To update the words of French philosopher René Descartes for the 21st century, “I brand, therefore I am.” There seems to be little criteria today for what necessitates the creation of another brand. Managing all these brands—ingredient brands, co-branded partnerships, multiple brands under the same house—has proven to be difficult work. Organizations that are deliberate about their brand strategy and stay the course will win out in the end.
Logos often look their best when they’re set apart, standing alone, all by themselves. Give a mark a nice, clean treatment, and you give a potential customer a clear symbol of the organization you’re trying to represent. But in a world where everything from artificial sweeteners to environmental certification programs to software components clamor for graphic recognition, the luxury of a nice, clean treatment doesn’t always avail itself to a designer.
Logo alphabet soup is a trend best avoided. As more and more entities team up to produce products and provide services, however, these relationships may need to be expressed in the mark. The same careful considerations that inform the development of individual marks can help you make multiple logos look good together. The Intel Inside program is a primary case study in ingredient branding. The logo was designed to be a secondary image—a logo kicker.
Identify the hierarchy among any group of logos used in concert. Which is dominant? Which is subordinate? It’s not a graphic question, it’s a communication question.
Standards of Hierarchy
Strong programs are often about standardized treatments. Making two or more marks work together in a program often requires rules for maintaining the hierarchy of the relationships. These marks are almost never equal. One mark usually leads, and the others represent ingredient brands or product brands that are subordinate. Once the hierarchy standard has been defined, then determine the program pattern.
Ingredient brands have a right to enforce their program identity standards on the companies that use their ingredients. A well-executed program finds a way for ingredient logos to add to the program identity. Often, the ingredient brands lend credibility, like medals on a scout uniform.
Whether the lead brand is Mac-compatible or as-seen-on-Food Network, the visual vocabulary established by a standardized program treatment clearly implies the business relationship.
Managing Multiple Brands
The question of how multiple brand identities might peacefully coexist only recently became an issue. In the past, you might have seen multiple logos on a NASCAR driver’s jumpsuit, but you wouldn’t see a jumble of logos on the same magazine advertisement. Today, companies create logos for things that may or may not even warrant their own identity. How committed is Lincoln to Ecoboost technology?
The first choice is whether or not a company needs multiple brands. A good rule of thumb: Don’t build another brand until you have to. More brands mean more money.
If an organization establishes multiple, overlapping brands, the question of whether the organization should become a branded house or remain behind the scenes as a house of brands needs to be considered. Very few companies actually have the wherewithal to create a house of brands. Up until it reorganized after emerging from bankruptcy protection, General Motors was widely criticized for maintaining too many brands. Brands are expensive to build and maintain. In general, fewer is better