I recently spent more money on a website logo than I ever have. I got a logo made by an award winning designer who normally works with brands much bigger than the humble authority site I assigned him, and the process was a fascinating one that I thought you’d enjoy an insight into.
What do you get for a logo that expensive? How does a professional brand strategist think about creating a logo? What did I learn from getting a logo this way, rather than posting on 99designs?
Those questions and more I’ll aim to answer in this blog post.
First and Foremost: Why?!
Why spend more on a logo when you can easily spend less? If your traffic is mainly organic and your visitors are mainly “one visit” types, what does it all matter?
A few things:
Authority: This particular site is at a point of growth where it will soon be seen as a competitor to bigger sites in the niche. If at a glance, you clearly look cheaper, smaller, and lower quality than your competitors, how do you beat them? (And does the extra work you do to make up that difference (say, in your content quality) cost less than $1600? Probably not.
The site has a revenue stream that makes the cost reasonable. Not unless you have start up capital would I recommend making such a significant brand decision at the pre-revenue stages of a site.
Outreach: Alex Miller from Posirank (aff) made the point recently that if you’re sending outreach emails, asking people to link to something you’ve written, you can play a game and put yourself in their shoes. They actually open your email, open the suggested article on your site, and what do they see? Before they read a word, they get an impression. “Is this a spam bot who’s emailed me, or an authoritative website?”. They’re probably not reading the whole article, but if they open the link, they’ve made a decision about your relative authority.
My friend Filip Matous added that this is relevant before they even click the link in your outreach email. If you have a great, professional logo it can go in your email signature so anyone who opens your outreach email sees it. It’s harder to look like a spammer when your company has an expensive, authoritative looking company logo at the bottom of it’s emails.When it comes down to links, cost becomes easy to justify. If a great logo increases the number of outreach links you get by even 5%, it pays for itself quickly (assuming you’re working hard on outreach!).
Conversion: This same “impression” factor is at play on your site itself. So you do product reviews and comparisons? When someone arrives on your site, what impression do they get about how reliable you are? And how quickly do they get it? Do you look like an authority? Or like a one man band, blogging from your basement? When a prospect’s money is involved, that impression means something to your click through rates, your conversion rates, and your revenue.
Now that’s clear, let me walk you through what happened after I agreed to this logo project, how it all came together, and what I learned along the way.
The Process Part 1: Creating A Brand Persona
This was orchestrated by my friend Filip, who was on the podcast here, and who’s instructions on creating a brand persona I got from his book How to Get Your Website Noticed. He put me in touch with the designer who made this happen.
The way this process DIDN’T start was by getting a designer, telling them my website name, and asking them to “make me something that looks good”.
To even start thinking about how a “good” logo might look, this designer needed to have detailed notes on exactly who my website was speaking to and it what it was trying to convey.
I had to give him a full profile, including a “day in the life” of my perfect customer; not their demographics (32, male etc) but what they think about, what their values are, what other websites they like, and psychologically why they find my site valuable.
NOTE: The business Facebook page for this website proved invaluable to me in this process. I could go through bunches of the people who had liked my content already and (many of of their profiles being public) look at what else they “like”, which other pages they follow, etc).
I could even go through their comments on my posts to give a picture of the language and tone they use to make it super clear (when seeing lots of them side by side) who this person really was.
I also had to profile other websites that speak to the same audience, including why my site was different to theirs, and how I wanted us to stand out compared to them.
Everything this designer does will be with that perfect customer in view; How will they view this logo? What will make it stand out to them? What will imply trustworthiness to them? Why will it help them feel the things we want to help them feel?
You start to get a sense of why it’s not just a “graphic designer” who can do this. The person requires an intimate knowledge of marketing and brand combined with impeccable aesthetic judgement to pull this off.
Part 2: First Concepts
In the first round, the designer submitted to me 6 concepts; individual logos that were different possible ways of communicating the desired brand identity to the exact target audience.
They were things like, “this one is if you want to accentuate the “fun”ness of the brand”, “This one is if you want to push harder on the authority of it” etc. This allowed me to decide (since I should still know my brand, it’s desired place in the market, and the target audience best) which idea made the clearest statement of what this site was, and why it mattered.
Importantly, the designer said for this round that the fine details were less important. He said to tell him which concept I liked, and the typography, sizing, layout and other smaller bits we could work out in the final rounds.
As soon as I saw the first set of concepts I could tell this was different.
When he saw my current logo for this site (a 99designs job that I’d previously thought was ok), Filip was highly ambivalent. The content of his criticisms were noteworthy.
It’s in the health niche and the logo was using two colors, a lighter and a darker green. Filip said something like “You usually have a primary and a secondary color who’s contrast creates the interest in the logo. But you only really have one color here, green”. That made immediate sense.
Then when he looked at the logo part, the graphic (non textual) representation of the brand, he goes “I get why he chose that, and it’s alright, but I don’t think that’s the best you can do”. In other words, he could imagine other ways of taking the idea at the center of “why this site is unique and noteworthy” and representing it in a more exciting way.
Of course, as was clear on the first round of designs, that was true.
All the concepts used a primary and secondary color, often as well as a shade (black/white/greys) for text or supporting elements. This gave them all a kind of depth and complexity that my existing design lacked.
The logos used symbolism to try and create associations and put ideas across.
There were a lot of questions like “Is this a clearer representation of X feeling/idea, or that?” There wasn’t a line out of place. Nothing that meant nothing. If a line was thin, it was to create a minimal modern feel. If something crossed over, it was to symbolize intersection or union. If something was misaligned, or “inorganic” it was to infer imperfection – the beautiful kind that could come from nature – and so on.
(What I’m hoping by the way is that by talking about these points and this experience, you’ll be able to ask better questions, have better conversations with, and get better results from your designers in the future, however much you’re paying.)
I gave the initial concepts to a handful of my marketing friends for feedback, selected what I thought was the best option and we moved to the next step.
Part 3: Final Tweaks
On Filip’s recommendation, we took the first concept, and asked the designer to “play with it” – I didn’t even know this was a thing until working with Filip.
It’s basically asking him to try variations on different aspects of the design to see if one can add a little extra “pop” to the final design. It could be some different fonts, different color variations, bold this, add more space to that, etc.
The designer sends back through 6 variations on the original. (You can already start to see how much more work is involved than what – at least plenty of designers I’ve worked with in the past – would be willing to do.)
When I saw these tweaks, I actually couldn’t tell whether I liked them more than the original.
Again, Filip had a couple of great bits of advice.
Look from 10 Feet: First, he told me about this practice of looking at designs by standing way back away from the computer screen. There’s some kind of perceptual filter applied when you’re looking at your screen from right in front of it, that disappears at distance. Comparing which design looks more striking seen from a computer screen across a room can point out subtle aspects of a design that make it more or less attractive.
Split It Up: Then, on matters of typography, he told me to look at the design in it’s individual parts. It’s a logo, with website name next to it. He said look at the text on it’s own, with no logo next to it. Compare two versions of “text only” and whichever is most striking on it’s own, will be the most striking as a full logo.
That did it.
Next Steps & Takeaways For You
This logo was a pre-cursor to a full site design for this particular property. This itself was a change to common thinking where normally your early steps are to get a logo that fits with your website. Here we’re getting a logo that establishes the core brand identity, then having a website designer (different animal again!) flesh that concept out into a coherent layout where each feature of the site echoes the same feel, the same brand values.
Whatever your niche, this is the kind of move that bigger players in your market will eventually make.
Even if you’re not about to splash for a new logo, I hope this gives you a chance to think about what your brand’s identity will be eventually.
- What’s the position of your site in your niche?
- How is it different to the sites that do something similar?
- Who are you really speaking to when you write content? What do they really love and care about (besides, you know, finding a new toaster oven)?
- And what can you do with your site to deepen your connection to those people?
Because if you’re in this for the long haul, knowing those answers will pay off.