Your Design Speaks Volumes

It wasn’t long ago that I wrote a post praising Good Sam’s deceptively simple logo. Those guys built a look that is meaningful, professional and (most importantly) effective. They totally nailed it. Unfortunately, the way they’re using that mark is quietly eroding the brand. I hope what follows will help you avoid making the same mistakes.

THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT

First, my apologies to Good Sam… it never feels good to point out short-comings. For me, it feels worse to overlook an opportunity that might help other companies stay on track. So, here goes…

Despite a wonderful logo, Good Sam’s public appearance is severely fragmented. I think it’s sending mixed messages to the consumer and that’s never good.

THE LOGO REVISITED

Very quickly… here’s what Good Sam did right:

  • Warm and welcoming personality
  • Strong & relevant metaphor as backbone
  • Clean, easy-to-read type
  • Brand is a mark of quality for travelers worldwide

IN DESIGN, LESS IS MORE

When you’ve got a mark that delivers all the right messages, you’ve gotta let it do its job. Just slather that thing on everything you can and don’t fudge it up. Unfortunately, Good Sam couldn’t resist…

Good Sam’s many logo variations give the impression it is a disorganized and rudderless business.

 

Look at the vast array of logos they’re using – it’s beyond comprehension. Seriously, open that puppy up and you’ll see what I mean. Some of these could be from eras gone by, but all are in use on the Web.

Different headers erode trust in the company and its products; better to set standards and stick to them.

 

If you look closely, you’ll see some of those grinning faces have eyes open, others are closed. Some feature gradients, some don’t. Graphic elements, colors, text alignment, sub-text… everything is in flux, even the company name!

If you’re doing this with your logo… I’m begging you, stop now.

Why?

Good Sam’s logo is supposed to indicate which RV Parks are better than others; customers have learned to trust it. Minor shifts in a logo generally indicate “knock-off” or fraudulent products. When an odd variation of Good Sam’s logo is altered, can travelers really trust the park displaying it? Is the rating we see real, is it worth the price to stay here? Are these park owners trust-worthy? Hard to say.

All I know is when I’m on vacation, I’m not rolling the dice on safety. Consistent branding breeds confidence. Unexpected variations cast doubt.

PRESENT A UNIFIED FRONT

By failing to enforce design consistency, Good Sam looks disorganized at best. No matter where you click, you’re going to see a different look for their website.

Some Good Sam homepages have bright, full-color photos. Others look like blog posts from 1997. There are even hyperlinks that take you to sites showing no obvious connection to Good Sam at all. They’re part of the same business enterprise, but you’d never know from the aesthetic.

This is just four of Good Sam’s many sites, but each one looks like an entirely different business.

This break in design undermines the capital they’ve built with an otherwise trustworthy logo. Instead of one strong and unified image instilling confidence, they present confusion. Maybe you’re not doing business a friendly guy who knows his shit afterall. Could be you’re about to give your hard-earned money to the village idiot.

Ok, that sounds harsh… but imagine if an investment house looked this inconsistent. Say you log into Charles Schwab and they bounce you between nine different sites with different designs, how confident could you possibly be?

You can tell people all day who you are and what you think you stand for, but in the end they get to decide. Spin this lesson however you like, chaos won’t put people at ease.

FUN OR FUGLY?

My last point observation is just food for thought. Remember talking about the power of consistency? Well, what do you do when your brand’s biggest fans co-opt your mark for their own rallies and entertainment?

Yup, they’ve got Good ol’ Sam stitched up for all kinds of events. Check out some of the patches travelers are passing around.

Fans commission patches to commemorate large Good Sam gatherings called Samborees.

To be fair, these probably aren’t sanctioned by Good Sam. It’s more likely just fans who want to celebrate the gathering of like-minded individuals. An event like this is called a Samboree. The patches are meant to commemorate good times, but the look ain’t always flattering.

What do you think? Should management be excited that people are abusing their logo in the name of fun, or is it quietly undermining their cause?

If I’m sitting the in the corporate offices of Good Sam, I can see both sides. One thing that is clearly evident is there’s an opportunity being overlooked here.

People love collecting patches for our national parks, too. They’ve got some beautifully designed patches out there and it encourages their guests to “collect” new locations all the time. Good Sam could easily step in and control their look too, issuing “special editions” while adding profit dollars to the bottom line. This’d also be an effective way to relate company values without making Sam look like a fall-down drunk.

WRAPPING UP

No matter how you decide to present your company, there is little doubt that a consistent public image will improve consumer confidence and help maintain trust. Your logo is an obvious extension of your company, for better or for worse, and you don’t want to broadcast pandemonium when they want professionalism.

Brian Parker
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