Design -- Not Just a Pretty Typeface
Inc. Magazine, Dec 2002 -Tahl Raz is a reporter at Inc
A company logo may be the last thing cost-conscious
CEOs focus on when they're looking to jump-start growth. Which is perhaps
why it took more than two decades for White Mountain Footwear, a privately
held shoe manufacturer based in Lisbon, N.H., to finally give its own
emblem some serious thought.
"White Mountain was a 21-year-old company with an exceptional reputation
within the industry, but we had almost no brand recognition with consumers,"
says David Froment, project leader for White Mountain's logo redesign,
who joined the company in 1998. "We'd evolved far beyond what we
started out as, and yet our look didn't say that. We were going through
an identity crisis."
That predicament, Froment discovered, had everything to do with the disparity
between what White Mountain actually was (a fashion-forward producer of
upscale women's foot-wear sold under the White Mountain label) and the
memory of what the company had been (a manufacturer whose low-key packaging
was often mistaken for department-store private labels). To White Mountain's
principals, the logo, a dated design of black-and-white block lettering,
embodied the perception-versus-reality quandary the manufacturer faced.
Indeed, for companies large and small in the current brand-aware -- some
would say brand-obsessed -- marketplace, logos are becoming important
in a way they never were before. In a market churning with countless start-ups,
a steady procession of mergers and acquisitions, and a seemingly infinite
introduction of new products, companies -- and their wares -- have an
increasingly difficult time standing out from the crowd. That's why branding
is so hot. A company's logo can be a visual ambassador, one that goes
on everything from business cards to delivery trucks. When used effectively,
it can be the window into the soul of a brand. It develops an expectation
of who you are, says Froment, and what you'll do for the customer.
In pursuit of just such a fix, White Mountain hired BrandEquity International,
in Boston -- which has revamped the images of companies like Kodak, Staples,
and Nantucket Nectars -- to visually align what White Mountain actually
was with what it wanted to be. BrandEquity president Elinor Selame began
with a survey of the company's customers, retailers, and competitors.
What she found was confusion: retailers viewed White Mountain as a top-notch
shoemaker, but customers weren't differentiating between the company and
the retailer that sold them the shoes.
Part of BrandEquity's redesign process included a monthlong conversation
with the client. "They made us question everything, our strengths
and weaknesses, how we perceive ourselves, our target audience, and what
we should just drop and walk away from," Froment says. Selame made
it clear to the shoe company that its logo would become a visual representation
of all that the business stood for and, if not carefully thought through,
all that it did not wish to stand for.
BrandEquity unearthed the image that White Mountain wanted to broadcast:
shoes that were fashionable, sexy, and elegant with an emphasis on quality.
After five months of preparation and numerous iterations, the new logo
was introduced: a stylized W that reflects the letter M, "like a
mountain's mirror image in a lake," says Selame. The graceful white
lettering, backed by a vibrant pastel blue, transformed White Mountain's
look from stodgy to sophisticated.
The logo was uncomplicated but practical. It was as recognizable at one-eighth
of an inch on a lapel as it would be blown up on a billboard; it was original
enough to differentiate the company from its competitors; it was inoffensive
enough to be implemented globally; and it could be animated for use on
the Internet. "The logo can be your company's hardest-working employee,"
says Selame. "For a small company with a limited budget, the returns
get higher each year you use it correctly."
White Mountain seems to have put its logo -- for which it paid BrandEquity
a little less than $100,000 -- to proper use. In 2000, the first full
year after the redesign, the company's sales rose 20%. In 2001, when most
shoe companies' revenues decreased significantly, White Mountain's sales
again shot up 20%, which Froment describes as nothing short of "miraculous."
Now people are deliberately buying the brand, he says. And that makes
the expenditure worth every penny.
Still, $100,000 is more than many small companies can -- or want to --
spend on a logo. But a logo doesn't have to cost that much in order to
get results, according to Michael Bierut, a partner in the New York City
office of the international design consultancy Pentagram.
Bierut says that almost any company can aspire to achieve the logo power
of Coca-Cola, Fuji, or FedEx. The things that make those brands so powerful
are freely available to anyone, he says. What they all have in common
is consistency of use (meaning that the company uses the logo on everything
related to the business), simplicity, a degree of good taste, and a product
that creates a successful aura that fuels the symbol. "There are
plenty of small companies that have fantastic identities," he says,
"and plenty of big companies that have been ripped off by high-end
As Selame and Bierut know, most small companies that have effective logos
and distinctive visual identities have one thing in common -- someone
within the company who cares about how the business presents itself and
who has the clout to make sure everyone in the company cares about it
as well. "You don't need to look further than Steve Jobs and Apple
to see how much a design-aware CEO can help a company," Bierut says.
"Manufacturers tend to think that the best marketing is simply producing
a great product," says Froment. "That's not wrong, but it's
all worthless if no one knows who you are."
Inc. Magazine, Dec 2002 -Tahl Raz is a reporter at Inc