A Logo is Not a Brand

This post describes what I view as the kind of mistake a small community can make when hiring consultants “from afar.” There’s a tendency for community leaders to trust outsiders for certain technical skills over the people they know locally.

A few years ago I was a member of a board of directors for an economic development organization. We contracted with an out-of-town company to build a website and do a branding campaign.

The question in the minds of our board was about how to present an image or a concept of who we were to business and residential prospects we might entice to investigate the area. Some thoughts expressed were

  • We should emphasize our location just outside the main metro area of Nashville. Growth from Nashville into our community is inevitable, so we really don’t have to do anything.
  •  Minnie Pearl, the famous Grand Ole Opry comedian, is from our county. People want to visit her hometown of the mythical Grinders Switch.
  •  We have 75 miles of the Duck River, the most biologically diverse river in the Northern Hemisphere. That will attract people.
  •  We have numerous springs, caves, and waterfalls around our smaller streams. We can advertise as a tourist destination.
  •  Our county seat still has an old-fashioned town square with the opportunity for quaint shops that tourists could visit.

Obviously, our approach had problems. The thoughts were ours, not our potential businesses or new residents. We didn’t know why they might like us, and we hadn’t asked. We made the mistake of thinking we could create our brand not realizing that the brand has little to do with what we think and everything to do with what our potential businesses and residents think of us.

The uncomfortable part was that many of our members had lived here all their lives and they love it here, but they couldn’t express why in words that outsiders might understand.

The truth is that our rural county is much like the other rural counties around us. We deliberately keep taxes as low as possible by refusing to build our infrastructure. Our most important export is the young adults that seek employment where the pay is better, the shopping is better, and the attractions are close by. Worse, we suffer from a huge retail trade deficit because our surrounding counties have several big stores like Walmart and Kroger; we don’t, and we probably won’t for years. As for industrial recruitment, we have limited sites for large facilities, limited utilities, and a general unwillingness to purchase property for industrial development. We’re not known for producing any particular type of product—we’d be happy to get any industrial output.

So, our expert contractor from afar held a few meetings and interviewed some leaders, and they came up with a logo design and color scheme for letter headers, complimentary cups and pens for visitors, and brochures. Part of the logic of the color scheme was to choose something different to separate us from other areas.

There is a whole color design theory in marketing that seems to have been overlooked. I discovered some tools that would take sample photographs from our area and boil the images down to a consistent color scheme—a kind of averaging of all tints and hues to find a compatible mix. After running the tool, it produced the same boring, bland mix of forgettable colors that our expert chose for us.

It takes more than color for a logo. A logo is a visual representation of an organization that should capture the vision and spirit of an organization--just part of the brand. The logo can be completely abstract or it can be something that symbolizes an organization. Our contractor explained their design for us symbolically. Here is the result:

The green represents the vibrant green of our woods and pastures. (We wanted a more vibrant green, but we got stuck with a drab green, in my opinion.) The blue represents the Duck River that flows from east to west through the county. (Actually, the green is closer to the color of the river, and the blue looks like the sky on a clear day.) The shape is indicative of a strong industrial type of product. It’s abstract, so I surely don’t understand either the color scheme or the image.

At the end of this rant, I should ask if the drab green and blue triangle accurately represents our community. Maybe it does and we just don't realize it.