You may not know this, but Gap recently changed their logo. Yes Gap - the iconic clothing brand with their instantly recognisable blue square logo. Should be big news right? After an under-the-radar change (there was minimal public announcement - they just changed the logo on their website), the new logo mark was derided so widely, and so quickly that the company went into overdrive to pull it from all channels and bring back the familiar blue-box everyone feels so comfortable with.
The bigger story is a decline in the GAP brand. GAP trailblazed a new approach to retail clothing in the 1990's, building a well earned reputation for selling basics that were affordable, understated, well made and stylish. Their classic American style was worn to the Oscars, and referenced on Saturday Night Live. They achieved the gold medal for brand, becoming a household name.
But from a position of invincibility, cracks emerged. Their ground breaking approach became too formulaic and lacked their initial boldness. A move towards becoming super-hip in the early 2000's confused and alienated long-standing customers. Then the push for volume, commenced with too many retail outlets opened. Meanwhile their three primary brands (Banana Republic, Gap, and Old Navy) failed to draw the same strength from the Gap brand they once did. This confusion at a brand portfolio level compounded matters and long -term debt mushroomed from $780 million to $2 billion in 2001. All this sent the business into reactive mode as they looked for new ways to invigorate Gap in their traditional and new markets. Something clearly needed to change, but what exactly?
But Brand is much more than logo...
Gap's apparent lack of a coherent business and brand strategy appears to have led to them making a classic mistake. They looked for the easiest, most obvious lever to demonstrate change...they changed their logo.
Yes, their logo is their singularly most powerful branding device, and changing it sends a very strong signal of a new direction.
Mind The (credibility) Gap
But what is that direction? And from their customers point of view why have they changed their direction and where are they now heading? And were their opinions considered?
From a business perspective, how does the new logo reflect their new business direction and aspired brand positioning?.... These and many other strategic implications need to be considered in any logo change. And from their customers point of view remain... unanswered...
Their customers response to the new Gap....
The public reaction seems to have served as a reminder to the business about how passionately so many people feel about Gap and it's logo. The companies hasty return of the blue box was a nod to this.
Gap president Marka Hansen said,
"Since we rolled out an updated version of our logo last week on our website, we've seen an outpouring of comments from customers and the online community in support of the iconic blue box logo."
"Last week, we moved to address the feedback and began exploring how we could tap into all of the passion. Ultimately, we've learned just how much energy there is around our brand. All roads were leading us back to the blue box, so we've made the decision not to use the new logo on gap.com any further."
So Gap forgot some key logo development basics...
An effective logo needs to have immediate impact - attracting attention and providing effective identification. The original one did, the new one didn't.
It must be effective without colour and be scalable and flexible across applications. Both achieved this, however the original is more powerful as a mono brand mark.
It should create or evoke a positive image. Time is a critical requirement here and the original evoked that image - the new one with its inherent blandness evoked almost no image
It needs to accurately reflect the organization and its positioning and aspiration. Again timing is critical here, as is heritage. The key question of the new logo is asked earlier in this blog - how is the new logo reflective of the aspired positioning?
It needs to be memorable, unique and timeless. The speed of Gap's response in reverting to the original suggests (with hindsight) just how memorable, unique and timeless the current mark is.
Brand Strategy 101
Ultimately, Gap Forgot Some Key Business and Brand Strategy Basics
Gap forgot that their logo is the ultimate and most singular annunciation of their brand strategy and their positioning. Much too important to consider changing without this change being informed by a change in their brand and ultimately their business strategy.
They forgot that strong brands create and deliver a transfer of emotion not just a material exchange. They overlooked the importance of a brand living an authentic story and how authenticity is created by balancing customer relevance and brand continuity.
Gap forgot to consider their customer's relationship with their brand. A relationship they were proud to display externally. They forgot their customers had their own stories to tell about Gap and the original mark. Gap forgot that the brand and logo had a past that mattered to their best customers. In summary...they forgot who truly owns the Gap brand...