Saturday, July 23, 2011

Trying to understand the clients' obsession with 'logo'

Ever since getting into the sphere of consulting for brand communication, I've observed clients' fervent interest in the development of logos.

Most often we would pitch for offering branding/marketing strategy and we would find the client obsessing over the logo! And on many occasions we wouldn't convert the pitch into a sustained engagement because the 'logo' didn't 'look' good or the client couldn't 'see' a lot of creativity. It seemed strategy is mumbo-jumbo (yeah, market has the power to render every strategy a mumbo-jumbo but it helps to chart out one as a reference point nonetheless) and logo is everything.

Fundamental questions arise.

So what is a logo? From my observation, of the way it is understood by clients, a logo is the visual symbol developed to represent the brand.

Arising out of this, the important questions are:

Was 'logo' actually meant to mean just that - a visual or a symbol? The answer is an emphatic, "No!"

And if the above-mentioned answer holds, why has it really come to mean just a visual symbol? What are the origins of 'logo'? Wikipedia gives a heavy-duty account of 'logos'. I'll paste the first few lines here:
Logos is an important term in philosophy, psychology, rhetoric and religion. Originally a word meaning "a ground", "a plea", "an opinion", "an expectation", "word," "speech," "account," "reason," it became a technical term in philosophy, beginning with Heraclitus (ca. 535–475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.
The explanation on Wikipedia continues:
In ordinary, non-technical Greek, logos had a semantic field extending beyond "word" to notions such as, on the one hand, language, talk, statement, speech, conversation, tale, story, prose, proposition, and principle; and on the other hand, thought, reason, account, consideration, esteem, due relation, proportion, and analogy.
Despite the conventional translation as "word", it is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις) was used. However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb legō (λέγω), meaning "to talk, count, tell, say, speak".
If I were to condense the above explanations (selectively presented here from Wikipedia), I would say the simplest definition of 'logo' is 'a word'.

By the way, 'logos' is now a term slightly differentiated from the word 'logo'. Wikipedia also has a description of 'logo':
A logo is a graphic mark or emblem commonly used by commercial enterprises, organizations and even individuals to aid and promote instant public recognition. Logos are either purely graphic (symbols/icons) or are composed of the name of the organization (a logotype or wordmark).
I am curiously and extremely surprised how is it that 'logo' came to acquire the meaning of 'a symbol/a visual representation'. One would kill my surprise by first attributing the epithet 'stupid' to my question (or perhaps me as a person as well!) and then giving me the answer 'branding'.

Answer accepted. I am interested in knowing what is it in 'branding' that has made people accept and believe so commonly that 'logo' is 'a symbol or a visual representation'. What is the phenomenon? How did it unfold?

My sense is that people's sense of visual beauty overpowers all other senses on a great many occasions.

If sign-boards on many a little traditional sort of shops are still something to go by, it wasn't that important earlier for a shopkeeper to post a visually beautiful sign-board as long as there was a sign-board with a name written on it. Then, someone must have tried to differentiate or present his/her shop in a better manner. He/she must've got the shop-name rendered in an artistic manner and the ball rolled. Rolled with such ferocity that it obliterated the 'word' and 'the importance of the word' from the common consciousness. :)

Important point is that when, and ever since, 'the word' got overpowered and the visual has dominated, all - meaning, opinion, reason, strategy, et al - that 'the word' helped capture got suppressed too. Long live strategic consulting. Long live 'the word'.

Just a reflection of the common perceptions about a 'logo' and the phenomenon I've tried describing, this post - thrown up in Google search - is titled "Beyond Words: Do Logos Need Words to Market Themselves?" (Mind you, am not mocking the person who has posted this question.)

You will always talk in words. You will always describe something in words. You will always write in words. Even to describe a visual you will use words. And the best of thoughts get spread through words. And the best of plans get communicated through words. The thing that sticks and slips on the tongue is the 'word'. Not to say that visuals do not have a role. But words are a necessary condition. A primary condition. The bricks, the frames, the walls, the strings on which the visuals get hung.

Disclaimer: The depiction is this post is based on my experiences and might not be a universal phenomenon. :)