Any organization of a decent size invariably wrestles with divergent interests within itself, which can be a challenge as one tries to maintain and enhance that organization’s brand identity. Where I work, those conflicts seem to manifest most often in the form of logos.
Hardly a week goes by that I don’t notice a new poster, webpage or T-shirt on campus that bears some attempt to create a unique identity for a particular department, project or event. A great many people have convinced themselves that having their own distinct logo is the single most important component of a promotional campaign.
Guarding against logos can be tricky because what defines a logo can sometimes be how a particular graphic will be used. It’s a lot like Judge Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography; one knows it when one sees it.
A graphic on a poster may not constitute a logo by itself. However – if one removes a particular visual element from that poster and begins printing it on T-shirts, window clings and uploading it to a departmental website – it can become a logo because it lacks the surroundings of the original context. This is an important point to consider in the era we now live in.
The transparency enabled by the web means that it’s difficult to separate “internal” communication from “external” communication. It is increasingly likely that your stakeholders are coming into contact with content (including images like logos) from your organization that has been stripped of its original context:
- Think mobile devices: the clipped versions of pages that appear on mobile web browsers (like those on the iPhone or Blackberry devices) do not display your site as you originally intended.
- Think search engines: it’s likely that a significant chunk of the traffic to your site (if not the majority) is being delivered by search engines that may drop a user on a random page buried within your site, as opposed to having walked through the front door.
- Think aggregators: when someone searches Google Images or Yahoo Images for your organization’s name – what images appear?
- Think social media: it’s almost a certainty that if there are any Facebook or MySpace groups created about your organization, not all of them are using your official logo.
All of this makes it more important than ever to be careful about what visuals your organization creates and publishes. That’s not to say that you should stifle creativity and rule with an iron fist, rather be deliberate and judicious in your use of symbols and icons. You won’t be able to control every form of expression related to your institution, but you can enhance the coherence of your message if you can articulate the benefits of a unified identity.