Nothing is as closely associated with your brand as your logo. From day one, your logo has been a primary tool in conveying your company’s message and setting you apart from your competitors. You’ve worked hard to build a brand presence through marketing, public relations and consumer word of mouth. Your business is still kicking, and perhaps (we hope!) even thriving. So why would you even think about giving your logo—and thus, your brand—a makeover?

A few good reasons for a logo redesign include the introduction of a new line of business or product, a shift in the marketplace or consumer behavior, or to target a new audience. What if you simply no longer like the logo representing your company, or never really have? There’s still a lot to consider.

Examples of the logo evolutions of some of the best-known companies in the world offer four basic lessons for anyone thinking about a logo makeover.

Example 1: What’s in it for you?

One popular approach major brands including Shell, Nike and Starbucks have taken is to eliminate their names from their logos. It’s a drastic move that doesn’t make sense for most small businesses, but there is still valuable takeaway here. Take a look:

Notice what each of these logos borrow from their precursors: a familiar theme, color and image. (Starbucks has chosen to zoom in on its ubiquitous mermaid mascot with each rebrand – for a laugh, check out Signature9’s amusing projections for the evolution of Starbucks’ logo.) It’s obvious at a glance that the early logos and updated versions represent the same company, and their nameless new designs are a declaration of a goal: iconic status. With this radical step, they hope to gain entry into that elite group of companies that are immediately recognizable by an image alone. Bottom line: their aims are clear.

Lesson: Make sure you know what you’ll get in return.

A logo redesign should have a purpose in mind, one that you can articulate.Ask yourself a few simple questions: In what concrete ways do I envision a rebrand will boost my bottom line or give me an edge over the competition? Or think of it another way: what is my company doing new, or differently, that justifies a fresh look? If you’re not sure how to answer, you may want to hold off until you can.

Example #2: Is less actually more?

You’ve likely heard this before, but it’s well worth repeating. A complex logo design runs the risk of sending mixed, or simply too many, messages to customers. The logo on the far left, below, was Apple’s original logo upon its 1967 launch.

It’s inspired by the story of an apple falling on Newton’s head, with border text that reads “Newton…A Mind Forever Voyaging Through Strange Seas of Thought…Alone.” Poetic, yes, but hardly punchy in what would soon become a crowded consumer marketplace.

In 1977 the logo was replaced by a rainbow-filled apple, Apple’s first introduction of what has become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. When Steve Jobs rejoined Apple in 1998 a completely black logo was introduced, which was later updated to the monochromatic logo now stamped on every Apple product.

Lesson: Consider how an updated logo will better convey your core (no pun intended!) messages.

If your original logo is noisy or obscure, consider what elements you could lose without hurting your brand. Can you cut through the noise through simplification, or do you need an entirely new design to get your brand’s real story across? Ideally, you want to give your target audiences a clearer sense of who you are and what you have to offer, but without alienating loyal customers accustomed to the old you.

Example 3: How far is too far?

In a quest to reap the rewards of a redesign—whether to achieve iconic status or to clarify a “noisy” logo—companies occasionally go too far. Case in point: as part of an effort to overtake soft-drink superstar Coca-Cola, Pepsi introduced a nameless new million-dollar logo in 2009 that incorporates an abstract white “smile.” Soon after its launch a savvy designer interpreted that “smile” in a way sure to have made Pepsi blush – ouch!

pepsi banner

While the impact of this designer’s poke at Pepsi and the resulting negative media attention is impossible to measure, Pepsi’s new logo and accompanying bazillion-dollar rebranding campaign didn’t give the company’s fortunes the desired boost. Pepsi still lags behind Coke. There’s a pretty basic lesson to learn here.

Lesson 3: Get input from everyone—not just your fans.

Don’t rely solely on your business partner or friends to tell you whether your logo, or the new one you have in mind, is fantastic or a flop. Ask your customers as well as people in your target demographic who aren’t well acquainted with your company. What does your logo tell them about your services, customers, values and story? Do they see anything there that you don’t? You’ll not only come away with a good idea of what is and isn’t working, you’ll get suggestions to potentially incorporate into a new and better design.

Example 4: What was wrong with Plan A, anyway?

In 1983 Microsoft Windows first launched with a pale blue rectangular logo with rounded corners – an abstract window. Subsequent logos added color, incorporated a sense of movement and took on a flag-like look. Window’s latest logo incarnation appeared last year with the introduction of Windows 8.

As a writer for the official Windows blog explained following the controversial introduction of the new logo, the turning point came when design agency Pentagram asked, point blank, “your name is Windows. Why are you a flag?” As Windows tells it, “…if you look back to the origins of the logo you see that it really was meant to be a window. ‘Windows’ really is a beautiful metaphor for computing and with the new logo we wanted to celebrate the idea of a window, in perspective.” It took the company nearly 30 years to figure out that the concept behind the very first design it introduced was actually its best. Whew!

Lesson #4: As the saying goes, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”

If your customers genuinely identify with your current logo and it clearly conveys the message you want it to, why change it? Windows’ colorful “flag” logo may eventually have become recognizable through repetition, but its original logo was a much truer representation of the brand. If your aim is primarily to modernize a dated logo, make small but meaningful modifications. Running a redesign contest on 99designs can be a helpful way to determine if you’re truly ready to commit to a change, since you’ll receive dozens of different concepts from designers based on your current logo and can look critically at what a makeover would bring and mean to your brand. Start your logo redesign contest!

Have you recently rebranded with a new logo? Send us your old/new logos and a comment on why you rebranded, and we’ll add them to this post.