“The real lesson of the Gap debacle: logos aren’t key anymore.”

In a recent piece written in Fast Company’s co.Design blog, Ziba Design’s Steve McCallion suggests that we as businesspeople should move beyond the static confines of corporate identity and embrace the interactivity and textured nuance of social brand platforms, specifically using the Gap and its recent logo catastrophe as an example:

“Whether the new logo was designed by a well-intentioned but misguided “logo committee,” or an out-of-touch branding firm, the ongoing debate indicates, more than anything, the branding and corporate identity industry’s myopia… Simply put, no one really cares about the logo anymore.”

There are nested problems with this argument touching upon the role that marketers play in forming and maintaining the brand image itself as well as minor themes such as how a logo itself is ever deemed to be “good” or “bad.”

Please note that I agree with virtually everything that Steve puts forth in his excellent post and am with him right up to the conclusion. It’s at the point of his discussion describing logos as unimportant that he and I diverge.

The logo, brand control and asking your date what you should wear to dinner.

My argument for the continued usefulness of a logo runs along the same lines as his comment regarding crowdsourcing:

“Crowdsourcing your logo… is more like asking a date what you should wear for dinner.”

A logo is a public face – the thing that symbolizes you to everyone else. We never cede control of who we are to others any more than we’d ask our proverbial dinner date what we should wear or how we should cut our hair. Our style choices define us and our date either responds to that or not.

To those who would tell us that “we don’t control our image anymore,” I respond that we do and indeed must control it – Steve points to how Nike has put the tools in front of its users to better immerse themselves in its experience, which illustrates how this can skillfully be done.

This isn’t ceding control but fully embracing the control over who the brand is and what it stands for. If Nike is about embodying the athlete in all of us, it’s willing to exhort any of us to join them in this journey. That’s controlling its fate in a nutshell.

The Gap, the logo and how not to make a decision.

What I find more disturbing in a general sense – and Steve only makes this comment in passing, so it would be unfair for me to ascribe this point to his post specifically – is the casual way creative and its validation are so often described. “Whether the new logo was designed by a well-intentioned but misguided “logo committee,” or an out-of-touch branding firm” should be the first – but never the last – step along this path. Unfortunately, it is increasingly the only step taken, with Gap being a vivid example.

Our well-intentioned but misguided logo committee working with our out-of-touch branding firm could have produced the right logo for the Gap – if, indeed, it was determined that they needed a new logo, which is another related question – had they done the necessary research.

The dead (or at least mortally wounded) art of decision-making.

Had the Gap conducted research aimed at discovering their brand strength against a random sampling of their core user ecosystem – those who shop regularly, those who shop occasionally, those who used to shop at the Gap but don’t and those who have never shopped their stores, across a representative demographic cross-section – they would have known whether they had a problem or not.

If they did have a logo problem, they could have tested multiple iterations, produced against a clearly delineated brief based on the research already conducted, and could have come up with real, robust, statistically relevant results as its outcome. Had the Twitterati waxed profane on the new logo, the facts would have shut them up. The Gap didn’t do what was necessary to professionally change a logo, and the world now blames them for the screw up.

Where this discussion takes us.

The Gap’s logo disaster isn’t a case of logos being unnecessary anymore because our collective evolution as customers has made them irrelevant:  the Gap’s logo disaster was caused by a collapse of basic marketing discipline, of knowing what questions to ask and then understanding how to go about having those questions meaningfully answered.

Steve’s points about the rise of social branded platforms points to the very real structural changes that comprise our average day today. We have tools we didn’t have a few short years ago and we all have the opportunity to leverage them in ways that deepen our relationships with our customers.

You just don’t have to shoot the logo in the process.