Many clients looking for an institutional brand identity believe the logo should represent what their company does. And it's easy to understand why: if the logo is loaded with visual cues, everyone can understand what the brand sells.
In the past, logos had a simple objective: to identify the maker of the products. But companies have grown and are now much more complex than just the products they sell. They became international entities, assumed values and a corporate culture, have opinions and tell stories.
That's why logos no longer need to say what brands do or sell, but rather to communicate who they are. Designing a logo that literally represents the activity of a brand is the equivalent to defining the gender, but not the individual — and there’s a lot of competition sharing the same genre:
- Automotive industry
- Wine industry
- Mobile phones
That's why the entire concept and discourse that sustains an institutional brand identity must refer to values and attributes that represent the brand (technology, purity, trust, precision, tradition). And these will always be more abstract than what they sell.
The advantages of a non-literal logo
Non-literal logos are more versatile and durable. They manage to remain relevant when brands expand their product offering, or if they want to approach a new market segment.
As they symbolically represent an attitude or the essence of the brand through form, typography and color, they aren't limited to being a cliché, generic and insufficient icon.
To illustrate this, let's use the logo of the insurance company Allianz. The logo is composed of a circle with 3 lines inside that represent the 3 business areas of the brand:
- Asset management
- Provisions for pensions.
However, none of them are presented literally. We don't see any suggestion of legal documents, or insurance agents holding a briefcase.
Actually, if we look at the lines as a unique shape, the 3 traits suggest the silhouette of an eagle and with that, the symbolic attributes that an eagle has: strength, courage, and honesty.
All the elements that make up the logo, in their simplicity and abstraction, exist with a clear intention: to give meaning to the design.
How can I communicate my brand's activity then?
The responsibility of informing the activity, services or products that the brand offers lies in the advertising language, physical stores, complementary graphics, packaging, digital marketing, etc. Not necessarily the logo.
The designer's goal
The designer's goal will therefore be to design a memorable logo that represents the essence of the brand: which certainly transcends the products that the brand sells.