5 Guidelines for Creating an Effective Brand Mark

Posted on 14 APR 2016 in Branding, Design by Rob DeLuke

Many colleges and universities struggle with brand marks that were established decades ago. If your institution is looking to update, or even wholesale change your brand mark, there are a few time-honored rules to keep in mind as your team embarks on this sometimes overwhelming task. Make sure the person driving this effort considers the following, and that when brand marks are presented to you, you’re able to view them through a discerning lens and ensure they deliver on all of these principles.

1. Keep it simple. 

Simplicity is one of the keys to a strong college brand mark. The people who will encounter your mark are coming from many diverse backgrounds and range in ages from sixteen to sixty. The mark should be easily recognizable, so the viewer doesn’t have to struggle to figure out the design or what you are trying to convey. Remember, in today’s world, your target audience is getting inundated with material from many institutions. The better you can quickly convey your brand message to them, the greater chance you will have to stop them in their tracks and engage with you. (Think: Nike, NBC, Ford…)

 2. Make it memorable.

One of the ultimate goals in designing a new mark for your institution is that people will remember you when it’s decision time—and they choose your institution over another. Chances are if you are able to achieve a simple and appropriate design to convey your brand clearly and effectively, the better chance your institution has at becoming memorable. With a simple design, viewers have to remember less details, and it allows your mark to be absorbed more quickly. Simplicity also often begets cleverness and thinking, which again helps it become memorable. (Think: Target, 7-11, McDonald’s…)

3. Think timeless. 

This is where some institutions shine and others completely fail. Being timeless does not translate to being old or stodgy. Timelessness, when it comes to brand marks, is much like fashion. Things can go in and out of style very quickly. A good example of this is the little black dress. Always a classic, never goes out of style. View your logo design in the same manner. Avoid using trendy fonts, or today’s influential design trends. Look for ways that will leave your mark feeling fresh and strong today and 15 years from today. Achieving longevity is truly essential when designing a mark. So if done properly, the ROI on a well-executed brand mark is priceless (Think: Quaker Oats, I Love NY, Exon…)

 4. Remember versatility.

All great logos will absolutely work and reproduce in any given media application it is faced with. This harkins back to #1; simplicity being the number one thing to consider when branding or rebranding your institution. This refers not only to the idea or design but also in the final execution. A great logo should not only reproduce on a large billboard but should be equally as handsome on a pen or golf ball. “Any size, anywhere” should be your goal. My pet peeve in today’s world of design is when people take a web2.0 approach to logo design. Here’s a good rule of thumb: always make sure your logo starts in simply black and white. If it’s not outstanding in that framework, your versatility will be a failure. Color palettes can be added to anything if it is successful in black and white.

The second part of versatility is shape. When you think of every application this needs to work in, the possibilities seem mind-bending. If a brand mark is too horizontal, any extreme vertical constraint becomes problematic, and vice versa. There is a reason people refer to a “perfect circle” or a “perfect square.” It’s because these shapes lend themselves to just about 100% of any application. I’m not saying your logo should be a circle or square, but rather, think about designing your mark in a way that maximizes its full potential. Much like going after the “well-rounded” student. (Think: Nike, FedEx, UPS, Mobil…)

5.  Make it appropriate. 

An institution’s brand mark is not just about design, color, or concept. It should have an authentic and ownable feel in its content and design, so it resonates with its intended audience. But don’t fall into the trap that the logo must be “see say.” In other words, just because college students use books, books by default don’t have to be part of the logo. The best thing to remember is that logos long-term take on the meaning of the institution it represents, not the other way around. This isn’t a silver bullet to fix a brand’s misguidance or weak brand platform. It gets its meaning and value from the brand it represents and then becomes a symbol for those brand values. (Think: Olympics, Apple, and Coca-Cola…)

In closing, sometimes institutions think a brand mark is too costly or just not worth the money to tweak the brand or totally overhaul it. But what you need to think about is this: if done properly, the ROI on a well-executed brand mark is well worth the initial time and investment. You will be able to amortize this investment over decades, all while making your brand clearer to the viewer, which distinguishes you from the sea of higher education institutions. So, ask yourself, can you really afford to lose out on all those enrollment conversions over the next few decades? I think not.

To talk brand marks, contact CCA today.

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Rob DeLuke
Rob DeLuke
VP, Chief Creative Officer

Rob is chief of creative—visually, strategically, conceptually. His ever-evolving expertise from more than 20 years of east coast agency and design firm led fortune 500 and 100 brands into the limelight through intellectually compelling and effective trans-media storytelling.

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