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What’s in a logo?

Date Published: 16/09/2010

Logos are, let’s face it, everywhere. We’ve all got them. You have to; they allow for easy visual recognition of a brand or organisation and they then tie together all of your communications, be they letter to customers, a website or a blog.

We rather like our logo. It feels solid. Trustworthy. Not overblown or formed from made-up words. It reflects our roots in the British countryside. We’ve always liked to think that it carried a degree of recognition, not just in the farming industry and organic sector generally, but perhaps with informed organic consumers.

Page from ORC Bulletin
Fascinating research - images and tables reproduced with kind permission from ORC.

Sometimes we’ve had licensees say they want to have another organic control body’s logo on their products because it’s “more recognisable”. That’s hard to argue with in any empirical way (though at least one of our team has always strongly maintained that individual logos are a long way from being an important selling point on any organic product – and who’s to say he’s not right?).

Big brands would, of course, have all this sorted out once and for all. They’d have spent millions of pounds and months if not years on research with their existing and prospective customers to get to the bottom of it. The end of that process (if it ever ended) could be a “brand repositioning” exercise, followed by yet more consumer research.

OF&G doesn’t have any of that. We’re not a big branding machine dripping in money. You couldn’t imagine for a minute that the businesses we represent would want their certification costs to go up because of costly talking exercises. So we conjecture; we listen to what people say to us and, generally, we’ve been quietly pleased with our place in the scheme of things.

So it was with great interest we read a report of research that demonstrated that, among a group of more than 400 consumers of organic produce, the OF&G logo scored really well in terms of recognition that it stood for organic product and was trusted by shoppers.

When this group were asked how British they thought a product was, ones with the OF&G logo on scored a good 14 points higher than the ones with the Soil Association symbol on.

The research was carried out by Susan Padel and Laurence Smith, of Organic Research Centre, with Meike Janssen, of the University of Kassel, and published in the ORC Bulletin (issue 101).

In most cases (apart from Britishness), our little bar in the graphs trails a bit behind the Soil Association’s entry. Which is great news. Great because, given the disparity in resources our two organisations have to promote themselves, we’re only just behind.

Our friends at Soil Association Certification Ltd share the brand recognition of a large, long-established campaigning charity. Yet among people who bought organic eggs and apples at least once a month (the participation criteria) we were almost as well known.

Frustratingly the gap between us and SACL grows slightly on the two questions relating to how strict people think the respective standards and inspections are. Therein lies a misconception that has its roots in history (and was happily trotted out in the past by less informed people) and a point upon which we are pulled up on a regular basis. Fortunately we can effectively counter all of that because we’ve done our homework.

But the fact remains that this work gives us some insight into what shoppers think about our various logos.

This is not an exercise in one-upmanship (or, to be precise, one-onlyslightlybehindyouinlogorecognitionship), it’s a fascinating insight into what people make of organic logos. Our resident “logos don’t matter” evangelist, would see this as proving everything he says.

What we haven’t even touched on yet is the results regarding the newly introduced EU organic logo… As you might expect for something that came into being in July this year, it scores extremely low on all counts: recognition; trust; strictness of standards/inspections; even whether it denotes an organic product.

There’s clearly some work to do there. On the ‘Britishness’ scale, there are no surprises either. The majority of respondents either “don’t know” or say “no” to the question of whether it represents a British product.

Across EU countries there was broad support for the concept of having the same common standards for all organic products, though the UK group were slightly less bothered than the Italians, Germans, Danish or Czechs about the EU logo.

However, going full circle, despite how fond we are of our logo, we don’t actually insist that people use it. It’s up to them. We love to see it, but we know that label space is usually very limited. There are a lot of other details that have to go on products, not least the now mandatory EU logo.

What this study does is provide food for thought on whether the EU logo alone is adequate – especially if you want your organic product to be viewed as British. If you do, it seems you can’t do better than having the OF&G logo on it!

Results table from ORC logo research
Chart of how the various logos scored
What the test group thought about logos and 'Britishness'.