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There are lots of icons in our world today. We find them on our desktops, in our favorite YouTube videos, and in the marketplace. Icons are usually something, be it a person, object, or character. Icons represent defining characteristics of our culture and our world. The word icon comes from the word iconoclasts. Iconoclasts worshipped images. They thought the image itself had power. Brands such as IBM, Exxon, and Dell are now icons.
Icons share three things in common: longevity, distinctiveness, and ubiquity. An icon is different from a brand. A brand is the symbol and the word or words that identify a product or service for commercial purposes. But an icon is a brand that has dominated a particular niche to the degree that stating what the brand does is no longer necessary.
Here are 3 ways to know if your brand is an icon:
1. Your brand is an icon if… you have established market dominance.
In order to do that, you have to deliver a reliable product for years. GE, BMW, and IBM are good examples. Some Internet companies have achieved icon status overnight, like Twitter’s bird.
2. Your brand is an icon if… the general public can identify it immediately.
The Nike swoosh is a good example of an icon. Everyone knows what it is. You don’t have to say Nike anymore, and you certainly don’t have to say Nike shoes. The swoosh says it all.
3. Your brand is an icon if… the general public uses your brand name to identify everything in that category.
Google, Kleenex, Xerox are all icons that clearly pass this test.
Your brand has a better chance of becoming an icon, in my experience, if you choose an image for your logo that’s the same as the name of your brand. A great example of an icon that does this is Shell. The name of the brand and the word that describes the logo are synonymous. When we created the Barefoot Wine label, we knew we were designing a brand that we wanted to become icon status, so we choose a logo for our brand (a bare foot) that was synonymous with the name of our brand.
In many cases, an icon is the graphic image that telegraphs the name of the company with all of its attributes. This is done without words, simply based on the visual graphic. The Apple with the bite out of it is this kind of icon. You see it and you know that’s an Apple product and the volumes of information that goes with that icon. Like the Apple, an icon becomes shorthand for the product. But, in my experience, you have to pass the above three tests to get to that point.
Of course, there’s much more that could be said on this subject. What’s been your experience? Michael Houlihan, co-founder of Barefoot Wine, the largest selling wine brand in the nation, invites you to join the discussion on Icons with your comments, thoughts, and opinions below.