6 Jan 2020

You don’t need meaning in your logo, but it helps.

John Shaw talks about the importance of meaning underpinning your brand.

Credit: Jonny Caspari/Unsplash

As Professor Byron Sharp pointed out a decade or so ago, most ordinary people don’t spend very much time thinking about the meaning of brand names and brand logos (thank goodness). Whatever meanings they contain, or once contained, are not usually the primary factors in purchase decisions. Why Domino’s is called Domino’s, or why Cadbury’s chocolate is purple, doesn’t matter much to most people, most of the time.

However, that’s not the same as saying that there’s no point in embedding meaning into a new brand name or logo. In fact, it’s more valuable than ever before to do just that, because of changes in the way brands are built.

Credit: David Lezcano/ Unsplash

Debate will continue to rage about the relative value of TV advertising, data-driven and personalised communication, influencer mentions, and so on. But it’s incontestable that the brand communication environment has changed radically over the last ten years or so, and TV is less of a dominant medium than once it was. Compelling films can still be incredibly powerful, but they are often supplemented or replaced by a vast and diverse range of interactions from the most fleeting of Instagram posts to the most immersive of physical experiences. In many of them, there’s no visible tagline, no neat verbal summary of the brand’s meaning.

Credit: Fabian Grohs/ Unsplash

In a ‘classic’ ad agency pitch, getting the tagline right is a central part of the process. ‘We just need a great line, then we can build everything round it’ was usually implicitly if not explicitly stated. The tagline was often an anchor for the brand’s meaning, internally as well as externally, and that would apply particularly in the case of a new brand. But what if people aren’t really going to see the tagline so much? How then will the brand’s meaning be anchored? It’s no coincidence that when people are asked to mention a great tagline, they’ll probably come up with an example that’s a few decades old. There aren’t many great new ones coming out these days, because brand meanings are being built in other ways.

But just because the glue of taglines is a little weaker doesn’t mean that brands don’t have to be held together. In fact, the opposite is true. When brands are built through such a diversity of often ephemeral touchpoints, uniting strands of shared meaning are vital. And in this environment, while it’s not essential for the brand’s name and logo to carry meaning, it’s certainly very useful. That’s particularly true in the case of new brands that need to establish a consistent meaning as quickly and powerfully as possible.

Hans Vivek/ Unsplash

If you needed to launch a brand from scratch, you’d want to be very clear about the meaning that brand should have, wouldn’t you? And wouldn’t you also want at least some of that meaning to be suggested by the brand’s name, its logo and its identity? Because that works in small spaces as well as big ones. Because it can underpin any conversation people have about your brand. And because it makes getting a great tagline a bonus rather than the be-all and end-all.   

"When brands are built through such a diversity of often ephemeral touchpoints, uniting strands of shared meaning are vital. And in this environment, while it’s not essential for the brand’s name and logo to carry meaning, it’s certainly very useful."

John Shaw
Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer