How you are recognised
February 2023
5 Mins
Paul Bailey Brand Strategy Director

How you're recognised

Working for a brand agency, I am often approached to handle the strategy for a ‘rebrand’.

What this often means is one of two things (or both). Firstly, the associated business has evolved such that how they previously defined their brand no longer fits where they hope to sit. They need to look at what their brand means – both to their customer or client base, but also to their employees and partners. The second thing this might mean is that they have decided it is time for a new visual look and feel. Often, this comes about because it hasn’t been touched for some time, and basically how they present themselves is looking tired and dated. Sometimes it comes about because a new head of marketing has landed in the position, and they want to make a visual representation of change or new vitality – and the visual identity is the most visible place to do this.

When it is the visual identity that we need to look at, I always start with diagnosing what state the brand is currently in. This is done in terms of how people think of the brand, but also how do they identify the brand. We take a look at every piece of collateral and communications, and then work out what we think might be an identifiable asset for the brand.


Respected marketing author Byron Sharp, and the EBI, have called these ‘Distinctive brand assets’. Other people call them ‘brand codes’. Whatever you label them, what we are looking for are the assets that the brand has by which people are able to identify the brand – how aware are they of it and how unique is it. Now these are often logos, but can also be product shapes, sounds, mascots, celebrity endorsers, key colours, or many other things.

A sporting challenge

So, why am I telling you all of this? Well, I recently saw a sign which was mimicking the design of a well-known brand here in the UK, Sports Direct. Sports Direct is the number 1 sports retailer in the UK, and its logo has become a very well-recognised visual element of the brand. I say it is well-recognised but looking at this mimicking sign I realised that I wasn’t entirely sure of the order of the two colour bars. You see, the Sports Direct logo is made up of a red bar and a blue bar, with the text sitting on them in white. But for the life of me couldn’t remember which colour sat on top. I thought, I wonder if this is just me, or is this a common issue – so I asked twitter.

114 votes and 1 day later, I had my answer – nearly two-thirds of people said red bar on the top and the blue bar on the bottom.

The problem is, that’s incorrect!

Below is the actual logo. As you can see, it's blue then red.

Now, this is only intended as a bit of fun. There could be numerous reasons people picked the red top, blue bottom option. It could be the prevalence of 'red top' newspapers in the UK, and this being a known phrase. It could be that I put this option first. Whatever, I thought it was an interesting result.

Why this matters

Two-thirds of people were unable to identify the logo correctly. But what does that mean for the brand, and does it even mean anything? What might this mean for those of us who are responsible for designing and settling on the distinctive brand assets of brands? I think that potentially we overthink every single little aspect of the brand guidelines documents, that we as agencies spend hours and weeks preparing. Maybe there is little relevance in preparing page after page of do’s and don’ts for a logo. Maybe, what we need to focus on is the elements that people might actually remember and use to bring our brand to front of mind. In the case of Sports Direct, maybe it is enough that people remember the red/blue combination, and the fact that they can’t recall the logo perfectly doesn’t matter.

Anyway, so what if two-thirds of people got the colours of the Sports Direct logo the wrong way around. They’re the UK's number 1 sports retailer, so they must be doing something right.