The KFC Colonel.

Apple’s Apple.

TD Bank’s Green Chair (for my Canadian friends).

These are three different kinds of powerful icons that these big businesses use in their brands. Let’s examine how they’re using them and what they do for them – and see how we can use those in our businesses.

I started out this little research-project looking up Wikipedia’s definition of icons. It was dry. Incredibly dry.

So, I’ll distill it for you, like this:

Icons are symbols. They’re images of things that stand for something universally recognized and in particular.

They’re often representational things – like animals, people or objects that have certain characteristics. They can also be more abstract – like the cross or a Valentine’s heart.

Let’s take a look at the three kinds of icons I called out above – how they work and how you can use them in your business.

  • The KFC Colonel. A person’s image can become an icon – especially if that person is known for something in particular. In this case, the Colonel is “the guy with the recipe”.
    If your story is a major part of your brand, and you’re well-known, you can become an icon in your own brand. Person-based icons can be drawn like the current version of the colonel, or you can use your photo. In order to do this well, you’ll want to create a link between your image and what it means. To do this, say what you stand for often in your brand so that people recognize what you’re all about.
  • Apple’s Apple. Well, first of all, this makes name recognition easy, doesn’t it? If you’ve got a name like this, and your icon can repeat your name visually, then you’ll be able to create a visual anchor for your brand – tying the two together and doubling your repetition. That will get your name into their heads even more quickly. As a special added bonus, the apple also has a meaning that takes this icon into happy symbolic territory: The apple means knowledge. There are also some nice stories about the apple falling on Newton’s head – this was an early inspiration for the company.
  • TD Bank’s Green Chair. For many people, banking is time-consuming and uncomfortable. In the words of TD Bank’s Vice President Dominic Mercuri, “But if a bank can make the experience of dealing with them as quick, simple, friendly and straightforward as possible, they’ll stand out from the others. And if that bank can actually build a brand that’s comfortable, then it will have an advantage that’s not only authentic and lasting, but nearly impossible to replicate.”

They’ve developed their icon campaign around the green lounge chair. The green is distinctive – makes it clear that it’s not just another chair. The lounge chair communicates that message of comfort. Plus, they get to have a lot of strategic fun with their chairs. They set up “rest stations” in malls over the holidays where you can sit in a green chair, put your feet up and sip hot chocolate. They’ve created an interview series where people sit in the green chairs and chat “up close” with the audience. It’s all very inviting and comforting.
 If you develop an icon, think about how you can use it in a fun way. Can you host a photo contest that encourages people to take photos with your icon? Can you carry it around and ask your clients and colleagues if you can photograph them with it? Can you create a little animation with your icon?
Consider using an icon in your next launch or in your small business brand to promote fun, recognizability and to give your brand a deeper meaning.