The BP Brand Gone Bad (why your logo is not your brand)
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again. Then we’ll say it again after that. And then once more for good measure.
Your logo is not your brand.
Case in point: What comes to mind when you see the BP logo? Being “green?” Conservation? A sunflower-shaped beacon of energy that casts its loving rays of nurturing warmth over you while serving as a reminder that by filling your car with BP’s syrupy, magical goodness you’re making the world a better place? That you are, in fact, saving the world?
Probably not. I’m just guessing here, but you probably think of torrents of oil being jettisoned into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate so intense that it looks like a scene from a Tex Avery cartoon. You might be reminded of animals drowned in thick, black goop and wealthy oil executives trying to repair the damage by saying things that are in equal parts foolish and self-serving. But that bit about the sunflowers and magic? Not so much.
BP redesigned their logo in 2000 to symbolize, amongst other things, “the greatest source of energy… the sun itself.” Sounds all naturey, doesn’t it? It’s actually not a bad logo, really. It’s fairly welcoming and pleasant, from a purely visual standpoint, while managing to be substantially less authoritarian than the previous shield design that created an iconic barrier installing separation between Us and Them. Their current logo does feel warm and welcoming. It is green, both figuratively and literally. Prior to the oil spill and its aftermath, the logo properly did its job by representing the company as being both responsible and respectable. At least as much as any oil company can be.
Pretty logos aside, BP was recently voted Worst Company in the World by The Consumerist, a popular consumer advocacy website. They beat out some pretty stiff competition, including cell phone providers, cable and satellite TV corporations and numerous banks and credit card companies. They propelled themselves to the top of the heap past companies that consumers must interact with on a regular basis, which serves to remind each of us just how unpleasant poor customer service can be. BP, on the other hand, is largely invisible to us from day-to-day. If you drive, you must purchase gas. There really isn’t much choice in the matter. Yet BP still came out on top as the absolute worst company. That’s the very definition of a brand gone bad.
A good brand can rot from the inside if it’s not properly cared for. Brands are virtual living organisms that will decay if they’re left unattended or mismanaged. They are how the public sees you rather than a tangible delivery-based widget or thing. Those visual representations, such as your logo, are signifiers of what lies beneath, but nothing more. Brands are less the clothes a person wears and more so the person wearing the clothes. Consequently, you can’t simply change out an outfit to make the person better, friendlier or more likable. No amount of perfume, makeup or snazzy attire will cover up a loathsome personality.
While it is true that companies like BP have an uphill battle from the start given the commodity they provide, the lesson itself remains. Whether you sell vitamin-infused slippers made from hemp or are a Godzilla-sized corporate behemoth that burps smoke into the atmosphere in order to keep the world going ‘round, your brand must be kept healthy in order for it to work for you. The brand must be genuine by speaking truthfully about what it is that you do well and why you do it. This isn’t about pulling one over on the public. It’s about acting responsibly and living up to your reputation. It’s about reacting appropriately to a crisis, if one exists, and allowing the aesthetically pleasing logo to be a straight pass-through, acting as a window to your company rather than a sleight-of-hand distraction.
So, no, your logo is not your brand. Your logo, like your website and any other materials, is simply a visual representation of your brand. Your brand is you. It is your company. You define it every day through your actions and your voice. You define it by the access you provide to your customers and the capabilities that you posses. That’s why, when all is said and done, it’s very much worth making it a good one that flourishes rather than decays.