Iconography... Huh?!?

Iconography, Small Business Logos, and Image Code


In the World English Dictionary, iconography is defined as:

a. the symbols used in a work of art or art movement
b. the conventional significance attached to such symbols

For me, icongraphy (and logos for small business) is using readily recognized symbols or simplified images to convey a thematic idea. Taking the next step, it's using that image over and over in a structured and consistant way to forward a brand.

A lot of words for a very simple idea. As an example, when I say "McDonald's" what do you think of? 99% probably imagine the famous golden arches. That is a classic and highly effective piece of iconography. It's also a massive branding image. Every piece of McDonald's material has that "M" from sandwich wrappers to signage to TV ads. Seeing that logo brings to mind the whole company and whatever it means to you. It is a symbol of more than the company name; it's a symbol for all you feel about the restaurant.

Small Business Logos... Big Impact and Branding

Is this even relevant to a small business owner? You bet it is. McDonald's spent almost a billion dollars on advertising in 2011 and every single bit of it featured the famous arches. With a very minimal budget small businesses must get at least as much traction out of their iconography as a very wealthy company. Here are some tips:

  • Keep it simple. Ideally a logo (your primary vehicle for your iconography) has no more than three elements. More than that and no single element will be particularly memorable. And memorable is exactly what you want.

  • Use a recognizable symbol. A target, an eye, a hand, a check mark, a puzzle piece... all of these are things that people remember. And make sure that it somehow ties into your company mission, values, or products. You don't want to be inscrutable.

  • Make it flexible. If you can't use it in all sorts of ways (business cards, website, flyer, YellowPages ad, and so on) then its value to your company will be limited.

  • Use it everywhere! Every piece of marketing material you have should incorporate your iconography. Some day you want a person on the street to see your logo out of context and say to him or herself, "Hey! That's that guy who does that thing. I should call him about my issue."

Your company may no be McDonald's, Nike, or IBM, but that doesn't mean that your logo and iconography aren't as important. Small businesses require the same rigorous use of branding that the big guys use. Don't be afraid of using it too often. When vying for the attention media saturated customers you need to do everything you can to stay memorable.