In 2007, Togo’s, a 242-unit, 40-year-old West Coast sandwich chain, was purchased by San Francisco equity firm Mainsail Partners, which quickly saw a problem.
“Throughout the system there were six logos on the exterior signage,” says Renae Scott, vice president of branding and marketing for Togo’s. “There was no consistent brand representation, which is crucial for a business like this one.”
What followed was a mixture of art and alchemy that rejuvenated the Togo’s logo. Although such a process might seem like a good way to kick start business, experts warn if it’s done wrong or too often, it can lead to a “brand identity crisis.”
“Changing the logo, the typography, or the color scheme, these are huge decisions with great implications for a business,” says Tom Dougherty, president of Stealing Share, a brand strategy consultancy in Greensboro, North Carolina. “If you’re just hoping to make your logo look prettier or more modern, you’re probably wasting your money. It’s not what looks good that matters, it’s what your customers will think when they see it.”
In Togo’s case, the company hired WD Partners, a Columbus, Ohio–based design firm that has long consulted with quick serves. The process started with information gathering: What did customers think about Togo’s stores, employees, and products? How was the brand different from the competition? “People felt that we were an original,” Scott says. “We were the neighborhood sandwich shop. We had to take these opinions and translate them into the logo.”
The other task by the design team was to look back at the evolution of the logo through the brand’s history. “Many of our longtime customers remember the earlier logos and liked them, so we tried to incorporate them into the new one,” Scott says. “Two of the early primary colors in the logo stood out among the opinions, so those are in there: avocado green and pumpkin orange.”
As part of the reimaging, stores were remodeled and packaging and uniforms were changed to reflect the update. “From the initial feedback we’ve collected, this is being very well received,” Scott says. “Evolving the logo is essential for growth and for one to compete in the marketplace.”
Getting that customer feedback during the development process is considered a key element to a redesign. “It consists of asking some hard questions of your customers, as well as noncustomers,” says Eric Daniel, creative director for WD Partners. “Do you know what our logo is? Do you remember it? Honest answers aren’t always easy to take, but they can give you a good indication of how your business is being perceived, especially in retail, where customers are most familiar with your exterior signage as they’re driving by.”
One reason for the delicate nature of logo redesigns is the attachment some customers might have with them. “You don’t want a good customer coming into a store and asking, ‘Why did you change your logo?’” Daniel says. “The implication is if you’re changing what’s outside, something’s going to be different inside, and the customer may not like it.”
Seattle’s Best Coffee, a Starbucks-owned brand, underwent its own rejuvenation last year that converted the logo into more of a cleaner, retro-looking brand identifier (Starbucks itself introduced its own new logo early this year that favors a simpler style). Seattle’s Best spokeswoman Jenny McCabe says the passion and possessiveness with which customers treat brands cannot be underestimated.
“For us, our name is important, as well as the primary color used, which is a bold red,” McCabe says. “That’s what we’re known for and that’s what’s carried out in the evolution of our logo.”
The other part of logo redesign, and often the most controversial, takes place within the company headquarters as management examines the possible changes and tries to make a decision. “This can be difficult, and many of the most famous logos you see were picked not by the company’s CEO, but by his wife when he couldn’t decide,” Daniel says. “You’ve got to have everybody on board with the changes and, more importantly, they have to know why the logo is changing.”
However, working through the changes behind closed doors doesn’t have to be a negative experience. As the staff at Minneapolis-based Caribou Coffee began hashing out what their brand identification was in 2009 as part of its redesign, they saw an interesting phenomenon.
“If you’re just hoping to make your logo look prettier, you’re wasting your money. It’s not what looks good that matters.”
“We were having brand and positioning meetings with various people in the company to develop and define what we were trying to do marketing-wise,” says Alfredo Martel, senior vice president of marketing and product management. “At the same time, the company’s HR department was conducting meetings to find out about our corporate culture and deduce what Caribou Coffee’s core element and beliefs were. As a result, the ideas in both meetings cross-pollinated. I would sit in the brand meetings thinking about what was said in the culture team meeting and vice versa. It really strengthened our work in both areas.”
After a logo change, it’s inevitable that there will be some criticism or grumbling from customers or employees, especially through social media. But experts say it’s essential to not second guess the decisions made.
“One of the issues that gets talked about by people in our industry is whether we manage our social media or do we let it manage us,” Martel says. “If you make any changes in the company, you’re likely to get some criticism on Facebook or Twitter. What I tell our people is that Facebook is a tool, not a transaction. The people we have to please are in our stores. When you start using only social media to make strategic marketing decisions, you’ve got to be careful since you shouldn’t let a small, vocal group dictate your brand strategy.”
Dougherty says a logo redesign should be part of “an overall attack on the market.”
“It comes after you’ve defined what you’re changing, whether your product or your approach to the market,” he says. “Napoleon said, ‘The logical end of a defensive war is surrender,’ and that’s how you need to think about strategy.”