The Story of a Brand: FedEx

The Story of a Brand: FedEx

I will FedEx it is a sentence you have undoubtedly heard a million times. When a name of a company becomes a verb you know it has done a great job with its brand. And part of the great appeal of the FedEx brand lies in its logo, which, I am sure, you can recognize if you catch a mere glimpse of it.

And that was the idea when, in 1994, CEO Frederick W. Smith said: "My trucks are moving billboards. I better be able to see a FedEx truck loud and clear from five blocks away." Let's have a look at how it all happened.



The Idea

While a student at Yale University, Frederick Smith submitted a paper in which he recognized that the world was moving towards a greater demand of mass produced electronics and other goods. At the same time he criticized the current state of air transportation for being inflexible and burdened by legislative regulations. He felt that the process could be facilitated if one carrier was responsible for each piece of cargo from pick-up to delivery. He brought his idea to fruition in 1971 with the establishment of Federal Express Corporation.

Despite initial financial difficulties (which he resolved by hopping on a plane to Vegas and winning $27,000 playing blackjack), Smith held on to his idea. In 1983, not even 15 years after its establishment, Federal Express made $1 billion in revenue, the first company to do so without any merges and acquisitions. And to think that Smith's professor gave him a C on that paper.

So where does the logo come into play in all this? The initial logo spelled the full Federal Express and was painted in red, white and blue. American flag, anyone? Yes, the name, coupled with those three colors, served a clever purpose people could easily associate it with the U.S. government and establish a reputation for the company. No doubt, this wise move helped the rapid growth of Federal Express, but in 1994 the picture looked quite different. The company was already establishing itself as a carrier overseas. Surveys, however, showed that people still thought of it mainly as a domestic company. That, together with the fact that customers had already coined the verb "FedEx," is most certainly the reason why the board of directors decided to use the abbreviation and stress that it was no longer a carrier, operating solely at home.

That change had to be reflected in the logo, so the company hired established branding experts from Landor Associates to get on with the case. That was a long process, involving more than 200 designer concepts. As you can see, the blue became purple, and the red became orange. At first, the new logo might seem much simpler than the old one, but that's where its depth hides. People aren't good at restraint, says Mr. Lindon Leader, author of the logo. What he means is that people are always tempted to add more and more details and convey complicated messages -- while risking to make something harsh on the eyes which nobody gets. And of course, you can't blame the FedEx logo for being overly simplistic, once you see it.


Federal Express Airplane


The Arrow

In 2003, this logo was ranked among the best eight logos of the past 35 years, establishing its place among other giant names such as Apple, Coca-Cola, Nike, IBM, Starbucks, McDonald's and Playboy. And that's for a reason. While playing around with different fonts, Lindon Leader got an insight he could add an arrow between the E and the x. He decided not to make the arrow explicit, but rather to have it as part of the background. That way the Aha! feeling people get when they distinguish it, or when someone points it out to them, has a much greater effect. Now I can no longer look at the logo without my gaze fixing on that arrow. And let's not forget what an arrow stands for speed, precision, forward thinking, you name it. But imagine how quickly you would forget about the boring arrow if it wasn't for the clever idea to present it as a hidden symbol.


Fedex Truck


So, there you have it. Combine an ingenious idea with a beautiful design and you have a formula for success. About 35 years ago FedEx was trying to establish its reputation as a trustworthy carrier; now it has the United States Postal Service as its biggest client. Makes you think.


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Fedex Logo Timeline