Logo Research – Approach With Caution

By Paul Hague, Director, B2B International Ltd

The Role Of The Logo

Logos are the marks by which companies are recognized. Their origins were the hot seared marks burned on to the rumps of cattle when they roamed freely on the plains of the US. Each mark distinguished the owner of the cattle just as a logo distinguishes a company today.

Logos provide the vital service of helping us recognize, in an instant, the product or service which is being offered. In a world which is becoming ever more confusing because of the plethora of choice, brands help us home-in on products which are familiar and in which we have confidence. They assist us in making supplier choice with the best logos and brands being attached to the best companies.

This means that any change to a logo should be made with considerable caution. Once a logo has become established, it takes on a life of its own. It becomes so familiar to customers, it is owned by them. Indeed, any change to the logo may create an adverse reaction. “What are you doing messing around with my logo?â€?.

As a result, companies change their logos relatively infrequently and often quite subtly. The illustration below shows how the Shell logo, the ICI logo, and the IBM logo have all changed over decades. In the ICI logo, for example, the original founding company of Nobel was changed to ICI at an early juncture and many years later the underscoring waves were simplified and reduced in amplitude. The logo still has a recognizable DNA even after 50 years.

As a general principle, logos only have a radical makeover if a company is in dire trouble as occurred with Ratners.

Occasionally a logo is changed to signify a major change in direction for the company, as has recently been the case with BP which has gone green€?.

When companies have changed the logo for no real reason, it usually has mixed receptions. This was certainly the case with British Airways.

Using Market Research To Test Logo Changes

Market research has an important role to play in the testing of all marketing communications. It provides an independent and scientific understanding of customers and potential customers’€™ views.

Market researchers have a number of options available to them in this type of work.

Qualitative research enables us to dig deep and obtain a full understanding of people’s views on logos, brands and other communication devices. There are two important types of qualitative research

  • Focus groups
  • In-Depth Interview

Focus groups
A small number of people (usually around eight) are specially recruited to debate a subject. They may be customers or potential customers. Under the guidance of a moderator they discuss their attitudes and feelings to a subject.

Focus groups work extremely well in generating ideas and therefore are usually used for concept testing.

In communications research they are useful for generating ideas for adverts and working out messages which resonate. The do sometimes suffer from a bias which may result from an outspoken and articulate respondent who carries the rest with him/her.

Focus groups can be used to check out an existing logo and to find out its current strengths and weaknesses. However, they are not the vehicle for testing radical changes to logos as they tend to yield an over critical response to the proposal.

In-Depth interview
Depth interviews can be carried out face-to-face or by telephone and are an excellent means of getting under the skin of a subject. Although they lack the brainstorm affect of the focus group, they provide uncontaminated responses as each participant is unaware of what the other has said.

This is a favoured method for carrying out research into a changed logo. Interviews with around 30 respondents would give a well considered view of any changes.

Face-to-face depth interviews are expensive to set up and administer and, except in exceptional circumstances, they do not offer as good value for money as depth interviews carried out by telephone. The telephone in combination with the internet allows researchers to show examples of logos and other communications and at the same time ask for a reaction.

Quantitative research

Qualitative research gives us a deep understanding but does not provide the measures that we sometimes need to see what different groups of people think about changes to a logo or some other communication device.

We have therefore to turn to quantitative research for these measurements.

Quantitative research requires upwards of 100 interviews and more typically 200 plus interviews. It is therefore an expensive tool.

It sometimes follows on after a preliminary qualitative phase.

In logo research we would use quantitative research if we wanted to test awareness and attitudes to logos across a broad population. It probably would not be appropriate in any project which was considering a change to the logo.

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