Branding – Did you over pay for your logo?

The Hutch Report

At more than a few startups I was with, we had to come up with a logo for the company.  We did what most companies do, hire a design company, give them a description on how dynamic we are, and what we represent.  Then the designers come back with a few choices for the team to look at.

Mostly the designers are clever at giving modifications of a very narrow selection and in a sense often guide you into a direction before you have even seen the designs.

Then, in a small company, you go through the painful process of asking everyone’s opinion of the choices (as if it really makes a difference!).  Ask anybody’s opinion of something, even if they have absolutely no knowledge or experience to back up their opinion and they will give it to you.  This is about the time the arguments start.  People will argue until they are blue in the face in order to have the recognition of getting things their way or that self-satisfaction of being right.

I was in a small pharmaceutical company where this happened once.  What was meant to be a few minute get together between the marketing team and the rest of management to give feedback on the logo selection turned into an hour of bickering and arguing.  It got to the point where the CEO of the company lost his patience, and interest in any one else’s opinion, threw up his hands and said, “I am making the decision and I say we use the blue one”, “Meeting over!!”

The logo chosen by the CEO was used, placed on all the documentation and company communication and was never talked about again.  The company went on with its business, did a good job and grew in profits and revenues.

So it got me thinking of how much value do logos really have? I believe that the company’s success creates the logo.  The best logo in the world will not assure your company recognition that places you above all the rest.  There are millions of companies and logos of all sizes, colours and designs.

However, if you build some great products or provide great services that people use, provide great value for the price and you will grow as a company.  The more people who use your products and services will then become familiar with whatever logo you use (assuming of course that you haven’t done something self destructive such as making it illegible, or of bad taste).

Here are some examples:


In 1971, Phil Knight was teaching a class in accounting at the Portland State University. While there, he commissioned a graphic design student, Carolyn Davidson to create a logo.  When he bought the now famous “Swoosh” he told her, “I don’t love it, but maybe it will grow on me.”  The cost? $35.


Twitter purchased their logo from iStockphoto for about $15.  The designer of the logo, Simon Oxley, probably received about $6 for the job after fees. Twitter could have purchased any number of other designs and still have the same recognition and success that they have had with their service.


Sergei Brin, one of the founders of the company, created the Google logo.  He used a free graphics-editing program.  The logo has become so recognizable, not because of its brilliant design aspects but because a large percentage of the world’s population uses it everyday as a search tool. That’s how you become a brand!!


Stelios Haji-Ioannou launched the European based EasyJet as a low cost carrier back in 1995.  He was very conscious of keeping the marketing budget as low as could be. He, therefore, looked at all the other airline companies of the day and noticed not one of them was using the color orange.  He chose the lowercase Cooper Black font available in all word processors, colored it orange, painted it across the body of each plane and the rest is history.  Like it or hate it, the success of the company had little to do with the logo design alone, but everything to do with very astute marketing and publicity.  The cost was the time it took Stelios to conceive of the logo, which was not long.

Do you remember what the Logo for the 2012 London Olympics? Do you remember what color it was?  My guess is probably not.  The logo was designed by a London based brand consultancy company and cost the city $625,000. The rebranding of British Petroleum, Symantec, Accenture were all over $100 million dollars.  However that was the total cost of rebranding and not just the logo but we can imagine that the logo was not cheap. The big question would be, what was the return for the investment?

Graphic Designer and Art Director Paul Rand once said, “It is only by association with a product, a service, a business, or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. Therefore, no matter how brilliant a logo in its inception and design, it will mean nothing if the company it represents is a producer of lousy products and services.

A good example of this is Ferrari.

Enzo Ferrari told the story of the prancing horse logo just once. “The horse was painted on the fuselage of the fighter plane of Francesco Baracca — a heroic airman of the First World War. In ’23, I met count Enrico Baracca, the hero’s father, and then his mother, countess Paulina, who said to me one day, ‘Ferrari, put my son’s prancing horse on your cars. It will bring you good luck.’ The horse was, and still is, black, and I added the canary yellow background which is the color of Modena.”

This logo would have represented nothing if it were not for the high standards that Ferrari set for his products. Instead, looking at the logo now and you see the reflection of high-end, quality, and performance.


Apple is another great example of reading too much into the importance of a logo. We can start with the simplicity of the name. Apparently it results from Steve Jobs having worked in apple orchards in Oregon, and stuck for another name, decided to name it Apple. Steve Wozniak describes the naming process as a simple one and that “anything that sounded interesting was valid”. So there really was nothing more to it.

The rainbow logo was designed by Rob Jannoff, of which today’s logo is still based on. Janoff said that the bite of the apple was added to ensure it resembled an apple and not a cherry. For anyone that has worked in marketing producing brochures etc. you will understand the costs involved in producing materials that are multicolored.

The rainbow logo remained for 22 years until Steve Jobs returned to the company in 1997. One of the main reasons for moving into a simpler form was apparently the production cost. Producing the colored logo was much more expensive, especially on the computers themselves. Michael M. Scott of Apple called the logo “the most expensive bloody logo ever designed”.

At the time The Beatles Apple Corp. logo was an apple.  They sued Apple Computer and settled for an undisclosed sum being paid to the Beatles Apple Corp. The apple logo choice at the time was actually not such a smart decision and ended up being quite costly. However, today the logo is iconic because of the products it represents, used by millions of consumers everyday. That is what made the logo and not vice versa.


Howard Shultz bought Starbucks in 1987 when they had six stores.  He reduced the product selection to just coffee and adjusted the logo accordingly.  The most recent adjustment to the logo was done in house at a minimal expense.  The changes over the years have been meant for simplification purposes and keep the look fresh, seeing that styles and fashion do change over time. In my opinion, Starbucks has done it right.  They could have spent millions on some high-end design branding agencies but that would have ruined it.  They have kept true to their origins at a reasonable.


There is the story of Virgin’s logo in the Richard Branson biography.  The way the story goes is Richard Branson and one of his associates went to meet a designer about the creation of the Virgin logo.  While Branson got up to go to the bathroom the designer asked the associate what the name of the company was.  The associate said it was Virgin, so the designer scribbled the name on a napkin.  When Branson came back to the table he saw the name Virgin written on the napkin and said, “Right, that’s it then.” That quickly written reminder on the napkin became the Virgin logo.

If you are a startup then you shouldn’t be thinking that spending a lot of money on a logo would attract business for you. Don’t over emphasis your logos importance.  This is not to say that the logo means nothing. It is your face and will be a communication tool to your market. Choose a logo design that you feel represents the quality of your products and services but you don’t need to bother paying for expensive design consultancy firms to do that.  Go and find a student designer (as in the case of Nike), I am sure they will do just as well and probably put more heart into the project, or you can just go online and choose an inexpensive one that way (as in the case of Twitter).  Then get on with the principle effort of building your customer base.