Lessons From Marketing Masters: Essential Elements of a Good Logo

by Alabaweh Baweh -
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Forget the 30-second elevator introduction. A well-designed logo is the best way to present your company's message to potential buyers. However, it can be difficult to find the right combination of graphics, colors, and wording to fully express your company's desired image. 

Fledgling logo designers can learn a lot from the geniuses behind some of the most successful logos ever. Companies like McDonald's, Starbucks, and Chanel have elevated the logo from a simple marketing device to a cultural force that has inspired artwork, social movements, and undying brand loyalty. What makes these logos so memorable? How do the design elements contribute to the overall message of each logo? How can logo designers use this knowledge to reinvigorate their own corporate branding?

McDonald's

This bargain burger joint's meteoric rise to world domination was fueled, in part, by the simple appeal of the Golden Arches. The warm, bright, often illuminated logo is a familiar and welcoming sight in 120 countries and territories across the globe. However, it took several incarnations before this iconic symbol became what we see today.

Simple Beginnings

The logo began as the brainchild of the sibling team Richard and Maurice McDonald. Inspired by the sophisticated strength of the arch shape, the brothers sought out an architect to incorporate that symbol into the structure of their new restaurants. In 1953, the first McDonald's restaurant to sport the familiar golden-hued parabolas opened in Phoenix, Arizona. Shortly after, the stylized M-shape became the symbol for the burgeoning burger empire.

What Makes the Golden Arches Successful

Modern logos are rife with hidden meanings, symbolism, and elements designed to elicit a desired emotional response. This one is not. The McDonald's brothers simply set out to make something that was big, bright, and noticeable from a distance. The arch-like shape was chosen because its strong form would be unique against a backdrop of square signs.  It was also easy to scale and adapt to different applications and building structures. Another important benefit of the arch was that no one else was using it. At that point in time, there were no clear concepts or philosophies associated with the shape. In this way, McDonald's created a powerful new symbol that, when seen, would bring to mind nothing but their brand.

So, what lessons can today's logo designers learn from the Golden Arches?

  • Don't overthink the design. Your ultimate goal is to get noticed. Instead of cluttering your logo with words and intricate backgrounds, try to concentrate on one single image.
  • Simple images can have great power. Our brains are able to process images more quickly than words. Using images gets to the gut reaction faster, which encourages positive action.
  • Color is key. The rich, golden color of the arches stimulates the anxiety centers of the brain.  This encourages viewers to act on their most pressing impulses. If they're hungry, that means they're more likely to stop at your restaurant.

This stroke of marketing genius is an unashamed salute to commercialism. Be fearlessly simplistic in your logo design for the most impact.

Starbucks

In 1971, beverage visionaries Zev Siegel, Jerry Baldwin, and Gordon Bowker began selling artisan coffee in the Seattle, Washington area under the name Starbucks. To advertise their new brand, the partners drew inspiration from 15-century Norse woodcutting. The logo depicted a voluptuous sea siren with a flowing mane of hair against a deep brown background. Choosing to concentrate their message on the product, the divine graphic was meant to bring to mind the irresistibly seductive experience of drinking their coffees. Like the doomed sailors of old, those who indulged in their frothy drinks would forever be drawn back, again and again. Over time, the company has tweaked its initial image to fit the fluctuating brand.

The Siren's Makeovers

  • When the company changed hands in 1987, the logo was given a more PG look. Designers used the siren's impressive tresses to cover her ample assets. The color was also changed to dark, minty green.
  • In 1992, the siren received another modesty upgrade, this time having her belly button cropped out of the shot.
  • Following the trend of corporate brands embracing simplicity, 2011 saw another reimaging of the popular seal. The border and company name were removed, leaving a close-up shot of a smiling siren.

Elements that Work

Today, Starbucks is one of the most beloved brands in 62 countries around the world. The siren logo was instrumental in cementing these coffee mavens in our minds. The slight shock of suggestive nudity definitely draws the eye. While the original dark brown color represented the rich darkness of freshly-brewed coffee, the distinctive green color is meant to convey feelings of expansive prosperity. With this single move, designers transferred the feelings of richness from the product to the customer themselves. In this way, customers are able to become a part of the brand. That personal involvement is the magic ingredient in securing long-term, repeat business.

How can designers adapt Starbuck's strategies to their own logos?

  • Tell a story with your image. Association is a huge force in marketing. Use the power of established symbols to help customers remember what you're all about.
  • Be willing to be flexible. Successful companies have to be able to adjust to changing trends. When your company's brand changes, so should your logo.
  • Choose pictures over words. Take advantage of the brain's primal responses to grab potential buyers in the amygdala.

Today's market is all about personal experience. Starbucks is a shining example of how good advertising can make the commercial into something very personal.

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Chanel

Branding isn't a new thing. Since 1909, the fashion conglomerate Chanel has dominated runways, retail racks, and popular opinion with a clean, classic style that evokes an air of intelligence, curiosity, and luxury. The brand itself is heavily based on Coco Chanel, a French designer who imbued all of her pieces with her own peculiarly-refined style. Thus, the two interlocking Cs are an homage to the powerhouse personality behind the couture. Coco Chanel herself came up with the design in 1925. Like the person who created the symbol, the true meaning behind the logo is shrouded in mystery and unsubstantiated theories. Some of them include:

  • Coco drew inspiration from stained glass patterns in French churches.
  • The second C represents Arthur Capel, the love of Coco's life and an early financial investor in her brand.

Unfortunately, Coco never verified the inspiration behind her logo. Over the years, however, it has come to signify strong, capable women who weren't afraid to express their femininity.

Stability in a Changing Field

Fashion is a turbulent industry. Tastes change with lightning speed. Through it all, however, the Chanel logo has remained unaltered. For over a hundred years, those two letters in its simple stylized sans font have been the beacon for shoppers looking for a certain style. This success is less a testament to the power of the symbol and is due more to the elemental force of the creator's vision and personality. Coco's unparalleled attention to minute details, commitment to understated elegance, and intuitive sense of what makes fashion work are all fully represented in her logo.

What can designers do with Coco's techniques?
  • Personality is a key component of your corporate brand. Use your logo to express your desired corporate persona.
  • Concentrate on your company's core values to create a logo that can withstand time.
  • Incorporate your branding into your product to boost recognition.

Evoking Exclusivity

Along with the strength of the interlocking C logo, the Chanel design uses black lettering on a pristine, white background to evoke a feeling of superiority and exclusivity. Chanel buyers are a privileged club and everyone does not qualify for admission. Like Coco, you can use your logo to make customers feel like part of an elite group.

Need more inspiration to spark your logo design process? Check out the fonts, graphics, and templates at mydesigndeals.com.