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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.)

Logo Design as "Surface" Credibility
May 2007

     Two questions often asked are: (1) why is the principle of credibility in communication persuasion important to logo design, and (2) how does graphic design communicate credibility, or more specifically, how does a company logo convey its credibility? Logo design must be credibility based to be effective. Consumers look at logos as a form of visual "surface" credibility in a similar manner as they judge how people look from simple hair or clothing cues.

Credibility Based Logo Design

     The underlying theme throughout the work of Powerlogos Design is that source credibility principles in communication persuasion applied to non-verbal graphic design forms to express the company personality, also known as the company's credibility image. Most research in source credibility has been in interpersonal, or people-to-people, communication. The research I pursued is in source credibility in company-to-people communication, with the company as the source.

     An early study in source credibility research relative to company to people communication was my MA thesis in 1979, Credibility Compared to Likeability in Marketing Communication: A Study of Company Symbols. The conclusion was that company logos which were perceived as predominately credible would have more persuasion value than company logos which were perceived as only likeable. The thesis was written into a marketing book, The Power of Logos: How to Create Effective Company Logos: NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1997. My PhD dissertation in 2006 also concluded that credibility based logo design has persuasion value. In fact, my research with credibility based logo design and company websites was very convincing. A company website with a credibility based logo design was up to four times more effective in influencing clickthroughs to a product or service purchase than a company website with a non-credible logo.

     What is meant by source credibility or source credibility communication persuasion? In its simplest terms, credibility means trustworthy (sometimes referred also as believability). People are more inclined to purchase from a company or a salesperson if they believe the company or person is trustworthy and hence honest. Credible sources have attributes of expertise/competency and are believable/ trustworthy. Credible sources are high or low in these attributes, meaning a range of dynamism. For example, a successful speaker would be competent about the subject being discussed, is trustworthy, and have a dynamic delivery. Company personalities are often discussed in terms of people metaphors. Thus a successful company would be competent relative to its core business, trustworthy, and use its logo to communicate these traits as a dynamic non-verbal graphic design message.

     When discussing source credibility applied to company logos it should be pointed out that there are four categories of source credibility which Dr. B.J. Fogg of Stanford University first identified in his book, Persuasive Technology.

Four Categories of Source Credibility

     Surface credibility is believed from a "simple inspection or first hand experience." We form surface judgments about various things which come into our perception world, such as a person's looks, hair style, clothing, manner of speech, manner of walking and so on. This is the world of non-verbal visual cues, such as expressed in graphic design, to infer that the source is ‘believable/honest’ and ‘competent/expert’. We look at product packaging this way. A computer software package which is dated looking, or looks like someone printed it in their garage, will be skipped over at a computer store in favor of a "professional" looking package design. A website which is poorly or amateurishly designed will also be skipped over as not being from a credible source. It is the same with logo design. And it is the easiest type of credibility a company can control because it is planned, created and implemented by company management on a consistent basis. It is important to note that logos fit into the 'surface credibility' category initially, but can ultimately be part of any categories which follow.

     Presumed credibility is believed from "general assumptions in the mind of the perceiver." We form presumed judgments when we interact with a source and presume from stereotypical generalities that the source is credible, or not credible. For example, car salespeople are generally not considered credible, while other stereotypes are generalized as being credible, such as the clergy, or physicians.

     Reputed credibility is believed from "third-party endorsements, reports, or referrals." We form reputed judgments on the basis of labels, such as an MD or PhD following one’s name or other endorsements such as awards, referrals and reports on people or things. A link from a respected website to another is another example.

     Experienced credibility is believed from "first hand that extends over time." This is considered the most powerful form of credibility. The cornerstone of this form of credibility is consistency over a period of time. When a person is reliable we infer that our dealings with that person can be expected and will be consistent with each encounter and over a period of time. It is the same with companies. We want our experience with McDonald's to be the same each time we go for a quick meal down the street or in another state. McDonald's has Hamburger University and detailed manuals to learn and follow. Other areas of consistency are the strict use of the company logo and compatible graphics which convey the same credibility based image. For example, a company's logo design and stationery design must convey the same defined credibility traits. This is further explained in my article, Consistency: The Key to Branding.

     In summary, company logos which are credibility based will be successful when implemented up to four times greater than logos which are not credibility based. This is because we want to know that the company we are dealing with is competent and can be trusted to work with. Surface credibility allows a company to build its credibility on a consistent basis from managed visual cues expressed through its logo and various marketing communications. This is management controlled branding to achieve Brand Credibility.

© William L. Haig, Ph.D. or Bill Haig, Ph.D. 2007

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 
service marks of William Haig. Other brands or products are trademarks, service marks, registered trademarks or registered service marks of their respective holders.