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Harvard Business Review’s Study Of 597 Logos Identifies Which Sort Works Best
By Mikelle Leow, 13 Sep 2019
Image via Lukas Davidziuk / Shutterstock.com
If you’re working on a logo for an upcoming business, what sort of design should it have to quickly breed a sense of familiarity and trust among consumers?
In an intriguing study, published in the Harvard Business Review, three marketing professors set out to find out if customers actually preferred simpler logos or brandings that were more informative. They then analyzed 597 diverse symbols and measured them for brand equity.
Descriptive logos VS non-descriptive logos
Images via Wikimedia Commons
The research aimed to figure out which of two categories people resonated better with: descriptive or non-descriptive logos.
Descriptive logos, like Burger King’s emblem, are marks that feature textual and/or visual elements describing what a company does. Burger King’s product offerings are made apparent with the two burger buns and the “burger” wordmark.
Non-descriptive logos, otherwise known as abstract logos, are marks with design elements that do not represent a brand’s products or services. McDonald’s golden arches, for example, simply spell out its initial.
Survey participants preferred descriptive logos
The above depicts two possible logos for a hypothetical water plant. The left is non-descriptive, while the right logo with fluid elements is a descriptive mark. Images via Shutterstock and Shutterstock
The researchers found that descriptive logos “favorably [impacted] consumers’ brand perceptions” as opposed to non-descriptive ones. The visual or textual cues incorporated in the brandings made them seem more authentic, more trustworthy and boosted people’s willingness to buy from the companies.
In one experiment, participants were assigned to two groups, with one being shown a descriptive variation of a sushi restaurant’s logo while the other was shown an abstract version. The groups were also given a description of the restaurant, and were asked to rate how authentic the brandings felt as well as how much they liked them.
Later, the researchers discovered that the group that saw the descriptive logo felt the brand was more authentic and favored the logo, as opposed to participants who were only shown the non-descriptive version.
Descriptive logos also generally fetch higher sales
Separately, the team also looked at 423 businesses and acquired their financial data to observe how well they fared.
They later asked research assistants, who were not told the purpose of the study, to categorize the company’s logos according to whether they were descriptive or non-descriptive, as well as group them based on 13 design characteristics like shape, symmetry and color.
“The results showed that a descriptive logo has a greater positive effect on sales than a non-descriptive one,” the team reported.
When the findings were tested on 174 logos from early-stage startups, “they held true,” the professors wrote. This is likely because consumers tend to trust new brands more if their logos indicate their specialty.
When descriptive logos are less likely to work
Image via Dunkin’
While descriptive logos were found to generate more positive interest from both familiar and unfamiliar brands, the researchers discovered that the effect was less apparent for renowned companies.
Consumers already recognize the brands and what they offer, so they’re “less likely to be influenced” by their logos, the professors deduce. This is why many famous companies aren’t too concerned about injecting descriptive elements in their logos—Dunkin’ Donuts rebranded to just Dunkin’ and McDonald’s is simply represented by a yellow monogram or wordmark.
Companies with products or services that might bring about negative associations, such as funerals (death), palm oil (deforestation) and insect repellants (pests), might be better off using non-descriptive logos instead due to the unpleasant connotations that their offerings might bring.
Brands that do not wish to be tied to a single product might wish to stay away from descriptive symbols too. The researchers suspect Dunkin’ dropped its “Donuts” name and removed its coffee imagery to draw focus to the rest of its product line.
So, what does this study tell you? If you’re working on a logo, you might want to feature at least one textual or visual cue that suggests what the brand offers.
However, if the company has more than one stellar product or service, or specializes in products or services that could bring negative emotions, an abstract symbol might be more effective.
You can read about the research in full here.
[via Harvard Business Review, images via various sources]
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