Sunday, April 19, 2009

Do Logos "Work"?

In a comment beneath my Logos Redux posting, Dave said:
"I do believe that marketing can be very important, but I'm yet to be convinced that logos are an important part of the marketing mix. I once took part in a consumer panel for Chase, comparing and contrasting logos.

"I did have all kinds of opinions about what they showed me. I had preferences, but they were aesthetic. Would any of them entice me to open an account there? Would any of them make me feel better or worse about having my money there if I did have an account? I don't think so.

"You indicate that the logo worked well for Chowhound, but how can you or anyone else measure that?"

The value of a logo certainly can't be "proven". But I think Dave's taking the wrong tack.

When you enter my house, you'll get an immediate, innate sense of what my house is like. Myriad tiny elements will strike you - some consciously but most not - and you'll glean an impression of what my house is like - and, by extension, what I'm like. This process is not a computer-like evaluation, where you pore over every aspect and judge it against your preferences. In fact, you're mostly not thinking about preferences at're just taking it all in. In no time at all, you'll have an intuitive feeling of either wanting to stick around or to rush back out (which would be a mistake, cuz you'd miss my stellar hors d'oeuvres).

Likewise, a corporate logo certainly doesn't manipulate you into becoming a customer, feeling better about a product, or even consciously pleasing your preferences or aesthetics. It's just one element contributing to your intuitive conclusion of what a thing's all about.

Chowhound was not the first food forum, and certainly not the last. It certainly had the worst software and the least eye candy. So why did so many people stick around? You might say it was the fantastic community itself, which would be very true, but how did we aggregate that critical mass of users in the first place?

Everything in our living room was chosen with care and love, and reflected a certain perspective on food and on life. Those choices were made earnestly; I wasn't an MBA wise ass trying to manipulate an audience toward a "brand"....I myself was a true-believing chowhound, as were Bob and the others.

The logo (which we agonized to have convey the proper emotional mix: lots of passion, a touch of savoir faire, and an overall eager enthusiasm) was part of that. I don't think anyone stuck around Chowhound because they said "Hey, nice logo!" But I don't think anyone does anything because of a logo. 

A logo is just one facet of an operation's self-expression. If all aspects of your self-expression are unified, kindred spirits will feel at ease, and even self-identify. Chowhound was a good example. Our users are innately hyper-skeptical....yet they dropped their guard in our forum. And even these resolute non-joiners feel a joint sense of group mission in sussing out all the deliciousness.

Chowhound simply felt like their sort of living room, that's all. And the logo surely helped.


Seth Godin said...

This is easy to test, Jim. Just look at 100 logos of 100 successful organizations. (The original, not the one the fancy guys do later).

What do they have in common? the Nike swoosh and the Twitter whale and the Chowhound dog and the Christian cross and ...

They have two things in common:
1. the company agonized too much
2. they have nothing in common.

Chowhound would have done just as well, if not better, with a different logo, one you or I could have put together in three minutes.

Logos are first and foremost triggers. They remind us of something (external if its our first time, internal if not).

No sense agonizing, imho. Just remind.

Jim Leff said...

Seth, I really like your distinction of external versus internal triggers. And that's where Chowhound is different, from, say Nike. Everyone understands that Nike is sneakers. They don't need a fresh explanation, just a trigger to what they already know. Chowhound needed external triggers for newbies, to persuade innately skittish, skeptical, non-joiners to join and feel at home, and to distinguish the brand from other food media (the distinction is clear to you, so I'll avoid going into it).

Say the dog had an aggressive sort of look...or a ditzy, idiotic, frothy look...or a snobby, upper crusty look (all three appeared in various early, rejected drafts). Or say the logo was dry, CNET-ish, and utterly corporate, as it is now. You wouldn't imagine a different effect re: the external triggering?

You didn't comment on my living room analogy. There aren't as many elements and subliminals and emotions coming off a web page as there are in a living room. So any one element - especially one so prominent as a logo - counts more, I'd think. I disagree that Chowhound would have prospered exactly the same with a Nike Swoosh instead of a groovy enthusmo dog with a cubist cocktail glass nose. We'd have done ok, but it would have meant a bit more headwind.

Again, why did a web site with no marketing and nearly unusable software manage to attract this huge and expert crowd? We never were the only game in town for food community. It had to be about the panoply of minor and major choices that created an ambiance that quickly rang the bells of kindred spirits, and made them realize this wasn't just another dippy bland cold corporate "Come on in and opine, folks!" effort. Logo was undoubtedly part of that.

Dave said...

We just completely disagree on this. To me the house analogy doesn't work at all. All these details in the house are PART of the house -- heck, they are the house itself. The logo on Chowhound (or anywhere else on the Web, for me anyway), is not really part of the site. The way I bookmarked the site, I rarely saw it.

I never liked the Chowhound logo at all, but I loved (and love) Chowhound. But I don't think it affected my enjoyment of the site at all. Not one-hundredth of one percent. I ignored it in the same way I ignore banner ads and Google AdSense ads. I might be missing something, but I can't offhand think of any logo that made me enjoy a product or brand more.

I agree with Seth that a different logo would have had either no impact or a beneficial impact on the site. I think software changes would have made an impact, and depending upon what they were, for the better or worse.

The reason the site worked, imo, is because of you. Your sensibility was there from day one, and you tapped a community who may or may not have known what they needed. But you knew. Before you had a logo, even!

Jim Leff said...

Again: the point isn't some conscious process of judging or rating a logo. In fact, that's been the theme of both these most recent entries. A logo is one of many elements that gives a new arrival some sort of flavor of what's going on here, and helps them decide whether or not to explore further (the most critical moment in any business, especially an online one). You keep returning to the issue of liking/disliking. That's immaterial.

Once you'd decided you liked Chowhound (i.e., had created the bookmark and kept returning), per Seth's comment, the logo is no longer required to convince you of anything. The logo, and a few other elements which gave you a sense of who we were, had served well to make you click a few times more than you otherwise might have, and to establish a relationship.

Very few people "liked" our opening mission statement page. It was wordy and disruptive. But the people who read it and decided to come in (rather than scowl "WTF is this?" and click away) made for a great community. NOT because they said "Gosh, that was a heckuva great mission statement page!". But because they sensed kindred spiritness....a less conscious perception. As you said: "The reason the site worked, imo, is because of you. Your sensibility was there from day one."

The only way my sensibility could possibly have reached your perceptions (unless you believe in magic) was via a small bunch of visual decisions I'd made for the first couple of pages. Mission statement. Logo. Colors. Courier font. A couple of dabs of copy you'd quickly scanned on the home page. None of which were beautiful, impressive, or even particularly likable. What they were was tone-setting.

And that's my entire point.

Maybe you knew my work from before Chowhound, so you needed less signaling and persuading. Most people needed it all. People do not give web sites a diligent try-out. They go on their guts. And the only data their guts receive is a quick glimpse of logo, look, and a few words of headline copy. They don't "judge" any of those things. Nothing that conscious. They just decide whether it seems like the sort of living room that feels like their kind of place.

Jim Leff said...

quoting myself (ack!):
The only way my sensibility could possibly have reached your perceptions (unless you believe in magic) was via a small bunch of visual decisions I'd made for the first couple of pages. Mission statement. Logo. Colors. Courier font. A couple of dabs of copy you'd quickly scanned on the home page. None of which were beautiful, impressive, or even particularly likable. What they were was tone-setting. "

I'd be shamefully remiss in taking credit for most of that, actually. Most was the work of my partner, Bob Okumura (though we certainly decided together).

Chowhound was often referred to as "not having any design". That's completely wrong. It just had no in-your-face design. In-your-face design would have set a different tone. We made very careful choices. And a series of careful choices is the mechanism by which one's sensibility gets baked in, and is palpable to others.

Bob, a serious hound himself, did an awesome job of helping translate the chowhoundish sensibility into a look. The sort of audience we were shooting for entered and immediately felt at home. Even if they didn't "like" the logo, the mission statement, the courier font, or the colors. Then, of course, once we'd gathered a critical mass, all that was necessary to "seal the deal" was for people to click into the discussion, which was, by that point, like crack.

Dave said...

I don't think the cosmetics of bulletin boards, ultimately, are that important. Just look at thousands of sites that use, to pick one, UBB. Some are huge successes; others are utter failures. They all look the same.

Is there a reason for the community to exist? What is the quality of the contributions/contributors? Do the moderators help keep it a good place to return and hang out?

I know you disliked the off-the-shelf software programs, but do you think that Chowhound wouldn't have been as successful if you used them?

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