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by Dr. William L. Haig
CEO Powerlogos Design
Co-author, The Power of Logos: How to Create
Effective Company Logos,
NY: Wiley, 1997 (fifth printing.)

Credibility-Based Logo Design:
A New Perspective For Designing Logos
October 2006

     The company name, logo, stationery and business cards collectively are the branding foundations for most companies. For most small business, these branding elements are the major foundation. As the company logo is the heart of this branding effort, it is prudent that the company manager has a “good” logo to hopefully help achieve business goals.

     What makes a company logo “good” has often been referred to as good or bad ‘in the eyes of the beholder. This is a continuing conflict between the creatives in the logo design business and company clients. The author presents a basis for planning and creating a logo which will be effective as a sales tool based on communication persuasion principles. This paper presents a perspective based on what logos are supposed to do: help persuade.

     Logos help persuade messages which are important to the company and are intended to cause a specific action, like a sale. This is demonstrated in a breakdown of the communication process: Credible source (company or person) > motivational message > channel to reach the receiver > receiver (customer with a need). Thus, a credible company supports an intended sales message to a customer with a need. The company logo represents the company in marketing communication.

     There is adequate research in interpersonal communication that a credible source will be more effective in persuading a receiver than a source which is not credible. Early studies on the importance of credibility to communication in the early 1950s were on ‘opinion leadership. Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) and Katz (1957) defined opinion leaders as those members of a social system sought by their peers for opinions and advice.

     There were several similar studies in the 1950s and 1960s relative to the source and receiver attributes being similar. Common ground theory was explored as this was obviously the more logical hypothesis and, therefore, more research attention was given to homogeneous communication dyads. But research in heterogeneous communication dyads by Minnick (1957), Oliver (1957), Marsh (1967), Berchied and Walster (1969), Rogers and Shoemaker (1971), and Wheeless (1974b) began to show that the credibility of the source had importance in persuasion effectiveness. That is, the source has particular credibility traits important to the receiver which result in higher message acceptance and possible action.

     The author builds upon the theory of source credibility in interpersonal communication as it might apply to the design of company logos. The logic again is that the responsibility of the source is to lend credibility as the principal endorser of company messages. Thus, a credibility-based logo design representing the company as a source serves as an endorser to company messages as received by its customers. The application of source credibility can then be explored as the basis for company logo design. Therefore, in terms of the company as a persuasive source, the company logo may also be more effective if the logo were created and perceived as credible. The design of the company logo would capture the credibility traits of the company as the source, not the attributes of the receiver.

Source Credibility Traits

     In many previous studies relative to source credibility, (Hovland and Weiss, 1951, Hovland, Janis, and Kelley, 1953; Katz and Lazarsfeld, 1955, Rogers and Bhowmik, 1970, Sternthal and Craig, 1982), three credibility traits are repeatedly related to communication effectiveness: ability, competence, knowledgeable (expertise); believability, (trustworthy); and dynamism. Katz and Lazarsfeld (1955) stated that in 'personal influence' there were two dimensions of source credibility: qualification or expertise; and safety or trustworthiness.

     Rogers and Bhowmik (1970) offered two dimensions of source credibility: qualification or expertise, and safety or trustworthiness. Berlo, Lemert, and Mertz, (1969) offered three dimensions for evaluating messages sources: Safety in terms of safe-unsafe, just-unjust, kind-cruel, friendly-unfriendly, honest-dishonest. Qualification in terms of trained- untrained, experienced-inexperienced, skilled-unskilled, qualified-unqualified, informed-uninformed. Dynamism in terms of aggressive- meek, emphatic-hesitant, bold-timid, active-passive, energetic-tired.

     Applied to company logos, the author uses expertise and trustworthy as the two important credibility dimensions to include in planning and design development. How aggressive the company is in implementing the logo to various marketing communications would be a dimension of dynamic.

Can Logos Communicate Source Credibility?

     There are four dimensions of credibility. Logo design is a form of one of these ---

Presumed credibility occurs when the receiver interacts with a source and presumes from stereotypical generalities that the source is credible, or not credible. For example, car salesmen are generally not considered credible, while other stereotypes are generalized as being credible, such as the clergy, or physicians.

Reputed credibility is based on source labels, such as an M.D. or Ph.D. following one’s name or other endorsements such as awards, referrals and reports on people or things. .

Experience credibility is based on one’s first-hand experience with a source over time. This is the most complex and considered the most reliable method of making credibility judgments

Surface credibility includes non-verbal visual cues, such as expressed in graphic design, to infer that the source is believable/honest and competent/expert.

How Do Logo Designers Create a Credibility-Based Logo?

     Company logos which are strategically planned and designed with specific company credibility traits are termed credibility-based logo design. These traits are defined by the company’s expertise and trustworthy dimensions. A logo designer symbolizes the company business with implications that the company is an “expert” in this business. Design overtones of the company business can express various characteristics. A contemporary design communicates that the company is “cutting- edge.”

     A historical or period design communicates that the company is “solid” and has been around a long time. A “top of the line” or “quality” design communicates that the company has expensive products such as Rolex or Roles Royce. The appropriate graphic design symbolism and design motif requires a communication director or graphic designer experienced in non-verbal meanings of expertise and trustworthy traits through graphic design.

Credibility-Based Logo Design Examples

     There are many familiar logo designs which are credibility-based including AT&T, United Way and Minolta. These logos symbolize the company business which is the company’s expertise. Graphic design overtones convey trust. The Housen Painting logo below is more obvious with the “house” and “paint brush” symbolizing the company business as a house painter. The contemporary design overtones symbolize “efficient”, “state-of-the-art methods”, and “clean and orderly work” which are important to Tom Housen.

Housen Painting Logo

Are Credibility-Based Logos Effective Endorsers?

     To test whether verbal credibility traits could be translated into visual communication and work as effective endorsers, the author developed an online methodology using the Internet and Web analytics for data collection. The author’s case is a multiple case study using a mixed-methods approach to collect data. There are two stages, an inductive stage and a deductive stage. The inductive stage has two phases. The first phase is the initial theory building phase which is conducted in three steps to collect qualitative data.

     The purpose of the first phase is to build the credibility-based logo design theory. The second phase, of the first stage, consists of seven cases which are actual companies participating in the logo design development and testing. One of the cases is a 'pilot case' to determine and correct problems with processes used in designing logos according to the credibility-based logo design theory. The purpose of the second phase is to confirm or disconfirm the 'initial theory' developed in the first phase.

     The second stage is the deductive stage. This is the online testing stage which triangulates the findings in the first stage that the process for developing credibility-based logo design in the inductive stage is valid. A credibility-based logo is compared with three non-credible logos relative to increasing the effectiveness of test Web sites. The case study methodology follows the research approach advocated by Yin (2003) but modified to a method used by Leonard-Barton (1988) for investigating innovations. The unit of analysis for this research is the company credibility- based logo design. The results from both the ANOVA and Chi Square statistical analysis conclude that credibility-based logo design increased the effectiveness of company Web sites two to four times greater than logo design which is non-credible permitting the conclusion that credibility-based logo design theory is a valid philosophy for increasing message persuasion and possible customer action.

     The implication can be inferred that a credibility-based logo design applied to the company letterhead will have a positive effect as well. Care should be taken, however, to design the company stationery and business cards with a compatible design motif with the new logo design traits to continue the credibility-based image projection in these branding elements as well. In other words, if the logo has a contemporary motif, the stationery and business cards should have a contemporary design motif as well often picking up a “look” common to the new logo.


     The conclusion from this research is that credibility-based logo design philosophy is a new approach important to the planning and creative development of company logos based on projecting specific company credibility traits as endorsers of messages for communication persuasion. Credibility-based logo design philosophy is a needed approach for logo designers, brand managers and company managers for creating company logos, stationery and business cards --- the basic foundations of company branding.

     Beginning with planned credibility-based logo design traits, the company can implement the same traits in all marketing communication --- from advertising to employee customer contacts --- credibility- based branding system. The objective is to achieve the company's desired credibility-based brand image which the author terms Brand Credibility. Careful brand management (optimizing credibility-based brand portfolios) to achieve Brand Credibility leads to how much desired trait credibility the company has achieved (it's brand credibility health) as a new measurement for brand equity. The higher the desired trait credibility is associated with the company name, the higher the company's brand equity. This is because Brand Credibility drives the company's messages and, in turn, the company's product/services sales objectives.

© William L. Haig, Ph.D. or Bill Haig, Ph.D. 2006

This is an original work of the author. All rights reserved. Copyright registration will be applied for. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, and recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.

© 2007 Powerlogos Design. All rights reserved. 'Powerlogos Design', 'Credibility Based Logo Design', 'Logo Implementation Guidelines' and Logo Planning Report' are registered 
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