The brand is our badge of identity
Brands identify companies and products, and help differentiate them from the competition. This applies to all kinds of goods and markets, from consumer goods for the general public to capital goods for industry.
In the B2B sector in particular, where large contracts are an integral part of everyday business, a strong brand represents a promise of reliability and security.
Two white letters surrounded by a white circle against a square blue background – the ZF logo – have gained this kind of purchase-boosting power. The logo appears everywhere, from products through company documents to building signage. The brand symbolizes ZF’s competence just as much as it identifies the company’s products and services. It creates customer preferences and builds target markets’ loyalty to the company.
1915: The company is founded as Zahnradfabrik GmbH in Friedrichshafen
1920s: Logo is finalized - In 1921, ZF becomes a public limited company (AG) and the logo design is refined to meet commercial graphical standards.
1930s: Global brand - In 1937, the “ZF in a circle” logo is registered as a global brand at the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property in Bern.
1940s: Patent confiscated - In 1945, 436,000 German patents are confiscated, including the ZF logo. In 1949, it is re-registered as a German brand.
1950s: International registration - Renewed international registration under new trademark legislation passed in 1954/55.
1960s: Modernization - The logo is adapted to contemporary tastes. The ZF symbol and lettering come across as more matter-of-fact.
1970s: A new slogan - The modernized logo comes with a new tagline: “ZF, Symbol of Progress”.
1980s: A new look - In 1989, the ZF Board resolves to introduce a new ZF corporate design concept.
1990s: ZF turns blue - Starting in 1990, the ZF logo appears on a blue background (Pantone 294). Blue symbolizes mechanical engineering.
The history of the ZF brand began on August 20, 1915, the day on which Zahnradfabrik GmbH, Friedrichshafen, was born. Two years later, the company registered the trademark. Over the company’s 100-year history, ZF has evolved from a manufacturer of gearwheels and transmissions to an international technology company specializing in every aspect of driveline and chassis engineering. During this period, while shapes and colors have been adjusted very slightly to match each new generation’s prevailing aesthetic, the ZF logo has remained essentially the same, maintaining a delicate balance between change and continuity.
Brand expert Holger J. Schmidt, Professor of General Management & Marketing at the University of Koblenz, explains how this bridging role works. “Brand must continually evolve, but without denying their origins,” he says, a process he describes as auto referential brand management. “ZF’s logo is managed in a very auto-referential way, by which I mean the incremental developments are revolutionary rather than revolutionary.”
Successful brand management is based on corporate values and strategy. For this kind of branding to succeed, a company must steer a steady course and remain true to the essential core of the brand instead of constantly changing identity. “Our corporate identity is an indispensable part of our strategic brand management,” confirms ZF CEO Dr. Stefan Sommer.
ZF has become a corporate brand that clearly identifies the world’s leading specialist in driveline and chassis technology. “Only a strong, sympathetic ZF brand can inspire ongoing enthusiasm in our internal and external target audiences, consistently encouraging people to make ‘pro-ZF’ decisions,” explains Matthias Lenz, Head of Corporate Communications at ZF.
Never has a strong brand been more important. Technology companies such as ZF face additional challenges in building and maintaining a market presence, because they are responsible for much of the innovation in modern automotive developments. “Suppliers are working in highly competitive markets. Their success is predicated on unique brand identities,” emphasizes Schmidt. The ZF brand is also an increasingly important employment criterion. The highly skilled workers ZF needs to achieve ongoing success and attain strategic objectives are more likely to gravitate to an attractive, reputable employer with a good image.
Trademark registered for the first time: Alfred Graf von Soden- Fraunhofen (above, second from right, surrounded by his senior management team) designs the “ZF in a circle” logo. The trademark is registered with the Imperial Patent Office. Shortly after that, the first ZF advertisement appears.
From gearwheels to transmissions: In 1925, ZF develops the standard transmission, initially for trucks only. The transmission is a huge success, turning ZF into a brand recognized throughout Europe.
ZF as Licensee: Under license to, hence also under the name of, U.S.-based Ross Gear & Tool Company, ZF starts building the Ross steering gear in 1932, selling 10,000 units in the first year. This success enables ZF to expand the Friedrichshafen plant in 1933/34 (photo on left).
1961 - The logo is updated: The new logo is devised by industrial designer Louis Lucien Lepoix, who later made his name designing the interior of the Concorde supersonic airliner.
1976 - Trademark registered for the second time: Letters, circle and colors are modernized. Now the logo appears in white, not black, against a background consisting of a black square.
2002 - ZF introduces a new corporate design: The aim is to be perceived as a manufacturer of chassis systems, as well as transmissions. Alongside the new tagline “Driveline and Chassis Technology”, the shade of the logo’s blue background also changes, from the darker Pantone 294 to the lighter, more modern Pantone 660.