Never tell a potential client: "Your logo sucks!"

The one piece of advice readers seem to be taking away from my book, Identity Crisis!: 50 Redesigns That Transformed Stale Identities Into Successful Brands, is that you should "never tell a potential client that their current logo sucks." In the volume's introduction I write:

"In doing so, you can almost guarantee that the client, a family member of the client, or the individual with whom you are dealing played a major role in creating the current image. This seems to hold true whether the client is a one-person home-based business or a large corporation. Making such an insensitive introductory remark is not the best way to start the sometimes long collaborative process of putting the best new face on a client's business or organization."

Most designers have found themselves in the position of needing to deal with a less than stellar logo when it comes to designing marketing materials, a print ad, a new website or some other promotional material. It may be difficult to keep oneself from blurting out, "Your logo sucks!" In additional to conveying a more tactful message, the designer must take into consideration the emotional and historical perspective of the identity - for the business owner, employees and client base. Another major concern for the client will be the financial investment of having a new identity created and then having it implemented as a complete brand.

I'm always somewhat amazed when designers mention that, as a marketing tactic, they plan to approach a local business or organization to tell them their existing logo or website is "bad" - and that their own design talent and ability is the solution for the now potentially insulted business owner or manager. The designers also expect that ambushing the potential client with rough or finalized design concepts - without any prior information-gathering from the business or organization in question - will be met with open arms. Again, the potential for offending the possible future client may be great.

In addition, the designer will have invested a great deal of time in producing what is little more than another form of speculative work. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers in attempting to "sell" such a completed proposal or concept to an entity is that the business representative will not see the true value in work that is already completed. In the end, the designer may be cheating themselves out of time and income that can not be recovered, while also creating designed work that may not best serve the requirements and desires of the potential client.

It's best to approach such potential clients, or the in-house boss, through the initiation of a positive dialogue of possibilities. Occasionally, great opportunities to begin that process may be presented by a business or organization. Recent discussions with clients of mine, in regards to new identities, have come out of the following:

• A business moving to a new location - which immediately requires the redesign or updating of everything for the business; from business cards to website.

• A possible major capital expenditure - the remodeling of an office, need for new signage, purchase of new company vehicles, or potential website design may prod "the powers that be" to take a new look at all aspects of the corporate identity.

• A major business anniversary - taking a look back at a company history often initiates the discussion of the future of the business image.

• Actual changes in the business operations and/or scope - a publication client recently expanded the geographic area they serve, and changed the page size of the paper, which brought about a major redesign need.

• Changes in management or staff - a long-time owner, or management person, leaving the firm - or the hiring of new marketing or administrative staff - can "jump start" the redesign of a company's brand.

• A specific need for a new promotion or advertising piece - the investment in a major marketing brochure or print ad may bring about the re-evaluation of an identity.

• Simply having the time and opportunity - with the economic downturn several clients have found the time to take on redesigning the business identity.

• The realization that an identity is "tired" - every once in a while a client surprises me and, out of the blue, suggests that a business identity facelift may be needed.

Designers should make themselves aware of such opportunities with clients, potential clients or employers - and be ready to react. Have a finely-tuned online or physical portfolio in place to showcase your capabilities, a marketing packet or proposal ready to present, and questions prepared to begin the discussion about the future of the entities identity and marketing. Queries need to be worded in such a way as to not put the business decision-maker on the defensive. Some possible questions might include:

• What is the significance of the logo design and how does it represent your business?

• What is the history of your business identity and its creation?

• Does your current logo best identify and represent your business in reaching your target market?

• With the creation of a new website in the works (or any of the possible scenarios listed above), is it time to review the impact and effectiveness of your business identity?

• Is the current image the logo that you hope to have represent your company for up to decade?

Of course, there are many other questions you might want to ask. Again, once you have a signed agreement for the redesign project, remember to reflect on the emotional and historical perspective of the identity in question.

The emotions around a logo, whether a client did it themselves or not, can be very strong. I just completed the identity for a business, that had made use of a less than ideal logo for over two decades, where there was an understanding that the logo wasn't going to be touched until the founder was no longer involved in day-to-day operations. He had designed the original logo himself. After a very productive identity design process the only historical aspect of the logo retained was the original color.

Another potential client is having difficulty moving forward on an identity redesign due to the emotional attachment to a logo the founder created almost 20 years ago. I provided them with my marketing materials, a number of before and after case studies, and a copy of my book, Identity Crisis!. The message I've repeatedly stressed to the founder is that an identity redesign does not necessarily require tossing out all graphic references to the history of the organization - but the identity should be updated as they move into a new facility.

Do remember that the re-design of any business or organization identity usually requires a fairly decent financial investment for the client - the cost of the logo itself, the design and printing of a stationery package and all marketing/advertising materials, the creation of new signage, and so much more. Hesitancy, on the part of a client, to dive into a total rebranding may be due to financial considerations above and beyond the actual cost of having a logo designed.

Identity redesign projects do not need to be painful for designer or client. In many cases, a designer needs to realize they should not necessarily be putting their personal "mark" on the business or organization, but rather working in collaboration with the client to produce the best solution for extending the life, recognition and success of the identity being addressed.

© 2009 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives