starbucks logo evolution

Want people to like your nonprofit’s logo? Focus on your brand

A logo. That little symbol in the bottom, at the top, or to the side of websites, brochures, or billboards. Like a signature, it tells the viewer who is responsible for the message. 

Every business needs one. That’s the cost of entry these days. And as someone who makes logos for brands and organizations as part of my everyday work, I agree that it’s a necessary element.

However, in many conversations, the logo is described as “the brand.” It’s often seen as the thing that will create awareness and make consumers remember you. I am here to challenge that notion and explain why customers’ and supporters’ love for a logo has little to do with the logo itself, and everything to do with the overall brand experience. 

We don’t fall in love with logos, we fall in love with brands. 

The Nike swoosh and Macintosh apple are two logos often used to describe what a good logo should look like. Clients often use these two brands as examples, and designers often label the swoosh and the apple as strong and impactful marks. I’ve been one of those designers, and I love the simplicity of the marks.  However, I am starting to realize that my feelings about the logos have little to do with the logo itself and everything to do with the service and products they provide. It is not a surprise that when people are asked about logos they like, they often mention companies they have a positive relationship with. If you love Apple as a product, you probably also like their logo. 

Therefore, a logo is not what it looks like. It is what it represents. 

The designer and communicator Paul Rand, who worked closely with Steve Jobs as he built the brand “Next” and implemented simple design solutions for Apple, is known for saying: “It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes.” 

He explained how the likability of the logo is directly dependent on the company values, both internally and externally. The customer experience happens at all touchpoints of the brand, from the packaging to the performance of products, all the way to the hold music and interactions when we call customer service. It’s the full brand experience that makes us like or dislikes a logo. 

So how do we build a memorable brand? 

At Media Cause, we define a brand as “a complex set of emotions, ideas, perceptions, and experiences that tell the story of who you are and what you stand for. To connect with the hearts and minds of your audience, and inspire them to act, it’s critical to make sure this story is communicated clearly and consistently throughout every organizational touchpoint—from your mission statement and brand positioning to your messaging and visual identity.” Here, consistency is key. Building a brand is all about showing up consistently across platforms, and continuing to do so day in and day out.  

But to be consistent, you first need to define who you are at the core. We do that through a brand strategy.

By developing a mission, defining your values and beliefs, your personality, and voice, showing up consistently becomes easier. Defining your brand doesn’t just help you connect to your audience, it also helps you rally your team around a core set of values. 

We now know that a brand is more than a logo, and the other day I witnessed it first hand. I was on a group call with a non-profit organization I support. The organization, Preemptive Love Coalition exists to end war. Their work brings aid and jobs to communities around the world, and they pride themselves on being the first in and the last out when war hits a region. Their brand story pulls you in and makes you want to engage. During the call, the facilitator shared a story from a recent team meeting. In the meeting, someone explained the meaning of their logo to her for the first time. She had been with the organization for over five years, and this was the first time she heard the explanation. The explanation fits their brand, but the point here is that even though she didn’t know the meaning around the actual logo, she was living their mission and knew exactly how to communicate their core values to supporters. Not through the logo, but through their living, breathing brand. 

Brand building is a heavy lift. But it is the only way to create sustainable change over time. Your brand and supporter base will grow hand in hand, and as your brand gets bigger, your logo can get simpler. As a designer born and raised in Sweden, I love simplicity more than most. The simpler the better. However, after a decade in the industry, I also recognize that the simplification of a logo can only happen once we’ve established the brand. And the simple, strong logos we love today started out with a lot more detail. One example of this is the Starbucks logo. It used to have the mermaid in the center and the company name around it. The first iteration even had descriptor words around the center. But as the company grew, and the brand story was fully embraced, the logo was simplified: first by removing the words coffee, tea, spices, and then eventually removing the name altogether. The simplification of the logo was the result of decades of brand building.  

The more we see something, the better we will remember it. In marketing, we talk about how repetition leads to recall. But what people truly remember, and how your company is viewed, has very little to do with the logo itself.

When a logo first comes out, it means nothing. It is just an identifier, like a name. But by having a purpose, a mission, and a cohesive brand behind it positive associations with your logo slowly begin to form in people’s minds. And by sticking with it, year after year, the associations grow stronger, and the logo begins to take on a meaning and a presence of its own. The feelings people get when they see your logo can only be generated from the inside out. If you want people to love your logo, you must invest the time, energy, and emotion into building your brand. And that includes all areas of the brand, from the quality of our products, our customer service, our messages, and our internal cultures. We need a logo to go along with it, but it won’t make a difference or be loved if other parts are broken. 

Need help building your nonprofit’s brand identity? We can help.


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