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Author's profile photo Dennis Thomas


I hear this request a lot at SAP. From product teams, event sponsors, communities, projects, organizations, groups, programs, you name it. Everybody needs a logo.

Were we to fulfill every request, we would have a large multitude of logos at SAP, each competing for our customers’ and internal audiences’ attention. We would appear visually fragmented to our audiences. There are over 1,200 products/solutions on our sales list alone and countless teams, groups, communities, initiatives among our 60,000+ employees.

We do not shy away from creating hundreds of logos because it would be difficult to manage; we do it because it is the right thing to do for our customers. At SAP we subscribe to a masterbrand strategy.

What is a Masterbrand?
A masterbrand strategy features building one strong brand across an array of products and services, rather than creating a new brand for each. The benefits of a masterbrand are it allows us to focus brand awareness by concentrating marketing efforts on a single entity. All brand equity of every product, service or experience contributes to the strength of the masterbrand. Customers benefit through ease of recognition. All products and solutions are represented with one logo, while descriptive names make it easy to identify and understand our solutions. Lastly, the business benefits through efficiency and lower marketing expenses. There is one vision, one promise, one logo, one visual identity, one verbal brand, one tagline instead of a unique name, logo, color system, typography for each offer.

At the other end of the branding spectrum is the House of Brands strategy. Unilever would be a good example, owning over 400 distinct brands. Many of these may be household names, but most people may not be aware that they are part of Unilever. In this case, all equity resides in the individual brands

But I need a logo

Perhaps not. Anyone who has worked in the creative field comes to recognize that when clients ask for something, it is not necessarily what they need. So when someone tells me they need a logo, what I hear is there is a communicative problem to solve within the framework of the SAP brand. And, with a masterbrand strategy, adding a logo can create more problems than it solves. Also I hear there is a desire to differentiate an individual offering, not necessarily from the competition, but from others within SAP.

But a brand is always more than a logo, and while a new logo isn’t appropriate, there are still many ways to provide differentiation. Sometimes a designer has to act not as a problem solver, but a problem creator by disrupting a client’s expectations about the appropriate solution to their problem. Our masterbrand system is an environment, a framework to work within to creatively solve issues. Stepping outside the system isn’t really an option that supports the long-term interests of the company.

So, the creative challenge is to work within this framework. Anyone can be different by circumventing it, but this doesn’t really solve the problem and can ultimately lead to brand fragmentation with too many logos, taglines, designs that creates confusion for the customer. But what we do have is an array of other visual and verbal tools that can help make our offerings distinct and easy to understand for our internal and external audiences. We have our brand voice, our color palette, our photo style, our illustration capabilities, our typography and our pictograms. Just as the limited number of letters in our alphabet can continually produce new expression in our language, so can these verbal and visual elements yield a surprisingly rich array of communications within our brand. Clear messaging and a creative application of our brand visual system can provide the desired distinction between one offering and another while supporting the equity of the SAP brand that our customers have come to trust.

Chances are you do not need a logo; what you need is help creatively communicating the value of your offering to its audience with the myriad tools we have available.

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      Author's profile photo Timo ELLIOTT
      Timo ELLIOTT

      Any thoughts on how this applies to brand avatars on things like twitter? I personally find it confusing to be faced with rows of identical images from different corporate streams...