’s legacy doesn’t alone justify such a vital change. Consumers buy from supermarkets they trust. Egocentric design or copying, say, Whole foods Market’s logo elements, has to be FarmO’s worst nightmare, as it is devoid of substance and lacks strategic input from real-world data that could otherwise determine which aspects of this 70-year-old brand are working fine and worth salvaging, and which aspects if at all need evolving.

When something like ownership or logos change (especially its physical appearance), customers grow suspicious. So, here is the rule. Use the good old diaper method. If it stinks even a wee bit, change it. If it doesn’t, consider leaving it well enough alone.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Kamal Julka

The writer was brand director, HP, EMEA, at Publicis London. Now based in Chicago, Julka is a guest faculty at ICSC European Retail School, and an examiner at the Chartered Institute of Marketing

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