This was the comment Philip Knight, the founder of Nike made when he first saw the design for the iconic swoosh logo. The year was 1971. He had commissioned Carolyn Davidson, a graphic design student at Portland State University to design the logo for a fee of $35.
I love this story for two reasons. First of all it is a true success story, especially considering how long Nike has come since then as a brand. Second, I think there is a lesson to be learned about designing a brand identity here. Nowadays companies pay thousands of dollars to agencies for design and branding services. But sometimes a $35 logo is all you need to start…
“Great marketers don’t make stuff. They make meaning.”
People often use the words ‘brand’ and ‘logo’ interchangeably. A logo is simply the visual representation of a business. It is the central element that helps consumers to visually (or sometimes auditorily – think McDonald’s audio logo) identify a brand. A brand, on the other hand, is so much more than a logo. It is a collection of perceptions, associations and memories that are created over time as the consumers interact with a product. One of the greatest definitions of a brand is one that Seth Godin gave: A brand is the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. This is such an accurate description, as it encompasses the entire brand experience.
When you close your eyes and think about Nike, it is not just the swoosh that you are envisioning. It is the feeling you had when you bought your first ever pair of Nike shoes; Your favourite athlete that you pretended to be when you were playing soccer as a kid; Michael Jordan’s signature fadeaway jumper moves and so many more interactions and memories that you developed over the years. Now you may not be a Nike fan but you can try this exercise with any brand that you truly like and you will realize how the meaning of that brand to you is influenced by several external factors.
What this means is that you don’t always have full control over the development of your brand. When people start using your products and experiencing them in millions of different ways, your brand starts evolving through these interactions and develops its own personality. And sometimes, no matter how great a job a business is doing, some people will develop negative associations and memories. You can do everything right with your branding efforts but if a consumer buys a brand new pair of your expensive shoes on the same day as a bad life event, he/she will have a negative association to your brand that is completely unrelated to your product. This is why branding is an ongoing effort and not a one-time achievement. A business has to be constantly working on forging positive associations to its brand to overcome these unfortunate experiences.
Back to the swoosh
It took Nike $35 and decades of persistence to bring its brand to where it is right now. While there are many great lessons to be learned from this example, the biggest takeaway for me is that you can’t simply buy a brand. Nike spent $35 on its iconic logo that became so much more than a logo. Over the years it became so recognizable that they don’t even need to use the business name with it anymore. So it doesn’t matter whether you spend $35 or $35,000 on a logo design, it will still take years of hard work and consistent marketing communication efforts to develop a truly memorable and strong brand.