As somebody who happens to advise personal brands and small businesses about their marketing stuff I often receive some form of this question:
“Which logo do you think I should get?”
A business owner who had just received twelve variations of the same piece of graphics trying to wrap her head around the difference between them, and to make “the right” choice is classic.
It’s hard to choose when you barely see the difference, right?
In most cases my answer is: “Close your eyes, point at any one of them, and you’ll be just fine. It’s not worth your time and energy”.
This is not a conventional thing to say when you consult a personal brand, yet I’m convinced that the time and the energy should be spent differently if you want your logo to be as powerful as, say, Apple’s or Nike’s.
When we first order a logo, we think that the logo itself will send some message to our customers.
The truth is that a piece of graphic barely has a message to send.
It doesn’t feel so, we all know logos that do send messages to us. But it happens due to classical conditioning effect.
You may remember that Ivan Pavlov, a famous Russian physiologist, introduced classical conditioning through experiments with a dog.
A dog received a meaningful stimulus (food) and a neutral stimulus (a ring of a bell) at the same time. After so many repetitions Pavlov observed that the neutral stimulus caused the same physiological reaction in a dog as a meaningful stimulus would. That is, the dog started salivating and getting excited when she heard the bell, even when there was no food around.
Later on a more advanced experiment with monkeys in Friburg, Switzeland showed that mammal brain produces dopamine (a hormone of reward and satisfaction) as response to meaningful experience (again, food). When the reward was associated with a neutral stimulus (a glow of a light bulb), eventually the light bulb would cause dopamine production even in the absence of food.
In other words, monkeys start feeling good about the light bulb.
This is classical conditioning that humans share with dogs, monkeys, and other beautiful creatures here on Earth.
What does this physiology have to do with logos?
Well, if you ever happen to show your logo to humans, physiology has everything to do with it.
A logo is essentially a neutral visual stimulus.
What makes it powerful, is the meaningful experience people have in association with this logo. A customer first assigns a meaning to your logo, and then receives a message when encountering the logo again and again.
The meaning that your customer assigns to logo is a direct product of the experience the customer had with your brand. As a brand you are responsible for the experience, not your graphic designer.
We don’t feel the way we feel around Apple logo because of the design. We feel the overall rewarding experience we have with Apple products when we see the logo. Even if there’s no Apple products around, the logo gives us the hint of that magnificent experience of holding a new precious MacBook in your hands.
The logo designer didn’t create it, the whole company did, and classical conditioning effect finished the job.
That being said, a logo can be “good” or “bad” because it can already have associations with something that’s considered inappropriate, or ugly, or offensive, or cheap…
Although I would recommend to avoid logos with already established associations, even then the experience that you provide to those who associate you with the logo can disrupt that previous conditioning and create a new one.
The short of it is: Pavolv’s dog teaches us that a logo won’t do the job, that you as experience provider is supposed to do.