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The folks at Gap decided that it was time to change their logo, and in the process, have provided us with a good example of what not to do when it comes to managing and adjusting your brand presence.  There are a lot of stories about this out there, but here’s a brief one to get you up to speed:

Gap Scraps New Logo After Just One Week – DailyFinance.

What’s the lesson here?  Well, far too often, companies react, rather than respond to change.  After an often ignored creeping sense of unease  that things are changing around them, it’s as if there is a sudden dawning (usually caused by a blip on the financial radar), that ‘oh my God,we’re behind the curve!‘.

Thus the quick and decisive, murmuringly approved decision to scrap everything and rush headlong toward a remake.

This is how branding sometimes happens. This is NOT how branding works.

When you build brand equity, you build (if you’ll forgive the analogy) a house of sorts.  The foundation is solid and the bones are good.  But from time to time, it becomes necessary to update things.  Maybe a fresh coat of paint is all it needs, or replace the seventies avocado kitchen scheme, but one shouldn’t wake up one morning, look around, call in the bulldozers and demolish the entire thing by noon without a plan.

Same thing applies here.  Gap has solid brand equity, and the logo in question is recognizable in ways that some companies can only dream of.  You can almost hear the conversation prior to the revision: ‘it’s old looking’, ‘we need to move forward’ ‘the 18-34 your demo that we want is all mobile now – we have to reflect that – go sans serif on the font!’…let’s make a Facebook contest out of it…

Dum Ditty Dum Ditty… Dumb. Dumb. Dumb.

Branding is about building an effective, recognizable public perception of a product, service or individual – I’ve said that a lot.  Add the elements used to represent the brand and evoke the response – things like a logo, (and yes,  many other less tangible or obvious pieces like style sheets, voice, tone etc) – are the structural elements that capture the essence of the brand and trigger a defined response in the potential customer.

Your Logo is a mark, a tool.  It represents your brand, but should not be confused with your brand. Your brand is much larger than a single mark, and more complex.  One single element change may indicate a new direction, but it is the new direction that needs attention in a holistic sense, as it is those multiple elements – design, product, tone, conversation etc. – that will ultimately define the brand and lodge the brand perception in the mind of the public.

So what should Gap have done?  ADAPT.

They occupy a marvelous place in the psyche of the American consumer.  The logo is recognizable – instantly so.

You don’t arbitrarily change that sort of thing.  But you could, say, apply it differently.  Use it (and thus your brand essence) in new ways which could reach out to all of those differing channels.

But that’s politician speak, you say – you still haven’t given me anything tangible here!

Well, off the top of my head, you’ve got a valuable piece of brand real estate in the logo form as a cube.  Shake out your head a little bit, forget about the spreadsheet boys in accounting, think with a child’s mind.  Get creative.  What else does it look like?

Hmmm…

Well, we want to reach the mobile market…smartphones are kind of square…hmmm….could we maybe plug a set of earphones into the top of it?  Might be something there.  Or, maybe change it’s opacity, and overlay that iconic logo over new situations. Hey, it kind of looks like an app icon, too…  Or, maybe, keep the essential logo, but add texture based on the product you’re looking to sell: if your selling jeans, make it denim, or khakis, make it khaki, or cotton shirts…well, you see.

When you do that you’re leveraging the brand equity that you’ve worked so hard to build, not discarding it.

Brands, like businesses, need to adapt – not rebuild from scratch every time they feel threatened.  Aggressive logo revisions in response to perceived loss of market share are legendary for their ability to alienate the consumer – Tropicana, New Coke, The Shack, Gap – it goes on.  Closer to home, we have a client that came to us a few years back after evolving a substantial part of their product line.  They had worked with another agency which, while well-intentioned, made immediate and wholesale changes to their basic brand presence – from logo to messaging – but without explanation to the consumer.

Unfortunately, they did not communicate the value of the new product to the existing customer base, nor did they make it clear that the new product line essentially filled the very same need that the old one had, but in new and more efficient ways.  The customers no longer knew where they stood, or what the product or company was about – nobody got it. But they still had a need for a that product, or a similar one, so they left and the company lost market share.

We came in and stemmed the bleeding. We took our time, did our homework and wound up going back even further – all the way to the original logo which we simply redrew with nearly imperceptible modifications. We used that across their enterprise to reach out and reforge relationships with their customer  base.  With the lines of communication reopened,  we adapted (there’s that word again) their product offerings and presented them in new ways while still evoking a sense of familiarity and solidity and maintaining the customer trust.  To date, the client has not only regained all lost market share, but has grown considerably as we continue to leverage this brand presence in other new markets. Why?  Because when the customer knows what you’re about and is comfortable, they’re willing to tolerate some change and take some risks with new products – along with you – as long as your perceived brand base remains solid.

So, Gap, don’t just stop by going back to your original logo.  Avoid the PR department’s inevitable demand that you say that you are soooooo social-media savvy and sensitive to your customer’s input that you did the wonderful and right thing and leapt right back to where you were – that’s obvious and no one cares or buys it except your execs who want to feel good and not be laughed at.

Step it up.  Take my advice and adapt your logo, and the way you use it.  Reestablish your brand presence in new ways and to new audiences who don’t need a new brand graphic, but instead need to understand why your product is relevant and valuable to them. That’s what your brand really is – how your customers think about you and your product.

Leverage that presence, adapt as needed and keep moving forward.