We’re sure this has never happened to you, but sometimes brands misstep and the results aren’t pretty. Whether it’s because of bizarre weather patterns, changing stylistic trends, the rise of American Idol style voting, or slow news cycles, some logos just aren’t well-received. And to be fair, some logos are crappy, objectively. But assuming the work you and your team have launched isn’t a horror show, chances are that it’s decent, solid and professional. But that doesn’t mean everyone will like it. Sometimes the Internet brings the hate.
Take the recent GAP logo debacle, or an even fresher example, the Big10 identity created by Pentagram. Both launches set off firestorms on Twitter and Facebook, with hoards of supposedly-livid commentators going off about how terrible each design was. In a situation like that, what is a brand to do? It’s easy for commentators (who didn’t design the project or pay for it) to say that “public opinion” is king, and encourage a brand to quickly retreat, scrapping months of work and tens of thousands of dollars. But is that the correct response?
In this era of instant Internet feedback, it’s easier than it’s ever been to voice an opinion. We are rapidly becoming a society of people who comment on anything and everything online, from what we ate for lunch, to the people we see picking their noses on the train. There’s also a certain kind of mob mentality and overzealous hatred unique to the bowels of the Internet, message boards and blog comment fields, and when it’s your brand caught in the crossfire, it can be difficult to decide how to respond. It takes a savvy team to sift through the feedback and determine if it’s legitimate, important, and weighty enough to shift the direction of your brand efforts.
So, if you find your organization (or yourself) in front of the Internet firing squad, it’s not advisable to automatically head for the hills. Instead of acting on the instinct, it’s probably worth it to expend the time and effort to figure out what’s truly going on. That time can lead to crucial insights, helping your team determine if a remedy is indeed necessary, and what the possible repercussions might be. Here are some important issues to consider:
Determine Your Audience
Before digging into the feedback you’ve received, it’s helpful to revisit the project goals and creative brief. Who it is your brand/campaign/effort trying to reach? Has your target audience changed, or does it need to change? What are the end results – better word-of-mouth? More website traffic? Increased sales? Bringing your brand back into the spotlight? Without setting a specific benchmark for success in reaching a target audience, it’s nearly impossible to differentiate success from failure. You’ll never know if the logo redesign was successful, much less whether the feedback you’re getting is significant in the life of your brand. Keeping these goalposts in mind as you parse the public feedback will help direct your course of action in beneficial ways.
Look Who’s Talking
Once you’ve firmly established your target audience and goals, it’s time to dig into the feedback itself. What is the quality of the commentary? Who are the people trash talking your new logo? What vehicles are they using to communicate their displeasure? Are there pockets of negativity being riled up by certain outlets? Do certain opinions stem from a few specific tastemakers, or are they more grass-roots driven? Do these people (or representatives of certain demographics) fit into your target audience? Not to put too fine a point on it, but do these people truly matter to your brand? If you’ve redesigned the on-air identity for Lifetime Television (aimed at middle-aged women), then it’s largely inconsequential whether Xbox playing, Mountain Dew chugging 14 year-olds respond negatively or not. This seems obvious, but it’s a major call – not a call based on gut instinct, but a qualitative decision focused on the pre-determined needs of your brand.
How Is The Criticism Affecting Your Brand?
Whether your target audience if part of the firestorm or not, in this connected era, it’s important to consider how quickly negativity can spread. You might be concerned about your brand receiving a media black eye, but it’s best to set true numbers to those negative impressions. The business bottom line is this: Do you believe that the negative feedback is affecting your business goals? Is working to preserve your brand’s reputation worth the price of scrapping your shiny, new logo? Or does your particular situation support the adage that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity?” Is it enough that people are talking about your brand again? Has your redesign led to a drop in sales? Do your front-line sales associates hear from customers about the logo? Are your other brand touchpoints being affected by the logo’s negative reception? It would be self-serving for us to say that a graphic identity is the end-all, be-all of a company’s brand, but it just isn’t true. There are organizations with amazing products and mediocre visual identities, while some brands hide crappy services behind beautiful design. Design is just part of the equation, and you need to ascertain how large a part it plays in what you do.
What Actions Do You Take?
Even if you decide to stay your present course and weather the storm of criticism, this negative experience can be a fruitful one. What can you learn for future efforts? Are there any nuggets of wisdom you can pull from all the chatter? Are the criticisms specific and concrete, or just generally harsh? Do your dissenters offer up any constructive thoughts or ways to improve? Is the criticism true or valid? Or are people just generally displaying our innate resistance to change? Maybe you can determine if it really was a content issue, or a problem with the way the design was released instead. (Yes, we’re looking at you, GAP.) Perhaps there was a better way to announce your intentions and plans for the future.
In deciding to respond, it’s important to note that there’s a lot of territory between appearing defensive and offended on one end, and seeming aloof and unresponsive on the other. Your answers to the above questions can help you figure out a next-step response. If you do rush to defend your position, what you say (and possibly as important – HOW you say it) is crucial. Possibly there’s a strategic and understanding way to affirm the voices of dissent while still forging ahead with your brand plans. You might engage people on Facebook, or email specific audience influencers and ask for some deeper discussion. Or you might decide to remain silent and let the storms of criticism die down while normal business continues. (Sometimes, engaging in the argument just legitimizes the “opponent’s” arguments, so it might be better to remain above the fray.) You might need to provide additional context – like supporting your new logo with more imagery that shows it in use. Or adapt your positioning accordingly – a more thoughtfully-crafted statement could help clarify your brand position.
Finally, it’s important to remember that even if you’re the client (and it’s your brand), you’re not the only involved party. Your design partners have a huge stake in how their designs are received, and they will be motivated to make sure things go well. If any of the above negativity is visited upon your brand, how will you work with your design firm (in partnership) to right the ship, allowing both parties to save face? Among all the options, surely there’s a scenario where everyone – your brand, your audience, and your design team – can come out positively.