As a business owner, you’re always stretched in a million different directions. You don’t often think about your logo and if it’s conveying the right message about your business. But is it helping you leave your mark?

Details matter. Your logo can help attract new customers and  distinguish you from your competition. Since it’s my business to help growing businesses grow magnetic brands, I spend a lot of time working with clients to ensure their logo, fonts and color schemes are telling their full brand story in a simple but compelling way. If you’ve ever wondered what makes for a great logo, if you’re considering designing one for your business, or if your current one makes you cringe: below are some helpful logo design tips to keep in mind.

First: do you even need a logo?

Many small businesses decide to skip the logo in the very beginning, or they get something simple off 99designs.com. Either route is great, especially when starting out. But as your business evolves, remember that we live in a world of symbols, so whatever’s next to your company name is functioning as your de facto logo. So let’s ask this a different way: what’s the point of a logo? And does your current one work to your advantage? Here are some benefits that a logo provides:

  1. A logo tells people the name of your company.
  2. It creates differentiation and a good one makes your brand stand out.
  3. A logo represents your business. A great logo has a symbolic association, making your company instantly more memorable and more endearing.
  4. It invites people to explore your brand. Symbols and colors are more interesting to the human eye and mind than plain text. Logos draw interest and pique the curiosity of your potential customers, prompting them to discover more about your product or service.
  5. It can go everywhere. Website, business cards, office door, letterhead: a logo is a visual representation of your business and can extend your brand  everywhere. With a logo, you have more opportunity to be top of mind for your customers and prospects. And familiarity breeds preference.

Now let’s go back to your current logo. If it’s delivering on all these points, then that’s a win for you.
But if you feel that your current logo isn’t working for you, and you want to make your brand clearer and more inviting, then let’s talk about what you should look for in logo design.

The Role of Color, Shape & Font

  • Color. Color psychology goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians; they figured out color can impact mood and human behavior. Today, color is important in our media-frenzied society because it can help draw attention to your brand and make it stand out. And research has shown that 60% of customers’ product choices are impacted by color alone.

    So what’s the right color for your brand? Well, that depends on what you want to convey.  For instance, blue conjures up feelings of calmness, confidence and honesty, while red is the opposite: it conveys passion, intensity and excitement. Yellow symbolizes positivity and optimism, while green conveys freshness, prosperity and nature. There are thousands of color options, so it’s important to first figure out what qualities and values you want to express and then apply that to your brand. For some color psychology basics, the folks over at Green Apple Lane did a nice graphic that conveys many core brand attributes for brands.
Graphic courtesy of GreenAppleLane.com
  • Shape. Our subconscious mind responds to shapes and associates attributes with them, so designers factor in shape when designing logos. For example: are you wanting to convey community, unity, a sense of belonging? Then your logo would most likely be circular or oval shaped. If you’re wanting to express stability, strength and professionalism: squares. A sense of power, science, logic? Triangles. Below are a few examples of global brands that have been using shapes to subliminally suggest brand values; it can work for your company as well.

Pepsi communicates community and unity; Microsoft expresses stability and strength; Google Drive projects technology prowess and logic.

  • Font. It’s not just words on a page. Typefaces have distinct personalities – did you know? The latest research suggests that typefaces convey their own meanings and elicit specific emotional responses independent based on the forms of the letters and words on the page or screen. Serif types are focused and calming; rounder types elicit happiness; sharper types, anger. If you want to convey tradition and respect, a classic serif font like Times New Roman is right for you. Are you innovative? Then consider a cleaner and modern font, a non-serif like Futura or Helvetica.  Is your brand creative or elegant? A cursive font could help deliver that message. Or perhaps your brand is playful and creative – then you might want to lean in to a display style, like Valencia or Cooper.

The brand on the left is conveying modernity, confidence, unfussiness.
The brand on the right is all about heritage and tradition.

 

A Word on Simplicity

Given all the things we want our logo to say and represent – not to mention that some logos can cost a lot of money – the tendency is to make sure they serve up a whole slew of brand message. But that makes them complicated, which is exactly the inverse of what you want. The most revered logos in the world are actually breathtakingly simple.


This doesn’t mean they’re simple to create. Reducing an idea down to an elemental symbol that captures one overarching big idea – that encapsulates other elements – is often the toughest part of the logo design process. Many logos, even those of big and successful companies, fail to stand out or be memorable because they can’t easily be associated with a single idea. Sometimes that’s because they’re too complex, and sometimes because they’re too abstract. 

The original logo on the left, and the updated TGI Fridays logo on the right, with a less complicated shape and cleaner font. Both say festive and fun; which does your eye prefer?

Apple’s original logo: Isaac Newton under an apple tree.  And the Apple logo today.

Does Your Logo Tell Your Brand Story?

Now for the most important part: it’s got to hang together.  Does it all come together to deliver the right message about your brand?  Firstly, if your logo’s not exuding what your business and brand are all about, then your logo is off and needs some fixing.

Secondly, you should love your logo, but your customers are the best judge, since it’s largely for them. Try to see your logo from their perspective. Thirdly, it’s cool to have hidden messages in your logo’s design, but if it’s not conveying the point of your brand to your customers, you’ve overshot the mark. If you have a few customers you trust and are close to, ask them for their thoughts on your logo. Does it convey the points you were hoping to get across?

A famous logo with a hidden subliminal message. Do you see the arrow?

If you’re considering hiring a graphic designer to update your brand look and feel, it’s helpful to speak with someone who can help you hit these points design-wise. Additionally, you want a designer who can convey the bigger picture of what your business  stands for, while remaining dedicated to simplicity. If you’ve worked with designer in the past and like their work and feel your logo could use an update, talk with them about how to make your logo more impactful.

Need a designer to give your brand a new look? We’d would be happy to have a conversation about logos and more. At Magnetic Brand Strategy, we have a team of dedicated creative designers who can expertly shape simple and powerful logos. We’re dedicated to helping small and growing businesses become magnetic to the people who matter to them.

What Diplomacy can teach Brand Stewards about Persuasion and Influence

After years of being in the advertising industry, in 2011 I shifted gears and joined the State Department as a Public Affairs diplomat. For many reasons, diplomacy holds its strategies and tactics close to the chest, so while I had some general knowledge of what diplomacy entailed and the type of work I would be doing, I didn’t know the specifics. The actual day-to-day was cloaked in mystery, and it felt like I would be undergoing a significant career change.

The truth about diplomacy is that it is multi-faceted and extremely complex, with a great many players working various overlapping methods, angles and tactics to achieve common end goals.  And here’s my caveat up front: I am not a career diplomat. I left the State Department for family reasons after serving two overseas tours. But during my nearly six years at State in a Public Affairs capacity, as I got into doing the actual work of diplomacy, I was surprised time and again to discover how much diplomacy is like branding.

At its core, diplomacy is about persuading your target market to align with your agenda through various tactics, including dialogue, negotiation, and other measures. And while there are many definitions of branding, my working definition is “a means to shape opinion, influence and persuade behavior.” Bring on the overlap: both require mastering persuasion and influence for success.

Diplomacy is like branding in many other ways, too:

  • You need an unwavering brand and vision. This is your North Star, and you’re constantly guided by it as you navigate the diplomatic matrix that involves the 180 countries the US maintains relationships with. Not to mention the bureaucracy itself, with its bureaus, special divisions and all manner of special-interest political projects – all having complex, vying-for-attention agendas and missions.
  • You need to earn trust and steadfast relationships with your target market – your foreign interlocutors, or counterparts; and also your foreign public.
  • You’ve got to deeply understand your interlocutor’s perspective, agenda and likely behavior – this goes for your foreign public as well.
  • Who are the tertiary players? What are their agendas?  How could they interfere with you achieving your goals? You need to know your competitive landscape.
  • When advocating for your agenda, you must articulate your key selling points in a clear and concise manner that informs, influences and persuades your interlocutors and also your foreign public. Note: You’re focused on the benefits.
  • You need creativity to influence and persuade. Many times you’re persuading not just your interlocutors but the foreign public, and dry diplo-speak doesn’t cut it.

Wait. Foreign public?  Most people think diplomacy is about negotiating with interlocutors and that it happens on a 1:1 basis, and yes, that is true; but in my experience, diplomacy is often made more effective when you’ve galvanized a public behind your agenda. As an example: while serving in Sri Lanka in 2012-14, one of our goals was to push the government of Sri Lanka towards transparent elections. Privately we met with members of Parliament and government to ensure our objective was heard. But we also built momentum for fair and free elections at the grassroots level. We hosted country-wide events about fair and free elections; invited experts on U.S. elections to speak about how our election system works, inviting criticism and candor; we moderated panel discussions with prominent social and political figures; wrote op-eds in popular newspapers; held debates at universities around the country; engaged actively on social media; hosted US Presidential debate and election parties; and did numerous other tactics to keep our message top of mind. When the results of the January 2015 Sri Lankan Presidential elections came in, over 81% of the population had voted, and importantly, according to election monitoring organizations, the election itself was clean and fair.

The work that diplomats do to inform, influence and persuade a number of external audiences: that’s the work of Public Affairs, and I feel many of the tactics used in Public Affairs are worth exploring because they are effective, budget-conscious and creative (gasp!). I’ll cover a few of these in a subsequent article.  But for this piece, I’ll shift to focus on something else I noticed diplomacy does really well: the Long Term Play.

I won’t speak for all aspects of diplomacy, but in Public Affairs, you’re in the business of building mutually-beneficial relationships for decades. You don’t think in the short-term; there is no transactional give-get. You’re interested in building deep and multi-faceted relationships that embed you in their business and them in yours. Every initiative is seen as an investment; every effort goes through a how does this strengthen / grow / build our relationship? line of questioning.  Here’s why:

  1. Leverage. When you invest in a country you’re inextricably weaving your economic, political, social and civic agendas together and there are now strategic incentives to align and cooperate.
  2. Mutual Success. You support your partner and have an interest in seeing them thrive and prosper – wonderful. But you aren’t the Fairy Godmother, either; you also need to win. When you’re invested in a client you make decisions that mutually benefit both of you, which means you bring your smarts to the table. Your money’s on the line.
  3. Credibility + Connection. Committing to a long-term partnership lends credibility and integrity to your mission. It says you’re committed to your partner for the long haul, and that you’re not going to suddenly bail or have a change of heart. It forges a stronger and deeper connection and extends your credibility.

The takeaway: shifting to a long-term strategy for your clients is not only smart, it’s a key differentiator for success. If you’re already approaching your clients this way: brilliant. It’s such a huge advantage, particularly in the B2B space. For those still caught up in the transactional and focused only on answering the client brief: get beyond the brief. Imagine its 2030, and you still have your same clients; what type of work will have sustained your relationship? What type of work will you have done to guarantee your client’s success?

As brand stewards, we need to think bigger and deeper, not only for our sakes but to better help our clients. How can and should we invest in our client’s business to better help them succeed? How can we help them live into their values more fully?  How do we help our clients become better brand stewards themselves, in the process making our work bigger as well?

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Juliana Spaven is a serial brand strategist and marketer with over 20 years of advertising and marketing experience.  In 2011 she joined the State Department as a Public Affairs diplomat and served in Sri Lanka (2012 – 2014). She was awarded the Embassy’s prestigious Meritorious Honor Award for her work in promoting Freedom of the Press to the Sri Lankan public. She also served in Frankfurt, Germany (2015-2016) where she received awards for her teamwork and professionalism as Vice Consul. She left the State Department in 2017 and currently lives in DC with her family, where she works to make brands magnetic.

What price would you pay for clarity, differentiation, connection?

I recently had a conversation with a prospective client on the cost of branding. She has a small, thriving cybersecurity business and was looking to hire a branding agency because she felt her business lacked a strong brand presence. Word of mouth had landed her in front of me, chatting about branding and marketing and her business. But when our discussion turned to pricing, she backed off.  “Oh my goodness,” she said. “I never would’ve thought branding could be so expensive. I just don’t see how it could cost that much.”

I thought of that adage, “if you think good branding is expensive, you should see what bad branding costs.”

But she’s an engineer and there’s likely a knowledge gap regarding what branding is and what it does for a company – and how much work goes into it. Just say something about our brand, get some new fonts and hire that art school intern to create a logo in InDesign. What’s the big deal?  

I think it’s helpful to define ‘branding’ so we’re in agreement about what it actually is and does for a company, and then we can get to pricing. Many people think branding is basically a new logo, a snappy tagline and an updated website. These are cosmetic changes and often get updated during rebranding. But branding is more.

  • Clarity. Branding is a declaration of what your brand says and does in the world. It summarizes the value you bring to customers and partners. It captures your company’s heritage and reason for being, and drives your business vision and strategy. Branding creates a North Star that focuses you and your team on what you’re all about.
  • Differentiation. Branding also gives you a competitive edge. It involves a thorough competitive analysis and landscape assessment that leads to finding your “white space” – e.g., your brand’s unique selling proposition. Branding helps to identify what differentiates you from the others, and what’s your true advantage over the competition.
  • Connection. Most importantly, branding is about synthesizing these facets to ensure your brand message connects with the people who matter: your employees, customers, owners and community. Your brand can say anything. What should it say? What will resonate and convince them to act?  

And I don’t have to tell you that your customers are highly intelligent and have incredibly short attention spans. And they are capricious. They tell you they want only facts – but quietly admit they’re bored by facts. They ask that you only address what’s in the RFP, nothing more; but later complain that most companies are uninspiring, that they want to do business with a brand that gives them confidence and assurance. Customers are people. Like you. And me. They want to be engaged. They want to feel something when they encounter your brand; they want to know they’ve unequivocally made the best decision.  

In a (lengthy) nutshell, that’s what branding is.

Now, if you’ve got your branding figured out: brilliant. You can stop reading and go straight to a brand design shop for that logo, website and collateral materials. More importantly, you’ve dodged an incredible amount of hard work, so consider yourself lucky and in the lead on the branding front.

But if you’re thinking you don’t quite have a strong brand presence – if you’re not quite sure what your brand should say to the world and to customers – then it’s likely you’ll need to invest in brand strategy.

Which brings us back to price. What‘s a fair price to pay someone who can clearly articulate what your company stands for, silence your competitors and connect with your stakeholders and customers in a way that shows you’re the best solution?  What price would you be willing to pay for that informed business strategy?

Or let’s ask it another way: What’s the true cost of running your business with no clarity or vision, using price as your only differentiator, and watching your employees hesitate to give out their business cards at a trade show?