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On the heels of the brouhaha over Ikea’s font change, comes a study on typography in company logos from some respected universities.
The finding: when a company changes its logo, committed customers have stronger and more negative reactions to the brand. Casual customers don’t react as strongly or negatively. And guess what? It affects buying decisions…
The study was done by researchers at Rice, Texas A&M, and West Virgina Universities by professors in each school's respective business and marketing programs. It was just conditionally accepted to the The Journal of Product & Brand Management.
They took 632 people and had them react to font changes on paper for two shoe brands: New Balance and Adidas. The bigger the change was, the more negative the reaction among customers with high brand commitment. Furthermore, they asked subjects how likely they were to buy shoes from the brands after showing them the manipulated logos. The bigger the change, the less likely committed customers were to buy the brand.
Today, I spoke to Dr. Vikas Mittal from Rice University about the study. He was one of the three principal researchers. "It seems simplistic, but logos carry a lot of brand message. Companies need to take them seriously," he said. "Changing a logo is a pretty expensive proposition, not just in terms of direct cost. If you offend the customers that are most committed, the ones that buy the most product and spread positive word of mouth, you're hurting your business."
The study was triggered by a few real-life examples of consumer backlash over logo changes that mirror Ikea's recent mini-controversy. In 2003, the study says, Apple (AAPL) announced it was recoloring its logo from red to brushed silver. Within hours of the announcement, more than 200 people had signed an online petition demanding Apple return to the old logo. But, when Walmart (WMT) changed its logo last year, the reaction was weak.
Fortunately, the researchers got right down to WHAT IT MEANS FOR BUSINESS:
"Currently, most companies use a mass approach when they change their logos. Worse yet, most companies presume that their most precious customers—those having strong brand commitment—will be more accommodating to changes.
"Our results show this is likely a mistaken assumption—one that can alienate the core, the most committed of a brand’s customers. In contrast, weakly committed consumers respond positively to logo redesign. Naturally, a more nuanced approach is needed to ensure that logo redesigns appeal to both groups.
"One strategy may be to manage the reactions and expectations of strongly committed consumers by actively soliciting their input and perhaps pre-notifying them before the changes are revealed to the broader public. Giving the strongly committed such a feeling of being an 'insider' may strengthen their self-brand connection and mitigate the potentially negative effects of logo redesign."
The researchers noticed a few other interesting occurrences: rounder fonts are more accepted in Eastern cultures, like China and Japan. Dr. Mittal says that these groups strive for collectivist, harmonious identities. Individualistic, Western culture prefers more angular fonts.
They found this line of thinking extended to product design, too. In another study, each cultural group was given picture frames. Easterners preferred rounded frames; Westerners like the angular ones.
"What we're finding more and more with aesthetics and marketing," Mittal says, "is that there is scientific law. There's a way to study these things systematically."
Images: Adidas, New Balance, Walmart
What comes next? The Bloomberg Businessweek Innovation and Design blog chronicles new tools for creativity and collaboration, innovation case studies in both the corporate and social sectors, and the new ideas that have the power to change the way things have always been done.