Device of Distraction (TCCS #3)

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The Competitive Challenge Series (TCCS)

Vol. 1 #3

Each article in this series will help you understand, identify and improve every facet of your branding and messaging that impacts your sales and growth. As always my objective is to deliver strategy and ideas to propel you beyond competitive challenges.

Hamish Chadwick.

This weeks challenge...

Device of Distraction

In every branding project the matter of logo design is always on the agenda. Firstly, a quick test;

Which of the following is a logo?

Both of the examples are corporate logos and both are used to represent each company. The Morgan Stanley logo is what’s referred to as a ‘wordmark’ which is a style of logo that doesn’t use a device. The BP logo employs both an acronym and a device (also known as a symbol, icon or graphic).


Above all else your logo needs clearly identify you. For organisations that have not yet achieved world domination, or never plan to, your name needs to be easily comprehended and memorable. Diverting focus away from it with visual paraphernalia will only make this harder.

Reflecting Personality:

Secondary to clear identification, your logo style and design can help to position you. Your corporate personality and culture can be reflected through the clever application of visual design.

Remember; there are no rules, only strategic necessity.

An embellishment adds another layer of complexity that can become a distraction. If your purpose is to seize as much market share and brand recognition as possible, a prominent device may detract from that.

Remember that the more prominent the device in relation to your name, the smaller your name needs to be in any given space to accommodate the entire design. (See figure 1)

The French writer and aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry summed it up nicely: 
A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.

Saint-Exupéry’s quote is not taken from a commercial perspective but it’s an approach that we all need to pay credence too, which is to continually question our intent and actions when it comes to messaging.

Reasons why devices and graphical symbols are used incorrectly:

  1. Justify the cost of design and branding projects
  2. Preconception; “It's not a logo unless it has a device or symbol”
  3. To satisfy ego or personal taste
  4. The icon or design has a story (only known to founders/internal audiences)

Strategic reasons:

  1. It supports positioning strategy (adds personality but doesn’t crowd the name)
  2. The brand will become a household name and/or needs to work in mass markets
  3. It needs to quickly add credibility to future new products/services (allow for growth)
  4. Can be used to endorse future acquisitions (bestow brand equity)

Many large organisations use a device prominently in their marketing. Apple is a good example as they no longer need to spell out their name to achieve recognition.

However consider the effort, time and budget that has allowed Apple to gain recognition from their graphical device. Not everyone requires this for the simple reason that not every company needs to operate in mass markets or international markets.

Making a Decision:

Think about where you plan to be in 20 years from now. Will the brand strategy you choose today allow you to grow or will it hinder you? Decisions should not pander to internal targets such as revenue growth. If appearing financially powerful will help you compete, if it will attract the right audience to increase sales, then do so. Remember there are many ‘budget’ brands that are profitable.

Successful brands communicate values and difference and stake a position in their market that achieve objectives. Personal preference and ego are not part of the equation. Likewise you can name many exclusive brands that employ up-market design concepts that correctly position and help them achieve sales targets.

Visual branding is an opportunity to influence your customers perception of your company. I use the word influence as you can’t expect to control them through visual means. The next article in this series will address the controlling and influencing factors of branding.

Visual branding can be used tactically to convey aspects such as size, structure, culture, difference, position and price point.

Define Relationships:

A visual device can be a useful marketing tool to help represent relationships between different entities, whether they are closely linked subsidiaries or simply part of a diverse group of companies.

The three basic types of brand structures are monolithic, endorsed and branded.

  1. Monolithic: one culture, one purpose, one direction (see Figure 2)
  2. Branded: different cultures, many purposes, many directions (see Figure 3)
  3. Endorsed: one culture, many purposes, many directions (see Figure 4)



Keep in mind there are no hard and fast rules with brand structures as every business has different audiences and objectives. Many ‘boutique’ firms can greatly benefit from using a symbol or device to help communicate their culture and difference within their market.

At Arms Length?

As you can see in Figure 4 an endorsed strategy can be used to quickly give or lend credibility. However there are many considerations before using this tactic. Acquisitions are one situation where the question of whether you merge the firm under the purchasers name, or allow it to retain its brand.

If the company was bought at a bargain basement price because it was in strife, or it’s only use is to secure further market share then perhaps bringing it ‘under your wing’ with an endorsement or simply consigning the brand to history is best. 

But if the company had a strong market position and sales record and if you plan to continue building the business and possibly sell it on at a later date, endorsement can work in your favour, wheras a full rebrand could make that task a lot harder and potentially less profitable.


Another consideration is to merge two strong brands that capitalise on each other to form one ‘mega brand’.

There are cultural and market stability issues to be wary of. When you buy a company you’re buying a lot more than a balance sheet and customer list. You’re buying a brand that has worked in a particular way for its customers for many years.

If customers of this brand have become complacent, a change of brand can either reignite their interest, or compel them to look at alternatives.

As I mentioned earlier; there are no rules, only strategic necessity.

A Checklist for Justifying a Device:

  1. Cross cultural: graphical symbols require no translation so they can greatly assist in pushing into countries where language may be a barrier. This can help save precious time getting to market if you can use existing brand equity and credibility from established markets, communicated through a device, rather than having to continually rely on ‘language translations’ of a name. See my article on Exporting Brands.
  2. Endorsement: Will you need to quickly bestow credibility, history, or stability: if you plan on expanding through acquisition or extending product lines, a device can be applied to add instant credibility to the newly acquired entity or launched product (success by association)
  3. Quick recognition: if your brand is being sold in ‘mass markets’ a device is useful in helping to cultivate familiarity through symbols rather than just a name. Car brands are a good example as their symbols are as easily identifiable as their full name.
  4. Size constraints: If your brand is expected to work in very small spaces, or easily recognised at a distance a device becomes a necessary tool. Service stations like BP and fast food chains like McDonalds rely on this quick recognition for motoring trade.

Think clearly, leave ego at the door and choose a direction that has strategic benefit.

© Hamish Chadwick 2011. All Rights Reserved.