Developing A Brand Symbol (The Great Bee Debate)

Mar 13, 2014 | Brand Differentiation

Brand symbols function as a visual shorthand. Nike has the swoosh. Starbucks uses the twin-tailed mermaid. MailChimp has Freddie, their monkey mascot. When customers see these symbols they immediately think of the associated brand. The company doesn’t need words to tell their story. The symbol does it all.

The use of brand symbols has intrigued me for a long time, and something I have been working on. Sticky Branding’s primary symbol is a bee.

I designed the bee and logo for the company in 2009. I tested a few variations on clients, friends and family, and picked the bee that resonated with the most people. I’m not a designer, and the process left me with a nagging feeling, “Is my bee good enough?”

Developing a symbol

Earlier this year I decided to take another crack at my bee.

I designed a new concept, and engaged two designers to rethink and refine the symbol. I created images 1 and 2. The first is the original, and the second was my attempt to rethink the symbol. Michael Turnbull designed symbols 3 to 8, and 9 to 14 were created by Derek Muscat.

Both designers created symbols that resonated with me, but to create an effective symbol it must represent the brand. The next step was to test the 14 symbols, and see which rose to the top.

Testing the symbol

I created a simple survey to test the bee concepts.

I printed each bee on a piece of paper, and created a stack. All the bees were included, except the first bee. Each person that completed the survey was tasked with a simple exercise, “Pick your top two favorites.”

The results were interesting. There wasn’t a clear winner. The favorites were dispersed across the “cute” bees, while the realistic and sharp angled designs were perceived as “too scary.”

Once the respondent had picked their two favorites I gave them a third page with the current bee design, number 1, and asked, “Which of the three bees best represents Sticky Branding?”

It was almost unanimous, the current bee was the preferred symbol for Sticky Branding.

Back to the drawing board

I wasn’t expecting my original design to rise above the pack. I decided to try one more test on my bee symbol.

I still wanted to simplify and refine the design so it was more adaptable, especially for use in black and white.

I created one more test to compare the current bee with a simpler, fatter version.


I sent the “skinny/fatty vote” to twenty people. The results came back 12 to 8 in favor of the simpler, fatter version on the right.

Symbols are developed over time

My “Great Bee Debate” has not bee’n settled. (groan, bad pun.)

The process has left me with three takeaways:

  1. The more people see and interact with a symbol the more meaning gets packed into it.
  2. Design is fickle, and preference is personal. You can’t please everyone.
  3. Go with what you like. It’s probably the best representation of what it’s like to work with your company and your team.

I’d love your take. Weigh in. Which bee best represents Sticky Branding?

Subscribe to our Newsletter!

Get weekly email with ideas, stories, and best practices to grow a Sticky Brand!

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Follow Us on Social Media!

Jeremy Miller

Top 30 Brand Guru

Download our Latest Guide


Our Slingshot Strategy is an expert-guided process designed to lead your business into a phase of growth.