Why corporate logos are on the road to nowhere

Each of us is bombarded daily with commercial messages — on television and radio, in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, junk mail, truck signage, Internet pop-up ads. Even our shirts, jackets and hats contain advertising slogans and logos. With everything out there competing for our consideration, just how does a marketer grab and hold customer interest?

To sell anything you first have to get their attention. Then convey your message quickly.

To break through the marketing noise sellers are heading back to the drawing board. Each aspect of the marketing effort is under scrutiny. Every dollar invested to approach the market simply has to do more to generate interest and response. This includes the corporate emblem as well. That’s why logos, which simply announce a corporate identity, are on a ride with the grim reaper.

Around the world people recognize the famous golden arches of McDonald’s. And who can’t identify Nike’s prominent swoosh? Would you know the three-point star held in a perimeter ring as the Mercedes icon? These symbols instantly convey meaning. But not because they tell us anything about the companies they stand for. No, it is solely because hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent infusing meaning that these logos, manage to represent anything at all. Can you manage this kind of investment for your identity?

None of these logos tell us anything about the business these companies are in, who they are, or what they do. These logos give no hint of the problems they solve for customers, or the benefits sought by their patrons. In fairness, these logos were fashioned long ago, well before the art of logo creation and design was elevated to today’s altitude of importance.

Introducing the ‘meme’

Logos are being replaced by the “meme.” Pronounced with a long “e” it rhymes with dream and team. Its English creator defined it as “a basic unit of cultural transmission that passes from one mind to another and instantly communicates an entire idea.” Essentially, it is a symbol that tells a story.

For example, A zigzag lightning bolt warns us off dangerous electric current; the silhouette of a stemmed martini glass – directs us to the party; the open-faced palm of a police officer’s hand tells us to stop and not to proceed beyond his or her position; the back of my hand with a raised central digit – well, you know that one.

A meme does more than merely identify, it tells the public what it is you do. The Chiquita Banana as well as Planters’ Mr. Peanut tells us exactly the business those companies are in.

A good meme may reveal how you do it: A health club could use a set of barbells or dumbbells in its meme. A beautician and/or barber can employ the comb-and-scissors icon. After all, this is how they do it.

A better meme may relate the benefits your customers realize. How about an image of a bulging biceps for that health club we mentioned above, or a presentation of a legendary six-pack of abdominal muscles? Aren’t these exactly what their members ultimately crave and strive for?

The best memes suggest a complete story. Consider a management consultant who operates as The Business Doctor. Represented by a vertical physician’s eye chart, the lettering is in decreasing font as the eye is brought down. Instantly, the entire process of diagnosis, prescription and prognosis are conveyed. The business card is exactly the same; it is the meme. The stationery is a physician’s prescription pad. When displaying at business-to-business trade shows, he/she can add the scrub shirt and stethoscope to complete the presentation.

A personal trainer employs the picture of a person wearing a baseball cap with headset and microphone. This image instantly transfers the viewer to the sidelines where a coach would be sporting this exact arrangement as he/she provides guidance, support, drive and sport-specific strategy. This single picture tells a story.

Start by asking yourself what the benefits you offer to customers/clients are? What problem(s) do you solve for customers? What needs and wants do you satisfy? Try to continually shorten the word length of your answer. Then try to assimilate the answer to an image, a picture, an icon, a figure, a sketch, etc., to arrive at the best single representation of your story or message. It’s what matters to them when they see it that counts. They cannot perceive you as better until they at least see you as different!

Arthur “Chip” Card, a business advisor and mentor, is a senior associate of the Institute for Independent Business International. He may be reached at a.card@comast.net.

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