Distinguishing your brand calls for more than great design. But that doesn't mean aesthetics are unimportant. Last fall, Google changed its logo, and that made sense for them.

But changing a logo, or even an icon, as Netflix just did, is trickier than it sounds. When the Gap changed its logo a few years ago, Gap North America president Marka Hansen had to explain the change, as many customers were displeased, and then directed a complete about-face. The visual angst wasn't the only reason Hansen was sent on her way by the company not long after the unpopular change, but it didn't help.

Netflix needed a new icon

A new icon was a good idea on the part of Netflix. These days, software-driven products and services are bound to end up on social media. The Netflix logo is a horizontally oriented affair. That may look great on a DVD cover or a website, but it plays badly on the small vertical spaces you see as icons for apps or in a space that is supposed to quickly convey a corporate identity on Twitter or Facebook.

Netflix needed a branding experience that extended to icons. The new "N" in use is vertical in format. The folded ribbon look conveys a sense of a film strip without being too literal for a company focused on video streaming. As the Next Web noted, a slight curve in the N echoes the look of the logo.

Dangers of an icon change

While trying to avoid preciousness, there are issues in any logo change, let alone this one. First is that the single letter could be short for many things. At the moment, people aren't going to automatically associate the folded ribbon as something inherently connected to Netflix. Developing the mental connection will take time.

And that brings up the related issue of consumer convenience and annoyance. Ever notice how new versions of software that install new icons to distinguish themselves from previous versions leave you looking around, trying to remember what the new icon is? When you change something basic, you open an opportunity in which a customer can get frustrated and even decide to head off and use another product or service. Sometimes you need to do that, but you'd better be ready for the potential kickback.