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Branding history: The tale of a logo
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Branding history: The tale of a logo

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MADISON - How do you market the oldest and most ignored institutions in society while incorporating topics both diverse and arcane, esoteric and beloved, academic and entertaining?

You send in the visual identity brokers and their branding irons. The result: the Wisconsin Historical Society has a new logo to accompany what those branders call a new "visual vocabulary."

The Wisconsin Historical Foundation - the society's fundraiser - spent about $100,000 on the two-year project, paid for by donations. The foundation hired ZD Studios and Lindsay, Stone & Briggs -two of the state's major players in branding and design - based in Madison.

The logo replaces one introduced during a budget crisis in 2001 as something edgy and appealing to a new audience. That logo, the result of a $55,000 advertising agency effort, was an image made from separating the "hi" from "history," a critical flop.

Reflecting the marketing realities of today, the new logo was not dashed off overnight, said Raye.

"What was challenging is that the brand itself is a function of so many interactions that people have with the organization," she said. "We did not set out to just put a pretty face to ourselves."

Mark Schmitz, creative director for ZD Studios, said that function might best be represented by "your favorite high school teacher."

"We know that we stand for being reliable, knowledgeable, and our audience wants us to be approachable," Raye said. Along with the new main design, the society's nine main sites, such as Pendarvis in Mineral Point, get new logos and new Web sites.

In a survey that asked 400 residents their opinions of the society, "75 percent of the people who claimed to not have used our services or sites in the past year had used them at some point in the past. Our job is to reintroduce ourselves," she said.

With the new designs comes an effort to spiff up the stern facade of the society building that faces the Library Mall. It got banners in welcoming, warm colors. "Credible but accessible, we wanted colors that are comfortable and familiar, but not edgy," said Raye.

Schmitz approached the design as a creative puzzle. "How do you create a thumbprint for something that is as diverse and significant?"

The answer was to treat it as "an approachable mentor, your favorite teacher in high school. We put a human face to a significant but staid organization."

The lack of splashy colors and hard edges in the design is intentional and based on color theory, said Schmitz. The logos' deep blue suggests wisdom, knowledge and strength, and the brown - actually, "copper sepia" - adds a "metal-like quality, a sense of authenticity."

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