Harvard Business Review study finds which type of brand marks are more effective.

animal planet logo redesign

The Holy Grail of Brand Effectiveness.

One of the toughest parts of rebranding is the risk associated with selecting which brand mark concept to choose. There are few business decisions where so much comes down to a single choice quite as graphically as this. With that business conundrum in mind, Harvard Business Review conducted a number of experimental studies to analyze the impact of different sorts of brand mark design on the brand equity of nearly 600 U.S. companies.

This isn’t the first study to find that the design characteristics of brand marks have considerable impact upon consumer behavior and brand performance. Over recent years, studies on brand identity design have shown that their simplicity or complexity can influence the funding decisions investors make, and that the their symmetry or asymmetry can boost brand equity.

In this HBR study, the focus was on whether descriptive or non-descriptive logos are more effective in engaging and resonating positively with consumers and thus provide more value for brands. Quoting from the HBR study report; “A descriptive logo is a logo that includes textual or visual design elements (or a combination of the two) that clearly communicate the type of product or service a brand is marketing. For instance, the logo of Burger King and that of the New York Islanders (a sports franchise) are descriptive. The former contains the word “burger” and two hamburger buns. The latter includes an ice hockey stick and a puck. Conversely, the logos of McDonald’s and the Minnesota Wild (another sports franchise) are nondescriptive. They contain design elements that are not indicative of the type of product or service these brands are selling.”

Descriptive logo design

A definitive finding.

The Harvard Business review research demonstrated (albeit with a bunch of qualifications), that descriptive brand marks have a more positive impact on consumers’ brand perceptions than nondescriptive ones. As a result of how they positively impact associations across a whole number brand value metrics, they are more likely to improve brand performance. The study found it is easier for consumers to visually process descriptive style brand marks and as a result understand and appreciate what is unique and valuable about that brand. It was found that descriptive brand marks:

  • make brands appear more authentic in consumers’ eyes
  • more favorably impact consumers’ evaluations of brands
  • more strongly increase consumers’ willingness to buy from brands
  • boost brands’ net sales more
Some Important Perspective.

It’s important to understand that every brand works in the context of their category and their competitors. For some categories (think fashion) the most influential brands use non-descriptive brand marks. As a cohort they set consumer expectation that the best brands in the category use a less obvious, more sophisticated branding approach. In these cases, the positive attributes listed above are more likely to be associated with the non-descriptive style of brand mark that the market leaders use.

We all understand there is no such thing as a silver bullet in business, and designing a descriptive brand mark alone is no guarantee of success, however, this study demonstrates clearly that underestimating the importance of brand identity and the power of descriptive design elements can be a costly mistake.

Dave Ansett
David is the founder of Truly Deeply, a branding agency with 25 years experience working with brands to position them for growth. His deep expertise is in the creation of high engagement brands that attract the attention of their audience and stand out from their competitors. David has extensive experience working with corporate, retail, food & beverage and entrepreneurial clients. Find out more here
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You can read the full article on HBR here…

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