How to become iconic beyond your logo

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When you look at rebranding projects and brand identity evolutions over the last couple of years, increased simplicity is the most prevailing trend.

Mastercard, Airbnb, Spotify, Snapchat, Coke… the list goes on and on. All have pared down their logos and identities in the hope of creating better cut through, especially in digital environments.

When those efforts are reported and reviewed, one term keeps coming up: iconic. All brands aspire to become iconic, but very few achieve it. Iconic status is the ultimate accolade achieved throughout an evolution of a brand. It’s like an Olympic medal won after years of rigorous training. And just like in sports, there’s very little room at the top.

Here are three of the patterns we’ve identified:

1. Iconic brands are single minded and radically simple

There are two ways the word iconic can be defined. On the one hand, it can mean worthy of great respect — which is how we want the brand to be perceived — but it can also mean a representative symbol of that which is respected. When we talk about brand identity, these two definitions intertwine. Of course, brand identities are built of many elements, and it is in their interplay that their strength lies. But the identity of a truly iconic brand makes a hero of a singular point of focus that becomes instantly recognisable, uniquely ownable and encapsulates the broader brand story in a moment — literally, an icon.

The Ralph Lauren Polo crest, Tiffany’s exclusive use of Robin Egg Blue (Pantone 1837), or Absolute’s iconic bottle shape are all examples of iconic singularities that form the central point of a broader system.

2. Iconic brands are consistently as well as diversely creative

Once they achieve a basic single mindedness, it grants them more expressive freedom, rather than limiting the range of expression under the policing force of a set of guidelines.

All brand identity systems require careful management of standards if they are to be successful and most young branding efforts start with an emphasis on consistency and focus. However, iconic brands take this to new levels.

There’s an inner confidence to iconic identities that allows more flexibility of expression than for lesser brands. Iconic brands are more concerned with the consistency of intent rather than the consistency of how individual elements get applied. Look at how Louis Vuitton allows its logo to be adapted on products, breaking away from their own iconic pattern to use the word in different ways, Coca-Cola using free-flowing illustrations, or how Nike switches visual styles from campaign to campaign without ever losing its unmistakable attitude.

3. Iconic brands suggest a richer story

The crest on a Mont Blanc pen is a snow-capped mountain top — a pinnacle of accomplishment. Breitling imagery tells a story of intrepid aviators whose survival depends on their wristwatch. The Apple logo would be entirely generic if it were not for Eve’s bite of temptation taken from the right side. Iconic brands don’t just create well-crafted identity systems; they create visual narratives that wordlessly convey a message about the brand.

It’s not about branding it’s about meaning.

Branding alone cannot make you an iconic brand, only consistently over-delivering across multiple aspects of your brand can help you get closer to that goal. However, providing your brand with a powerful meaning system that helps it better engage with the market, is crucial if you aspire to get into the exclusive club of iconic brands. And because that system is intertwined with the overall behaviour and performance of the brand in the market, there are useful lessons to learn from it. 

Uri Baruchin, Head of Strategy