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Retooling Brand Identity in 2021

Appearances matter — and remember to smile. – Nelson Mandela.

General Motors is changing its corporate logo for the first time in 56 years, giving it a new lowercase script that is designed to look more modern. The new logo, which GM will use in all of its corporate communications, is part of a national marketing campaign starting this month themed “Everybody In” that GM will use to promote plans to sell an electric vehicle for every lifestyle and price point, GM Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Wahl said in a videoconference.

The new logo will be the fifth in GM’s history. While it keeps the blue box GM has historically used, the “M” in GM is styled to look like an electric plug. The automaker’s retooled consumer outreach is laying the groundwork for a wave of EVs coming soon to its showrooms. GM plans to spend $27 billion on battery-electric and self-driving vehicles and roll out 30 electric models globally by the end of 2025.

You cannot expect to understand how to retool brand identity, a logo is the face of your company, if you don’t first grasp the importance of why you’re doing it.


There are many examples of brands who tried to mess with their logo without a simple, clear and compelling answer to he question “why?”.


Remember when the The Gap arbitrarily changed their logo and then within a few months quickly returned to their old logo at the behest of their confused and angered customers?


Or maybe you remember when Radio Shack decided to rebrand as “The Shack” and has ever since teetered in and out of “The Bankrupt”?

So, why is GM undertaking this risky maneuver?

Does the Nelson Mandela at the top of this blog resonate with you? Perhaps it brought a slight smile to your face? This simple but powerful quote provides a “why” –  in this case, the importance of first appearances. This is precisely what a logo has to do: instantly connect on an emotional level and tell you a lot about the company, product or service it represents.

For GM, they believe that their historical “blue box” needs to be retooled to be more consistent with the strategic direction of the brand and their “why” – that is, their transformation to predominantly electric vehicles.  Of course, there’s more to it, but if you get that, then you do understand the fundamental essence of why.  If you’d like to learn more about the why and all about the how, please, read on.

What is a logo anyway?

Simply put, logos are a visual symbol of identification. But the question of what is a logo requires further investigation if one is to gain a complete understanding, and one way of achieving this is by asking, what’s the purpose of a logo?

And that answer is: A logo’s purpose is to identify!

First, you may be thinking that this article is only for big brands with big budgets like GM.  But wait, you need to know that a logo is an integral part of the brand identity for SME’s just as much as large corporates.   And as we now know, their role is to communicate your brand’s values & any additional meaning. And a logo can only achieve this if it contains the following elements:

  • Your brand’s personality and voice,
  • Colors and logotypes that relate to your market place.
  • Colors, fonts, and shapes that create an emotional attachment with your intended audience.

It’s only by infusing all of these elements into your logo that you can create one that correctly represents your company’s branding efforts and sends the right message to your audience and consumers. To gain a deeper understanding of how it all works, let’s start with the meaning behind a logo:

The meaning behind a logo

The images, shapes, colors, and fonts you use when designing your logo all have their meanings and they send powerful subliminal messages to the viewer; however, a logo by itself doesn’t actually have one. It’s your brand that adds meaning to your logo. Your voice, values, and goals, how you promote yourself, and the marketing methods you use to connect with your audience, these are what give meaning to your logo because they are what will form the viewer’s impression of your brand, and only then will they associate that with your logo. So, when you first start designing your logo, what do you think you should be focusing on?  Yes, your identity. Your logo is a business tool, and you should design it as one, so connect it with who you are, fill it with the three design elements, and then allow the meaning to come naturally.

Why do they matter?

Because without a logo, your company would be an unidentifiable piece of online content, with no brand cohesion or target audience engagement.  With one, your business has a face, and what’s more important, a familiar one. Your logo’s there to represent your brand throughout your marketing campaigns, and by doing so, sends your companies message (the meaning behind your logo) to your audience and consumers, who’ll over time associate it with their own experiences, memories, and interactions with your brand.

Establishing instant brand recognition

There are few things more important in business than establishing instant brand recognition. An apple, golden arches, a swoosh, you know who they are, yes? But you don’t have to be a global brand to do it; you can establish this type of brand recognition within your market, and more importantly, your niche. Today, simplicity is the key to a successful logo. There are many rules to designing a logo, but simplicity is one that runs throughout them all. If you keep that in mind when bringing the remaining design elements together, you’ll create an instantly recognizable face/logo that’s versatile and unique to you.

The four elements of logo design:

  • Logotype – There are three main types, Wordmark – Icon – Combination. For new companies, combination logos are an ideal choice as they provide the viewer with the required brand information; once recognition has been established, this logotype can be reduced to either an Icon or a Wordmark, giving you numerous branding options.
  • Shape – The shape you choose is dependent upon where you’ll be using your logo; rectangle and square are ideal for website headers, while circles work well as social media avatars.
  • Typeface – Fonts play an important role as each one sets a different tone and impression of the brand using them. Your chosen font or fonts (you should use no more than two) also have to suit your market place and your intended audience.
  • Colors – Colors are the most critical element, and often define a logo. Your market place has ones that pertain to it, and your audience expects to see ones that they associate with that market. Do your research, get your colors right.

Designing your logo

Designing a professional logo requires time and skill; if you can outsource to a proven logo designer, then do so. However, suppose that’s beyond your current budget. In that case, you must ensure that you do your market research and correctly implement the key design elements required for designing a logo that’s suitable to use as the face of your company. The saying “there’s nothing more expensive than a cheap design” says it all.

Today’s online communities know a poorly made logo when they see one. As your logo’s often the first marketing visual they’ll see (remember the quote, “first impressions count, so smile”), it must give the right impression. Whether you use a designer, logo making tool, a combination of the two, or go solo, you must first understand the environment in which it will be seen. Study your competitors, their chosen colors, fonts, shapes, and logotypes. Look at your market place, discover which platforms are most popular with your market’s communities. It’s only when you have this level of knowledge, can you begin to create a logo that will not only work as it should within your market place but you’ll also have an understanding of what you need to do to make it unique.

The Last Word

Now you understand the why, you’re in a position to implement the how. You have an incredible opportunity at your fingertips, a chance to create something uniquely yours, the face that will represent your brand to the world. Please make the most of it, do your market research, use any available tools and designers, and, most of all, make it smile. Remember, you only have six seconds to give people a reason to care, a reason to engage and a reason to buy. You can learn more about how to harness the power of brand identity by following me on Twitter, connecting with me on LinkedIn, subscribing to the TopRight blog, and buying copies of my latest books,  Strategic Analytics and Marketing, Interrupted.

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