Corporate ranking on Fortune magazine’s list of the top 500 companies based on financial performance changes every year. Companies move up and down. Sometimes a little. Sometimes a lot. In 2016, in a bid to explore the correlation between excellence in brand identity and corporate performance, we posted a chart of the logos of the top 100 companies on Fortune’s list. In this update, we look at something else. How many companies still in the top 100 have changed their identities? Are the changes major or minor? Tweaks, evolution or extreme makeover? As with the original inquiry, there were many surprises. Would you believe over a quarter of the companies from the original list that are still in the top 100 have implemented brand identity updates? If you consider there are 11 new companies on the list it’s closer to 30% of the companies still on the list in 2020.
The companies that have made changes to their brand identities are highlighted below in a series of categories. The new logos are on the right. Included with each is their change in rank.
Tinker and Tweak
If you look at the brand identities of many storied companies you will see minor changes in their logos over time. Each a simple, modest improvement.
American Express is a great example of small steps forward. Many wouldn’t even notice the changes unless they looked at the two logos side-bye-side. On trend, the shine is off. The new logo is a solid, deeper blue. But look closer at the letters R, X and S. The refinements to these characters plus spacing adjustments make the name more easily readable. +18
Online presence is extremely important. Someone must have noticed that the spaces in Bank of America’s logo and logotype closed up in small sizes on a web page. That’s a guess not insider information. The new spacing solves that problem. Also helpful are the shift to all caps and higher contrast between the colours. +1
AT&T turned a negative into a positive. Basically, they flipped the colours in their logo. What was blue is now white and what was white is now blue. Not sure about the reasoning. Perhaps it was necessary when they removed the transparent dimensional effect. Still, the identity is well maintained. The switch to upper case for the initials signals more authority in an extremely competitive industry. +1
Most minimal tweak goes to Wells Fargo. The new typeface is more modern and less extended. The narrower type allows the name to be slightly larger in the square. But who’s going to notice unless something more obvious like the colour changes. Out with yellow. -3
Sometimes you look at a branding update and wonder which is the new and improved. Such is the case with Valero Energy. They’ve shifted to a more generic blue, changed the name to U/L case and tweaked the squiggle. What is that squiggle? An “e”? A pipeline? Maybe they’ll drop it next time. 0
Slightly more than a tweak, an evolutionary approach to a brand identity updates takes a significant step forward while maintaining visual cues to the previous version.
Intel is a good example. They dropped the dated orbiting oval from their logo but maintained a similarity in typeface update. Notice the “t”. The name is stronger in black with the blue dot maintaining a connection in their colour palette. +6
Citigroup simplified their identity by reducing their name in their logo to just Citi. They also pared their iconic umbrella down to arc and made it a more integral element in the design. -2
This was a pretty extreme change for Best Buy but still within the range of evolution. The elements are maintained but rearranged. The type is more corporate—a progression. Reducing their familiar yellow may be a first step in eliminating it entirely. Sans the black outline on the tag the yellow doesn’t read well against white but it is typically used on a blue field which does work. -4
It’s back to the future for MetLife. As Metropolitan Life, their identity included a symbol based on four connected Ms. They dropped the symbol and shortened their name to MetLife in 1998. Since our last review MetLife has returned with a new symbol and friendlier typeface. The intersecting elements of the new M symbol softens the company’s identity and expands their brand colour palette. -8
ADM’s previous logo looks like something between clip art and what you can expect from a designer on Fiverr. They’ve turned over a new leaf and added a trendy gradient. Better? -13
They may have maintained the positioning of their typographic elements but what a big step forward for HCA. This update moves from poorly set and matched type to a professional looking identity. It’s challenging to produce a unique take on something as common as a medical cross. This succeeds in that regard. -2
It would have been easy for Kroger to simply flatten their 3D logo. They went significantly further. Oval? Gone. Red? Gone. Still, this is more evolution than revolution. The type design concept remains. You might even see a smiling face in the “og” combination now. -6
Few graphic design trends have been as ubiquitous as moving to flat colour. These companies have jumped on the brandwagon. No further comments required.
John Deere +13
Swimming against the current is P&G. -16
Blues, moody or otherwise dominate branding. Over 60% of the companies in the top 100 have blue in their logo.
AIG wants a blue logo. They’re just having a hard time deciding which blue. -17
What American company drops the colors of their flag? For Cisco, the water must have looked bluer on the other side of the bridge. +9
Mergers and acquisitions. Few things mess up brand identity like trying to blend distinct corporate entities. Especially when combining brand identities is part of the deal. Occasionally it works out..eventually.
StoneX Group. Not sure what the X represents but that’s so much simpler than INTL-FCStone. -17
“Created when United Technologies merged its aerospace units Pratt & Whitney and Collins Aerospace with the Raytheon Company…the new Raytheon Technologies enters the Fortune 500 six places higher than United Technologies alone last year. ” (Fortune) The companies share familial branding but why are they different at all?
When it comes to rebranding, some companies throw the baby out with the bathwater. The following are the most extreme brand identity makeovers. Their communities and stakeholders could be excused for not recognizing them.
Next to flattening, the next most popular trend in updates is blanding—reducing your brand identity to a simple sans serif wordmark. The best example on the chart is UnitedHealth Group. -1
Another symbol dropped. Say goodbye to the classic Chase logo designed by Thomas Geismar. Perhaps it was time to bid the past goodbye and establish the brand as new. Serif type is the new wave. +6
The old MassMutual logo brings to mind another M word. Mundane. No loss here. MassMutual moved in a completely opposite direction with this update. Their square replaced by a grouping of circles (is that an M?). A bold sans usurps the former serif typeface. -13
Although the elements of the Fannie Mae identity have evolved, the visual break in colour and style is significant. The new branding appears to target a younger market. -8
Perhaps the greatest departure from the past is this new logo for Tyson Foods. Fortunately, this logo is only used at the corporate level. The oval logo—which has seen several updates—continues to represent the company in the consumer marketplace. -13
The new kids on the block and their ranking. Dell 34, Centene 42, Facebook 46, Albertsons 55, Charter 71, TechData 90, USAA 94, Northrop Grumman 96, Capital One 97, Plains GP Holdings 98, Abbvie 99.
No longer in the top 100. Listed here with there 2016 rank. Express Scripts 22, Aetna 46, Ingram 64, Johnson Controls 70, CHS 84, Gilead 86, 3M 93, Mondelez 94, 21st Century Fox 96, Tesoro 98, TimeWarner 99, Northwestern Mutual 100.
Are there conclusions to be drawn from the impact of brand identity updates on corporate performance? Not really. There is no evidence of consistent gains or losses based on change. Some observations. A few of the companies that made the greatest changes suffered the biggest drops. MassMutual and Tyson are both down 13 positions. The biggest gain was by American Express with its subtle but well-crafted update.
Leading companies take branding seriously and most change with the times. Overall, the top 100 companies are represented with solid brand identities. Most of the companies joining the list look like they belong. As do the dropouts. Great branding does not guarantee financial success. But it does inspire confidence.