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A logo is a symbol of a brand, corporation or organization that provides instantaneous recognition for the entity it symbolizes. It represents not only the product or entity but also the values that each embodies.

Most logos are visual by nature, but there are rare examples of alternate corporate identifications. In 1926, when the NBC network was established as a subsidiary of RCA, the company faced the problem of creating a non-visual logo for a radio network. Because the General Electric Corp. owned 30% of the new network, the notes G-E-C on the diatonic scale struck on chimes in sequence were used as a unique audio logo.

An ideal corporate logo is characterized by a good central concept, a unique style of execution and flexibility. Virgin Group, for example, has been able to explore new areas ranging from financial services to cinemas as well as diversify its business practices while using a single logo—a simple, oblique, underlined, casually written version of the word "Virgin."

A poorly designed logo, however, can have negative implications for a company. Best Western's former logo, an old-fashion gold crown used from the inception of the hotel chain, is one such example. Research showed that the logo reinforced consumers' image of the hotel chain as an out-of-date economy lodging.

Good logo design

Creating a good logo can be challenging. Close communication between the designer and the marketer is necessary. Logo designers must create designs that accurately reflect the company's goals and values. Nike's "swoosh" logo and its "Just do it" slogan work together to convey the company's message of athletes eager to participate in their chosen sport. They also allow the marketer to extend the positive feelings engendered in consumers to non-sports-related aspects of their lives.

Attractiveness itself is not enough to make a logo a success. Some corporate logos represent extremely elegant design work that is not connected to the organization or its products. Sometimes, however, a logo that is previously unrelated to the product may create a personality for a product that does not have one.

For example, Apple Computer's logo, an apple with a bite taken out of it, previously unrelated to the product category (personal computers), created an image of "user-friendliness" of the product, which was not usually associated with personal computers at the time. Similarly, Yahoo's logo suggests the personality of the company—excitement and fun—that is thought to be appealing to its target audience.

Product category norms also influence logo design, and designers must keep in mind what the logos of similar products or organizations in the market look like while giving a new logo its own unique personality.

A delicate balance

Trends in fashion and contemporary culture also are important considerations in logo design, conveying the fact that a company is changing with its environment or merely breaking the "boredom barrier."

However, a design must carefully avoid suggesting a marketer takes a frivolous attitude toward basic values, and traditional values embodied in a logo that has been used for years should not be discarded completely. One example is the rock logo used by Prudential Insurance Co. of America, which has changed dramatically over the years to reflect contemporary design while continuing to embody the idea of solidity and steadfastness.

After the logo has been designed, the next step is to devise an appropriate strategy for its use. Since sports are an important part of the lives of many consumers, companies believe a good way to gain exposure is to use people's favorite athletes as human billboards. A single racecar driver's jumpsuit can be emblazoned with more than two dozen logos. Conference sponsorships are also popular as a means for companies to promote their brands via logos.

Why redesign?

Occasionally a marketer finds it appropriate or necessary to introduce a new logo or update an existing one. This may be done when a company is going public for the first time, planning a global expansion or embarking on a totally new business direction.

Companies sometimes revamp their logo for other reasons, such as a change in management. Others update and revamp their logos to illustrate that their corporate culture is evolving and their business practices are becoming more sharply focused.

Such changes should be evaluated cautiously. When replacing a tried-and-true logo in the wake of internal change, a company must weigh the consequences of the change on suppliers, investment analysts, employees and consumers.

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