The Untapped Opportunity of Visual Logos

Research shows that corporate logos with visual images can have a significant positive effect on customer commitment to a brand.

Logos come in three flavors. There is the straight text logo of a product or company name, usually in a particular font (think of IBM). There is an image logo, which can stand alone without any text (think of Apple’s apple). And there is a combination text and image logo (think of Arm & Hammer’s flexed muscle arm with rolled-up sleeve).

Research by C. Whan Park (University of Southern California Marshall School of Business), Andreas B. Eisingerich (Imperial College Business School at Imperial College London) and Gratiana Pol (Marshall School of Business) suggests that “brand logos offer a viable, albeit often neglected, means to help brand managers.” Park, Eisingerich and Pol detail their findings in their article "The Power of a Good Logo" in the Winter 2014 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review.

A brand logo has the power to do three things, they found:

  1. The logo can be an integrator of the marketing efforts of the brand.
  2. The logo can be a reflector of those efforts.
  3. The logo can be an icon of what the brand means to customers.

“In short, a good logo can be a synthesizer of a brand that is readily used by customers for identification, differentiation and positive associations,” write the authors.

One of the biggest surprises in the research is how few companies are using visual logos. The authors say this is a missed opportunity.

“Logos are capable of offering fun, aesthetic appeal and pleasure to consumers, which we call sensory benefits,” they write. “For example, Aflac Inc.’s now-famous duck logo helps to create warm feelings toward an industry (insurance) generally perceived as rather cold and boring.”

As importantly, visual logos that are aesthetically pleasing or fun tend to be better at building customer relationships.

“Our research found that separate visual symbols used as logos tend to be more effective than brand names at creating a sense of emotional connection with consumers,” write Park, Eisingerich and Pol. “This may not come as a big surprise, because symbols have long been considered more effective than words as communication tools. Symbols better overcome language barriers and are easier to interpret than words. However, despite the commonly understood benefits of symbols versus text, surprisingly few companies take advantage of separate visual symbols. Logos with separate visual symbols thus represent a largely untapped opportunity in reaching out to consumers.”

Logos aren’t essential, nor can they magically create a connection automatically. But they can reinforce brand associations. “Effectively managed brand logos can help companies to build stronger customer brand commitment and thus allow a brand to improve its financial performance,” the authors conclude.