Chapter 5: How to Conduct a Competitive Logo Analysis

Chapter 5: How to Conduct a Competitive Logo Analysis

One simple truth should guide much of brand logo design: it will never be viewed in isolation. Whether in direct comparison or indirectly over time, your audience will see other logos, and will inevitably compare these logos to yours. How you compare plays a core role in getting and keeping attention. Even the best logo will fail if you don't keep this crucial fact in mind. That's why, before the design, you need to understand your competitive environment. You need to know just how you can build a logo that stands out without introducing cognitive dissonance. In other words, you need to conduct a competitive logo analysis. Taking that step is not as complicated as it might seem. Through a simple step-by-step process, you can make sure that your logo can be built with your competition in mind, driving home strengths and exploiting weaknesses.

1) Define Your Direct Competition

The first step might also be the most obvious. Put simply, you have to know who you're actually competing against. That can mean any number of things, so we'll break it down into direct and indirect competition. Direct competitors offer comparable products or services. They're typically in your industry, and will talk to the same audience as you. They're your biggest threat for long-term survival and success. That's why you have to start by defining exactly who they are. You might already be familiar with a competitive analysis from a larger marketing perspective. The same basic principles apply here. Understand who your competition is, then start looking into what they do. But without that first definition, you cannot reach the later steps.

2) Explore Your Indirect Competition

Don't make the mistake of assuming that direct competitors, within your industry and with comparable products, are your only threat. Instead, indirect competition may matter just as much. These are the companies or organizations your audience pays attention to at the same time they would be looking into you. Think about it in terms of a supermarket. If you sell canned soup, your direct competitors are other soup and packaged meal brands. But your audience might also decide to spend their money on cereal, fresh meat, or vegetables instead. That's your indirect competition. Considering that it can prevent your audience from actually buying from you, it matters just as much. Just like your direct competitors, these brands have logos you need to pay attention to. At the same time, unlike the first step above, it's impossible to be comprehensive. Instead, explore companies that may or may not be indirect competitors, and choose a few especially relevant ones for the steps below.

3) Build a Relevance Score

Next, it's time to quantify your competition. One way you can accomplish that is by building a relevance score. Just how relevant is a given rival brand to yours, and to your audience as they make a buying or consideration decision for you?  Start with three to four qualities, and assign each a score in how closely it aligns with yours. Then, tally up the scores and use the sum as a ranking mechanism. Now, you have a prioritized list of competitors that you can use to maximize the effectiveness of each step below.

4) Thoroughly Evaluate the Logos

Let's get down to business. For each of the top brands according to your list from the previous step, find the current logo. Then, begin to evaluate it. First, in isolation. What colors does the brand use, how does it integrate text, and how do they leverage whitespace? The basic design principles in chapter 3 are a perfect guide to conducting this evaluation. Try to estimate just how closely each competing brand you've chosen relates to each of these factors. Then, add a subjective component: how much do you 'like' each logo? How effective do you think it is in getting your audience's attention and communicating core brand messaging? If you have the resources, don't be afraid to run some research via surveys or focus group with your customers to get their opinion, as well.

5) Find Commonalities Across Each Mark

The above step considered each competing logo in isolation. Now, it's time to bring them together to find their commonalities. Especially for your direct competition, it's crucial to understand what elements each logo in the industry incorporates. For athletic wear, for instance, you'll find every logo incorporating movement. When everyone else does it, you have to have a very good reason not to. The logo element becomes a point of parity, an expectation by the consumer that you have to fulfill. If you choose to go a different route, make sure it's in a way that doesn't introduce cognitive dissonance for your audience.

6) Look for the Differences of Each Logo

Having established the points of parity, it's time to look for the elements that make any strong brand: the points of difference. This is where you begin to evaluate exactly where each brand makes a conscious choice to be different from its competitors, and why it might have made that choice. Some of these differences might be incidental. Often times, they aren't. Consider that you're in chapter 5 of a 10,000 word eBook focusing specifically on logo design. The other brands work just as hard. Again, make a note of what you think the differences are, and why they might be in place.

7) Build a Perceptual Map, Logo Style

Finally, it's time to put it all together. As you might have done in your more comprehensive competitive analysis, build a perceptual map based on two or three dimensions that are most important to the brand and your audience. Then, score each competing logo on these dimensions, and map it out in Excel or another tool. What you'll find is a comprehensive overview of where each company's logo stands. You'll also find the gaps that are not currently occupied by any brand. This is your opportunity. Jump in, and start planning for a logo that matches its competition where it needs to, but goes unique paths where others don't. Define your positioning through your competition, and you're ready to begin that build.
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