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What Logos Are the Most Powerful?

Logos represent the physical and emotional face of the company. Yet too often, business leaders don’t pay enough attention — or simply don’t have enough understanding — of how logos are perceived by the public and other stakeholders.

Logos, of course, are powerful signifiers of organizational identity, used on product packaging, buildings, business cards, stationery like letterhead and invoices, marketing products, and conference material. Logos are part of establishing brand identity and loyalty.

Descriptive, or Nondescriptive?

As a recent Harvard Business Review piece observes, logos can be a significant part of brand identity and brand equity. Consumers, after all, may be more likely to purchase goods and services from a brand they recognize and know – and the logo can be a big part of that.

What makes a logo likely to spur positive brand recognition and differentiate your company from the competition? There are actually clear winners. The Journal of Marketing Research indicates that respondents to large surveys prefer descriptive logos over non-descriptive ones.

What are descriptive logos? They indicate in some way the nature of the business and its products. One need only think of the ubiquitous Burger King and McDonald’s logos to see the difference between descriptive and nondescriptive. Burger King’s has, yes, a hamburger bun on it, with the words “Burger King” between two halves of the bun.

McDonald’s has a stylized version of its arches. It’s, therefore, a nondescriptive logo. Now, it is likely you see that logo and think “hamburgers.” But you probably think it because of the ubiquity of the Golden Arches, not because the logo in any way references the central product.

Similarly, Animal Planet used to have a nondescriptive logo, with just the name of the company. A revised logo design, however, puts an elephant front and center.

Survey respondents felt that descriptive logos made brands more authentic to consumers, and favorably affected consumers’ brand evaluations. They also had measurable sales impacts, heightening the likelihood that consumers would be willing to buy from those brands, and expanding net sales.

So the takeaway for business strategy is very likely this: When creating or modifying your logo, think hard about the power of the descriptive logo.

Yes, this logo contains a hamburger bun — making it a descriptive logo.

Some Exceptions

But despite the clear winner status of descriptive logos, there are some organizations that might do well to steer clear of descriptive logos. It depends on your product. Companies associated with goods or services that consumers associate with unpleasantness, such as pest control or bug repellant, do not do well with this type of logo. Neither do products associated with sadness or loss, like funeral homes.

Company leadership also needs to think long and hard about precisely what it is they want to sell their customers. The distinction between descriptive and nondescriptive is a clear one, but some logos arguably do something to bridge the gap. Yes, the McDonalds logo is not descriptive in terms of hamburgers or McNuggets. But it arguably references the idea of visiting McDonald’s. Similarly, sports team logos like the Minnesota Wild, which shows a river, sun, and trees on a green background, are nondescriptive, but reference the state itself – and presumably, the loyalty and fond feelings engendered by both the team and the state.