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Case Study: That's My Logo You Changed

“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better” — Sydney J. Harris

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

Kaavya Visesh looked at the five artworks sent to her by Amir Sikri of Elbus Ad agency, the image managers of Farm-O-Maid supermarkets. Each one was a tiny variation of either colour or font or an underscore, or an ellipses added, to the logo ‘Farm-O-Maid’.

There was one more where the name-logo had an addition at its foot: a rectangular red strip bearing the word: SUPERMARKET, while ‘Farm-O-Maid’ stayed in blue. The next one put Farm-O-Maid in blue (as before) and the rectangular block was also blue. Instantly Kaavya sat up.

In this one, the name Farm-O-Maid itself was in a slightly different font. The overall look of this style was reminiscent. Yes, that font was Brighton SB Bold.
Kaavya was reminded of something... Where had she seen something like this?

Then she noticed it. The O between Farm and Maid had a curly tassel on top. Yes! This was how Whole Foods Market (WF) wrote their name!
No sooner had the realisation come than Kaavya instantly Googled the logo of Whole Foods. There it was… identical to Amir’s artwork No. 3 and 4.

Kaavya, the head of MR at Farm-O-Maid, was startled by the implications. She found a note scribbled for her on the huge flap of the artworks. It was from Jaywant Sinha, the head of marketing and advertising at Farm-O-Maid. It said, “This is the new logo look. WhatsApp me your views… then we meet at 6 p.m. with Morro.”

Kaavya called Jaywant. “Jay, what is going on? What’s with these new artworks?”

Jay: Oh, you were not at last night’s meeting. Morro has expressed a desire to change the logo.

kaavya was taken aback. Vinayak Morro who already ran the very successful Morre Markets, had bought out Farm-O-Maid a few months ago. How was Vinayak making this error, she wondered. Farm-O-Maid had been a successful chain of supermarkets with a legacy of purity and homemade taste. At one point, Farm-O-Maid’s old owners had considered adding ‘The Homemade Supermarket’ to their tag line but did not have the money to make the change. The owners had been in debate over selling or keeping the business and finally the young generation voted to sell FarmO (as they all called it).

Thus came Vinayak Morro and his Morre Markets. And now he wanted to change the logo? Why? Asked Kaavya. “They do not know the consumer’s joy when she sees the FarmO logo! We have done any number of surveys that tell us when she spots the logo, she says it assures her of quality. Why does he want to undo all that? Isn’t that why he bought the brand? Our core customer has been with us since the last five decades. They are used to seeing the old logo and have loved it. If you change it, could they not think that the brand has also changed?

Jaywant: Morro says the new look is more modern. He is wanting newness.

Kaavya: Jay, I have some top-of-the-mind concerns. Will FarmO start being seen as leaving behind its wholesome, made-at-home feel? Will you lose customers as a result? Will older traditional generations abandon FarmO? We need to research that first. But, more importantly, this is knee jerk and meaningless.

Farm-o-maid was a strong brand, with high equity and recall. It had a sharp positioning of purity not just in the market but also in the perception of consumers. What was more, its store brands were highly sought after for their home-grown taste and an assurance over the years that it was clean and wholesome — a consumer perception endorsed in every market research.

Kaavya called her operations head Devang Shastri and let him in on the new developments. Naturally, Devang was upset.

Devang: You guys have no idea what effort has gone into building this image and reputation! I have been at it 30 years. Why would one change the brand identity? Just to signal the change in ownership perhaps? That’s complete antithesis of how a brand is defined. A brand is owned by its users in their mind, not by the person or corporation that legally and financially owns it.

Mr Morro had better understand this. Farm-O-Maid is owned lovingly by its users and not Vinayak Morro. Hence, even if now Morro has bought the brand, FarmO has not changed its ownership! Hang on, I am walking over to your room…”

Walking in, he said, “These takeovers bring in egos that destroy a brand, I feel. FarmO has not found new users, nor new markets. Is Morro planning to make the brand national? He cannot. Supermarkets are not rollable nationally. Why, he is not even going to the next state! So, when new markets are not getting added, nor is he adding any new product line to signal new users, then why change? Even if he does any of these, he will need to validate this with consumer and market studies; only then can a brand undergo a change. And I am a production, operations guy, It is not me who should be pointing this out!”

Kaavya: Anyway, they have bought it.... they have the right….

Devang: No, no. There is no ‘them’ and ‘us’. I feel our role in protecting the brand continues. You are market research. I would urge you to point out to Morro the issue of brand identity and its understanding. A brand’s identity is not just only about the logo — fonts, colours, etc. It is about associations with the brand — experience from all touch points — in this case, fresh merchandise, store staff behaviour, checkout process, loyalty programmes, etc. So, Morro should think of a brand holistically and not just the logo.

Devang then looked at the artworks and instantly said, “Oops, is this not the Whole Foods’ logo? Seriously... Are we copying Whole Foods? I would then ask, which associations he is seeking from it? Is he unhappy with what we stand for? He should not have bought the brand then... Swoosh of Nike is trying to appropriate sporting, winning spirit; red Coke is the stuff of American-ness. What of Whole Foods is FarmO appropriating? I would say, you must gently probe and find out Morro’s motivations from these three lenses before we completely disown his moves.”

Kaavya called Jaywant and shared with him Devang’s observations. “Did you not think of these when he was bulldozing?”

Jaywant: I agree with Devang, but there was no stopping Morro. The take on Whole Foods is likely his obsession with all things American. He has visions of being as vast and versatile as WF. I suspect, he plans to go regional and then national and create a signage that will herald the same feel that WF does. But you know what Kaavya, at this stage I would not worry too much about copying another brand but I do worry about changing our logo.

He said he wants to give the brand a makeover.... If he had not said a word, I would be indifferent. But having said ‘makeover’, I am worried.

Kaavya: Devang asked this and I do too: What about FoM needs fixing? Only funding, which we have now sorted out. I worry because however subtle, change is noticed and interpreted. Our core customer has stayed with us the last 45-50 years. They are used to seeing the old logo and have loved it. If you change, could they think that the brand has also changed?

Please recall, we were a predominantly Jain brand, started by Nandalal Vashubhai Jain. That FoM heritage has given us a significant vegetarian customer base that feels our chain assures them purity. With the logo change, will those connotations change? These are difficult to predict. The consumer’s mind has its own way of interpreting. Does not sound good but ‘Morro’ does not exude any cultural message or affinity to FoM!

The consumer could take away a message that FarmO is now going to slacken its attention to vegetarian purity. After all, they are used to seeing the old logo and have loved it. If you change, could they think that the brand has also changed?

Jaywant: That was our question to Morro too. But he said the consumer does not notice all this. She wants quality, that is all. How do you take that argument forward?

Debates flew around among the key managers at FoM. Dorab Desai, the head of bakery, got to know too. It had been felt by most that FoM’s breads, dairy and lecithin-free cheese and paneer had been singular in strengthening their brand name.

Dorab was annoyed. “He must ask the consumer before he touches the brand,” he said wryly. “Nothing is broke... why is he tampering with it?”

Amir would not take sides. He had been asked by Morro to tweak the logo. For him, it was an assignment and he did it. So he said, “It’s not that my loyalty to FarmO has dulled. I discussed this at length and feel that the new look is more modern. Every customer is evolving. There are a lot of new customers with younger demographics for whom there is not much connect with FoM as a brand except that it still is seen as “My brand” purely because it is best managed convenience format in terms of consumer experience.... Ok, these are all ordinary reasons that define a brand’s capabilities. The time has come to go beyond. As long we continue to keep the basics in place this new look will give a slightly more younger look.

“See Kaavya, I cannot visualise a visible shift of brand patronage because the logo changed. There would be some questions buzzing in your mind such as: Why has this curly been introduced, is my retailer going to be doing new things, or is he stopping some old things? But as a user, I will continue to use that store as there are just three stores in my vicinity and I will continue to use the FarmO in my locality as long as I do not see any real or perceived drop in quality.”

Kaavya remained unsure. All the reasons were there yet somewhere she felt, the brand was intrinsically linked to its logo and Morro’s desire to change the logo was inopportune.
Meeting her friend Vishal Mehta who had been her senior at Teffer, she placed before him her anxiety.

Vishal: People do not consume brand identities but what it delivers in terms of products or services.

In that respect, Morro may be right that people will not notice the change in logo as long as FoM’s service and merchandise doesn't change.

The question is what all does Morro want to change: America-like merchandise, store layout, service, staff rituals and / or brand logo ?

What comes first — the change in identity or change in brand construct and delivery? If logo change comes first, it makes consumers wonder but they live with the logo change. If brand changes first and logo remains the same, then too consumers wonder and those who are not aligned to the new brand delivery / positioning, leave the brand.

Ideally, brand identity change should be made only if there are significant changes in the brand construct, as identity is just the exterior of what lies inside the brand.

From a different perspective, consumers like familiarity with brand identities and often — for heritage brands like FoM — do not like overnight revolutionary change in the brand identity. They are more comfortable if the brand changes gradually in small steps ... evolution rather than revolution.

At a subliminal level, colours and shapes in logo affect the brand perception visibly and that has to be fine-tuned by matching consumer feedback from research with design inputs. You therefore need to suggest that the brand needs to go into research over this. Does the brand need to become younger or dynamic or modern or more solid, etc. Just changing colours or shapes in brand identity has the risk of shaking the core values and personality of the brand, stirring consumer emotions and security and causing unwarranted ripples.

Kaavya: All I have before me is this post-it and seven artworks from Amir. He seems to think that FoM needs to tread new ground, look modern and be doing new things. My question is: Is this the time to do all this in one go? The press is going to be plastered with the takeover. Then you go and change the logo. ...but there is nothing to indicate that other things have changed to improve the brand delivery and what those changes are. How many of them are consumer centric... There I am in sync with Jaywant.

Vishal: Amir is right in saying that FoM must evolve with the consumers and the changing demographics of younger India. But Amir must be asked: Is logo change the only way to connect with younger consumers. How about store layout changes, lighting, checkout facilities, shop signages, digital capabilities (ordering from home, SMS when your favourite merchandise is in store, etc.) these are new, young and modern.

So yes, a logo change is important in signalling the changes beneath but the changes beneath must first be carried out. Otherwise only logo changes in the cornucopia of a heritage brand backfires with the younger audience — that say, “The brand is not living up to my needs, or its promises to me and just by adding colours and curls it cannot be younger and like me.”

You cannot paint a brand into making it younger and modern. It has to be young and modern in its deliverables, behaviours and other constructs.

Kaavya thought about this for a while. Yes, the logo change was unwarranted but if she could set aside her resistance and look at issues, then yes, maybe there was a point that Morro was making. So, under what conditions could a logo be changed, she asked Jaywant. “Has the brand experienced a major trauma that has led to its image damage? Like the BP oil spill or a brand recall in the wake of extensive damage to consumer? Those would be fair reasons to change your logo to represent your renewed quality!”

Jaywant: But ownership has changed. And that is a good reason to factor into the logo the changed ownership.

Amir: Not merely because ownership changed but because it also resulted in a change in the direction of the business.

Kaavya: But there isn’t any proposed changes to our business direction.

Morro is only seeing colour and beauty. He sees the logo as a graphic design that must be made prettier. That logo is a fossil of decades of customer-company relationship!

Jaywant: Exactly! Take Wipro. I heard from my dad who used to work there that the company name is an acronym for Western Indian Palm Refined Oil, for that was their business in 1945. Then, it became Western India Vegetable Products for a while and then Wipro. But while their logo has remained the basic sunflower all along, that sunflower evolved into the rainbow colours. I was reading an article by Shombit Sengupta who developed the Wipro logo in its new avatar. In a carefully crafted process, he explains how he brought the values of every stakeholder and those of the diverse businesses together. He says, “The flower symbolises that Wipro cares for the environment, its centre shows the digital age, science and technology, its petals reflect the softness of human values.”

So, I can see why Wipro evolved its logo stage by stage as they added IT then expanded consumer products, then diversified into industrial cylinders and stuff like that. But we do not have such reasons. There is only change in ownership.

Kaavya: See, the important thing is, you must understand the employees are not terribly delighted with the change in ownership for the precise reason that they fear change. In such a scenario, to make pointless, irrational changes will get them to resist more. You would, in effect, be saying that the guy before me didn’t know his stuff but I do. Enough to bring on the scowls. There has to be the concern of every stakeholder. Understand that a logo is as much a communication of corporate values to employees as it is to consumers.

Jaywant: And for me, the consumer is very important. Employees, one can phir bhi communicate at a mass meeting. But consumers? You can have chaos. I am recalling the experience of Tropicana. It wasn’t exactly the logo but the visual that went with the logo that was changed. What used to be a straw going through an orange, changed to a glass of orange juice. In fact, if you see Amir’s artworks, I am recalling Tropicana’s story.

Amir: Hey, all the elements are there, you can’t complain. We have just juxtaposed it and added the message... Kaavya: ...and the curly over the O? And the font? And the strip below Farm-O-Maid that says SUPERMARKETS? C’mon!

Devang joined them. “There is more to this than meets the eye. Vinayak Morro is nobody’s fool. Don’t forget he is trained by a father no less than the great Vitthal Morro. Something is up his sleeve. Let’s wait.”

Amir: I am thinking about your Tropicana story, Jay. I am thinking about the difference between an orange and a glass of orange juice. Convenience, simplicity, ready-to-drink ….. I am suddenly transported. Say, did you not say that 100 per cent Juice was changed to Pure Juice? Got it! If Pure is not the same as 100 per cent, then it means the new FarmO is not the same as the old…. That is the catch!

Read analysis: Vivek Sharma | Kamal Julka

To be continued...

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