Debranding: When Less is More in Visual Branding and Logo Design

Benedict Padberg

Benedict Padberg

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The Evolution of Brands Over Time

As brands and logos have evolved over the last decades, it’s become evident that simplicity and minimalistic design are key directions for modern brand marketing. Even the most iconic brands and logos are following the mindset of “less is more” when it comes to their designs. From less detailed images to geometrically-inspired outlines, brands are embracing a clutter less existence.

One of the most prominent features of this transformation involves tweaking, or in some cases, totally removing, the typographic element of the logo.

Here are some examples:

There are a number of good reasons to embrace “less is more” logo design. From a practical standpoint, cleaner and less-cluttered logos are more versatile and work much better on the myriad of platforms on which modern logos must perform. Logos are needed in smaller and smaller iterations, where the decrease in size must not impede the logo’s clarity or ability to represent the brand.

This is especially true when it comes to text – there is a reason why few app logos have any text – as the logo gets smaller, text can quickly turn into a jumbled blob that takes up space without providing real value.

Therefore, if you are a brand with a logo or a visual brand that has the equity to stand on its own, the choice to “slim down” is a relatively easy one. Some of the biggest brands out there have gone this path – from the McDonald’s golden arches and Nike Swoosh to Starbucks and MasterCard with their own logos.

However, as a new or lesser-known brand, it would be advisable to proceed with caution when starting brand development. It is logical that the removal of a brand name from a logo would decrease ease of recognition and connection between figurative mark and word mark, which is a step that is crucial in building a brand. The “debranding” strategy should be used once the logo has gained some awareness among its target group.

By removing corporate elements of a brand there is also a personal element that brands are looking to capture through “debranding.” This personalized feel in corporations is a direct reflection of the way technology and new companies are seeking to connect with target audiences, and are a way for larger, older brands to stay relevant and directly target younger generations with the goal of having them continue using products their grandparents and parents use.

Going with a simpler visual brand and separating text from logos signifies confidence in brand familiarity and its target group. Debranding takes this a step further by not only showing the target group that you feel your logo has the equity to stand on its own, but also allowing for an expansion of personalized and authentic branding efforts, designed to strengthen the connection between target group and brand.

4 Simple Behavioral Science Principles To Consider In Brand Evolution

Whether you agree with these changes or not, there are some behavioral science and brand building principles that you should consider ahead of a logo or brand identity redesign.

Here are a few quick considerations for the next time you plan to refresh your brand.

Our Brains Prefer Visuals Over Words

It’s generally true that visuals are processed more fluently than words. This leads to quicker and less effortful processing. Less work means more positive associations. It’s also been shown that simpler visuals are processed more easily and positively than complex visuals. Hence, simplifying brand identity or executions of your brand in terms of ads and packaging, should make life for your target group easier.

Our Brains Enjoy Solving Simple Puzzles

Our brain likes to solve “simple puzzles” and fill in gaps. Research on problem solving shows that people get emotional rewards in the form of a dopamine boost when they solve problems. Activation of positive affect related brain areas in the prefrontal cortex have also been observed when people solve simple problems. Logos that leave a target group filling in a few simple gaps may lead to mental rewards that feel good at a non-conscious level.

Our Brains Are Attracted To Novelty

Our prehistoric brains are attracted to novelty. If you go back 200,000 years ago, we needed to find fresh food, water, and shelter, so our brains are wired to be attracted to new things. The trick to novelty is not to make it so unfamiliar that it triggers fear, but new enough that it sparks excitement and interest. This is the tension that brand builders face in building a distinctive brand that evolves enough to stay relevant for its target group but is familiar enough that it doesn’t require excess processing efforts.

Our Brains Use Context To Make Sense Of The World

Context drives perception. Anytime marketers change their brand, the biggest concern is that the new executions of the brand won’t trigger the brand automatically. To support this transition, marketers should take advantage of the fact that the brain always processes information relative to context and past experiences. Identifying other distinctive brand assets and the common contexts within which people expect to see the brand will help the activation of the brand.

Final Considerations

Is your marketing team considering evolving its brand? Perhaps you’re trying to renovate your brand, refresh your product design, or even launching a new product and trying to determine which elements of your master brand you should incorporate?

Here are a few simple questions you might want to consider as a starting point:

  • Who is your target group and what drives their behavior?
  • What makes your brand distinctive?
  • Which elements of your brand identity are distinctive brand assets and must not be touched?
  • Which of your brand identity elements need to be evolved and how do you go about doing it?
  • Which brand identity elements are holding your brand back and should be removed?
  • How do you ensure that you leverage context to improve the transition of these changes?

There are simple ways to leverage behavioral science to answer these questions and inform your brief. We have seen marketers and their insights teams deploy innovative and agile audits of their communications to uncover the path forward.

In closing, whether you like or dislike the changes successful companies have made to their logo, marketers will continue to feel the pressures to evolve their brands over time, especially as the context within which these brands are active become more digitized.

The key is to be very careful in evolving your brand and to do so in a way that doesn’t disrupt the memory structures that allow your target group to easily identify your brand.

Are you interested in learning more about how to apply leading behavioral and marketing science principles to evolve your brand? Get in touch with us.

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