Digital-first branding


The purpose of logos to be used as identifiers and trademarks for products and services has not changed. However in what form of communication, has changed. 

Before the internet and social media, logos were designed to be used primarily on letterheads, business cards and at the bottom of newspaper adverts. When we design logos today, we design logos to be used primarily as social media profiles, app and web icons. We must design logos that work within squares and circles, that make the most of the 110 x 110 pixels that Instagram gives us.

Social media is undoubtedly the fastest growing tool that brands use to communication to their consumer groups, and the better brands can present themselves, the clearer the message they are conveying can be. I think that this is a greatly overlooked aspect when studios create brands from scratch, and the more aware we can be when creating visual identity, the stronger and future-proof the company will be.


The most followed brands on Instagram


When we look at how the most followed brands in the world are using logos in their social media, we see a common thread.

Almost all of the most-followed brand accounts use either only logos (Nike, 9Gag, Nike Football, Chanel, Real Madrid C.F., FC Barcelona) or already short brand name logotypes, monograms or initials (Zara, H&M, Adidas, NBA, NASA). Victoria's Secret's logotype is almost illegible compared with other profile images of the most followed Instagram accounts. Victoria's Secret would benefit hugely by using their simple VS monogram as their social media profile image. 


Instagram profiles of the world's highest valued brands

(Excluding companies that do not have a customer-facing need to use Instagram)


A common mistake that companies make is to believe the profile image of their company social media page must include the logotype (text part) of the logo. This is a very common mistake of both startups and established brands. Established brands that have not created a simple lockup (logo +/ logotype) or their brand, suffer immensely and look outdated and old-fashioned online.

Social media profile images always sit to the left of the logotype of the company. Where some established brands have created crests, monograms, or short forms of their logo lockups in the past, they have the ability to create more powerful social profiles than other similar brands. The biggest brands have some of the most simple profile images. Simplicity is clarity. Users can quickly differentiate, locate and find profiles with simple shape and colour, as these are the easiest to recall from their subconscious knowledge of the brands. Google, Apple and Nike are the most obvious brands who do this faultlessly across all platforms.


Two common mistakes of company Instagram profiles


1. Inconsistent logo usage


As social media profiles become greater valued brand touchpoints, consistency is key in creating clear and holistic brand messages. Brands using Instagram profile images within promotional campaigns are in danger of diluting their brand image and thus perceived value amongst their followers and customers; San Francisco International Airport and GAP. Ebay are using a white logotype on red background. Again, this dilutes their perceived value as customers inevitably wonder why not just use their normal 4 colour logo?


2. Illegibility of logotypes within profile images


Oscar de la Renta's logotype is totally illegible. It's ill-proportioned layout is totally at odds when used within a square/ circle. If a brand was unknown, it would be a cardinal sin to use such a lockup as the social media profile. However, one with 2.6 million followers, I guess they can get away with it. However, using an initial based lockup, or simply using the hand-written 'O' of Oscar, would give their followers a clearer message.

Vogue Hommes uses a lockup at an tangent to their usual Vogue brand, by placing the word Hommes over the top of Vogue, again creating a mark that is very hard to read in small size.


Insta-Brand Comparisons

Below is a couple of quick brand comparisons, within fashion, jewellery and automotive industries. We are not looking to compare quantities of followers, as this of course relates to market share, when the company started using the platform, how the brand uses campaigns and brand-customer engagement strategies. We are more interested to compare the clarity of the brands and the messages that the brands convey with their use of profile images.


Burberry & Ralph Lauren

These two brands have totally opposite uses of the profile image. Burberry use the initial B from their master logotype whereas Ralph Lauren use their entire logotype, which ends up appearing squashed. The overlooked need for any whitespace to surround the R.L logotype makes the profile seem outdated and old fashioned. This out of date feel could be quickly cleaned up by using their polo-player icon. It is worth mentioning that the Burberry brand is over 150 years old and still feels fresh and youthful. The Ralph Lauren brand is a third of the age of Burberry.


Mercedes-Benz & BMW

These two German, high-end automobile manufacturers are forever compared. They create very similar models, at very similar price-points and both have circular based trademarks. However, their Instagram profile images could not be more different.

Mercedes-Benz uses a it's metallic gradient logo, on a dark background to translate a matter-of-fact, professional, quality and image focussed on clarity, and removing the unnecessary. Whereas currently BMW uses its circular logo, off centre, to create a border and space for almost illegibly-small tag line "Sheer Driving Pleasure". The reason for this is unknown, and immediately translates a brand that feels unsure of itself, lacks a clear message which needs backing up by a tag line.


About the author, Adam

Adam is the design director of BrandCraft. BrandCraft is a branding and design consultancy based in Hong Kong. We specialise in branding, visual identity, corporate identity and rebranding.

Adam is a branding consultant and has worked with clients in the UK, USA, Hong Kong, Tokyo, South Korea and China. He has had self-initiated art and design projects exhibited at various galleries and museums including the Victoria & Albert Museum of Art and Design and regularly writes about branding and design theory.

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