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How to

Create a Graphic Identity for Your Practice

By Stuart C. Rogers

In Brief

Logo, Symbols, and Slogans

* Graphic identity can be the cornerstone for communicating your marketing efforts visually--who you are, and what you stand for--in a dramatic and distinctive fashion.

* Learn where and how to present yourself in a readily recognizable, tasteful, consistent, and memorable manner for the start of a tradition.

* Key elements are addressed for developing graphic identity devices, covering an understanding of what they are, how to approach what is needed, where to get help, and how to use them.

An important part of any marketing program related to your practice name, firm image, and positioning concept, is the communication process often categorized as graphic identity. While it has little to do with the quality of the services you provide, the package you present affects your reputation and public esteem. Too often, professionals seem to be unaware that the first impression they make on others may be the only chance they get. It is important that the first and all subsequent impressions communicate the excellent quality of your practice and concern for your clients.

Your clients, current and prospective, as well as any other interested persons, all react to the many ways you appear to them and communicate with them--by way of correspondence, printed materials, news releases, advertisements, and signs and exhibits and through client services and more subtle evidences of concern for their interests. While the value of graphic identity and corresponding image is not nearly as important as the maintenance of high levels of performance and service quality, who you are and what you stand for, as
suggested by your graphic identity,
will have a strong influence on
obtaining new clients and keeping those you already have.

Your graphic identity is part of the marketing matrix that will incline clients, prospects, referral sources, suppliers, community leaders, investors, bankers, government officials, and representatives of the media, to think more highly of you and your practice. And to put a correspondingly higher value on your services.

Getting Started

Start with a general idea of what your practice is or what you hope it will be. Check both firm and marketing objectives and goals to see that progress appears consistent with initial planning. Absolutely essential is consideration of the name under which you operate. From this information, determine the inherent personality of the practice that you wish to convey. Then move on to how that personality can best be communicated to those you wish to influence.

Your identification should be present on--

* office signage

* letterheads

* envelopes

* mailing labels

* business cards

* courtesy cards

* referral notes

* memo slips

* statements

* checks

* various types of forms

* literature

* reprints

* advertisements

* and other informative materials you may wish to distribute or display.

Try to develop a distinctive graphic treatment--usable in all media--a readily recognizable and memorable type style or artistic identification device that will set your practice apart as special.


Several terms are used for graphic devices. Among the most common are logotype (logo), symbol, trademark (mark), and signature.

Logotype. This is distinctive typography which should be used for the practice name. Examples of logos abound on newspaper mastheads, at the top of the front page, and in the brand names of consumer packaged goods.

Symbol. Stylized, simple, significant nonverbal identification devices are called symbols, not logos. The classic old bell shape for telephone companies, the curved arc-like mark on Nike footwear, and the three-pointed star in a circle for Mercedes automobiles are popular

Trademark. This may be a little different from a symbol--it can be composed of symbolic letters or numbers, like the three A's in the oval for the American Automobile Association and the sans-serif type that distinguishes 3M and General Motors (GM). Trademark can also refer to a service name, or brand of goods. A trademark that has been formally registered with the U.S. government should always be accompanied by a circle in which the letter R, for "registered," or the letters TM appear. For complete information on this aspect of trademarks, contact the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20231, or telephone (703) 557-2219.

You may find symbols, sometimes trademarks, and logotypes used together, to reinforce one another, as when RCA employs its letters with the spot-eyed dog listening to an old gramophone. Or another element--particularly a slogan--can be featured to create a distinguishing expression of organizational identity, as when General Electric uses its full company name, its distinctive cursive GE mark, and the slogan "We bring good things to life."

Signature. This is one or more of the organizational devices (logo, symbol, or mark) often accompanied by an address and/or a telephone number to invite response. The organizational identification device is a vital element of the signature.

How to Begin with Graphics

Developing a dramatic, effective, and useful graphic identity for a practice should be approached seriously and deliberately, just as it has been by the successful consumer goods marketers above.

To assure a distinctive, quality image you should probably seek professional help. The execution of camera-ready artwork is beyond the abilities of most modest-sized practices--even with the aid of today's office or personal computer graphics software.

Fees paid to big design firms by large corporations for symbols and logotypes generally start at half a million dollars. Development costs for fairly straightforward work by smaller companies generally run about $50,000. But local designers and artists in your immediate area can probably satisfy more modest needs for a flat fee of between $500 and $5,000, depending on the designer's experience and the amount of research, development, and revision required.

Typography for a Logotype

You may be able to create an adequate graphic identity for your practice simply by selecting a distinctive typeface in which to set your company name. The type you select will communicate in subtle ways the personality and quality of your practice, so choose with care.

For the simplest and least expensive treatment, you might rely on the typefaces and graphics available through your personal computer. For a higher quality appearance, consider printing companies that have their own phototypesetting facilities. For a clearly first-class appearance, you can find a supplier under "Typesetters" and "Composition" in your local telephone directory. They can provide you with books illustrating the varieties of standard and headline types they stock, and suggest ways you can modify typefaces for a uniquely appearing logo. If you want an exotic, decorative, or calligraphic typeface for the logo, check your local library for a creative services directory, which will list people who specialize in logo development.

Adaptation of Good Designs

If you want more than a typographic treatment of your practice name, start with universal nonverbal symbols. Dictionary of Symbols by Carl G. Liungman is a good place to begin. You can also look to examples of classic, ancient, and primitive art for inspiration. Modern art is more risky, since much of it is now copyrighted. The graphic arts section of your local library probably has all you need for this sort of research.

Selecting symbol ideas and art styles yourself can save considerable money in the design process. See what styles and treatments seem to reflect your practice personality, and adapt the best to your own needs.

A Great Source of Ideas

At your library, obtain a copy of The International Trademark Directory, or any of several similar reference books. Look for corporate graphic identity devices that reflect your practice personality, and are likely to appeal to your target market(s).

For local firms, directories and source books on corporate design can provide a wealth of ideas for variations on established treatments. This shortcut can save a lot of time, research, and development cost. You can get good creative ideas by observing what others do, and imitating, but not duplicating, the form and style of the most appropriate of their work. In fact, this method is not only relatively quick and easy, but also common practice among advertising agency creative people, many of whom imitate far more than they create. Most of the great masters in art studied by imitating the works of their predecessors, so why shouldn't you do likewise?

Be sure to make changes in any design you imitate to minimize the risk of legal action. Clear what you have done with qualified legal counsel.

To conduct a formal search, contact the Trademark Search Room, Patent and Trademark Office, Department
of Commerce, 2011 Crystal Plaza Building #2, Arlington
VA 22202; or telephone (703) 557-3268.

Three Firm Quotes

Get quotes from at least three designers or graphic artists on preparing roughs, and then, camera-ready material. You will want to end up with at least one clean copy, usually a photostatic copy of your logo, symbol, mark, or other identity device. Keep this safe to use in all your marketing communications efforts.

Give copies of the designs or art styles you select to the designer or artist of your choice. If necessary, you can find them listed under graphic designers or graphic services in a classified telephone directory. Either you or the designer should check the identity devices of all your competitors to avoid duplication, or even remotely similar treatments. You do not want your competitors, your clients, or for that matter, anyone to perceive your practice as a copycat operation.

Visibility Is Crucial

Your logotype treatment and the principal shape(s) you decide on for your symbol or mark should be rendered in a strong, bold manner to attain the most visible and memorable appearance of your graphic identity in all appropriate sizes and for all reproduction methods.

The fitting of a symbol into a circle or square will make it adaptable to a wide variety of applications, horizontal as well as vertical, and with or without type.

Using Your Graphic Device

The next step after developing your graphic device is to design a letterhead, envelopes, business cards, labels, forms, and so on. Size and placement of your device may vary with the particular application--reliable professional help is often a wise investment.

Despite variations in design, remember that once you establish your logo, symbol, or mark, never allow any part of it to be distorted. Consistent usage is the key to developing recognition and the corresponding positive associations you are seeking.

The logo or symbol itself must
be employed so that it communicates quickly and clearly. And it should always be presented legibly and in relatively prominent size.

Additional Applications

Use your graphic identity device in
all your marketing communications,

* magazine and newspaper advertisements

* direct mail programs

* employee communications,

(e.g., bulletins)

* client communications,

(e.g., newsletters)

* descriptive literature

* promotional literature

* reprints of publicity articles

* exhibits and shows

* folders and binders

* novelties and giveaways

* television commercials

* educational/promotional films, videos, and AV shows

Unity of Use

Graphic identity of the practice is the unifying factor to your entire marketing effort. It signifies to those who see it that the letter, business card, literature, advertisement, or office signage on which it appears owe their existence to the practice. It must be used in such a way as to communicate that message quickly and clearly.

Your logo should always represent the practice, and the distinctive typeface should be used in all of your communications. If you choose to supplement or replace your logo with a symbol, that symbol should be of relatively prominent size and should always be easy to distinguish.

Titles and text that support the logo or symbol should be simple, and type should be legible and attractively arranged. As a supplement to your logotype, decide on a legible typeface that you think complements your graphic identity and use it exclusively for all the text you typeset.

Corporate Colors

IBM is pale blue, Kodak is a warm yellow, 3M is rich red. These distinctive colors have been carefully selected to reflect corporate personalities. They are as jealously guarded as trademarks. Corporate colors form an important part of what is called "trade dress"--the look that an organization presents to its clients and prospects.

You may already have decided on a particular color for your letterhead, practice brochure, and the like. If not, talk with your designer or printer about selecting a Pantone or PMS color matching identification number used in the graphic arts to identify printing ink colors. Insist on its use for all your printed materials, and specify it in all your production orders. Like your logo or symbol, your distinguishing color should be consistently employed wherever possible and practical.

Consistency Is Vital

The size and position of your logo or symbol can vary with the configuration of the particular piece. But consistent treatment should be a prime consideration in design and production of all your materials. Consistent application on all marketing communications will help to make your communications reinforce one another. It is important to assure that all communications are recognized as those of your practice, and it's a bonus when they work together to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

If you work with a professional designer or an artist, get a quote on preparing a graphics standards manual. This will provide a uniform set of rules on how to use your graphics correctly and consistently for the people who work with your practice identity in all your marketing communications.

Before contracting for any work, ask your designer to show you samples of manuals he or she might have prepared for other customers. This will give you good insights into that person's artistic talent and also his or her business sense and communications skills.

Using a Slogan

If you want to work a slogan into your identity, you want it to fit and not conflict with other identity elements. A slogan is often simply a modifying or amplifying phrase to accompany your practice name, but it can also work graphically with a symbol.

Generally speaking, slogans can be good if based on a solid positioning statement, such as Kodak's classic "Remember the day in pictures." But many slogans are a waste when they rely on executive ego and corporate puffery, as with such phrases as "The real professionals." Or when they are so general in nature that any organization could use them--as with a grandiose but meaningless statement like "Working toward tomorrow."

As a general rule, for both graphic identity and slogans, less is more.

Your Target Market

The key to success is to select what is most likely to appeal to your target market--not necessarily what is particularly appealing to you--although your taste will surely enter into the selection process. To determine your graphic identity's target market appeal, survey a representative sample of your best current or prospective clients to see that in their opinion what you have created clearly distinguishes and identifies your

Temper your taste with good judgment, and remember, your clients and prospects are the ones you must ultimately appeal to, satisfy, and please. *

Stuart C. Rogers is clinical professor at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver.

Adapted from the book How to Market Your Accounting Services (Volume I: Developing Your Plan), by Stuart C. Rogers and Ronald J. Lubbers, CPA, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1994, $75. The book and its companion Volume II: Implementing Your Plan ($140 for the pair) are available in bookstores or can be ordered directly from the publisher by calling (800) 634-3966.

The CPA Journal is broadly recognized as an outstanding, technical-refereed publication aimed at public practitioners, management, educators, and other accounting professionals. It is edited by CPAs for CPAs. Our goal is to provide CPAs and other accounting professionals with the information and news to enable them to be successful accountants, managers, and executives in today's practice environments.

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