It Took a Decade, but LendingTree Is Finally Turning Over a New Leaf

And logo, after a lot of thinking about what a leaf means

Headshot of Robert Klara

Thirteen months ago, when Brad Wilson took the CMO’s post at LendingTree, he recalls something an industry colleague blurted out: “The week I took the job, he said, ‘Mission One is to change the logo, right?’”

If the remark stung a little, it also barbed like the truth invariably does. After all, LendingTree, one of the relative few dot-com oldies to have made it safely to the age of Web 2.0, was looking decidedly Web 1.0. Even though the company that started in 1996 reworked its corporate badge for the first time in 2009, it was showing its age.

As of today, however, Mission One is finished. LendingTree is officially unveiling a much-updated logo, one that “pays homage to our legacy, while shifting out look to something fresh and mature, yet still approachable and friendly,” according to its website, which goes on to say, the “new style stands at the intersection of innovative startup and long-trusted financial institution.”

The new design, which was developed in-house by vp of brand and creative Todd Lauer and senior creative director John Iafrate, keeps the lower-case lettering but loses the boxy, rounded-corner font (one that was oddly reminiscent of the old Compaq computer nameplate.) Replacing it is a much softer, snugly kerned lettering with—perhaps most important—a reimagined leaf.

Asked why the logo is changing now, Wilson was succinct: “It’s a whole different company,” he said. “We need to make people aware of that.”

That’s not just c-suite bravado. LendingTree has evolved dramatically from the hopeful startup it was back when the Spice Girls were still on the charts and AltaVista was a popular search engine.

In 1994, Doug Ledba, an accountant in Charlotte, N.C., was looking for a straight-up $55,000 mortgage so he could buy a condo—but the process wasn’t straight-up at all.

Like many first-time homebuyers, Ledba spent lots of time running around to banks, hat-in-hand, only to get jerked around. Worn down and angry, Ledba devised a way to shift the power balance: a website that let consumers comparison-shop for mortgages, effectively putting banks in the position of having to compete for customers. Founded in 1996, LendingTree went national two years later.

But that was a generation ago. Since then, LendingTree has broadened into more of a comprehensive personal finance site that not only lets people comparison-shop for several types of loans—home, automobile and education—but also helps them manage their household budget with a variety of online tools and information resources.

The company is debuting its updated visual identity in a new 30-second spot that’s also launching today. It follows a first-time homebuyer as his family grows and their financial needs diversify, and shows him going back to LendingTree for everything. The logo pops up in the spot’s final seconds.

Which brings us to the leaf.

When LendingTree reworked its original logo in 2009, it had just emerged from a five-year shift as part of Barry Diller’s IAC, which included and Ticketmaster. That badge featured a squarish leaf sprouting from the “T.” This time around, as the design team examined the logo, it was clear that while the lettering might change, the leaf would have to stay. It wasn’t just because “tree” was part of the name, but also because of what a leaf so often symbolizes in branding: health, growth, improvement and all that other good stuff. For similar reasons, it was also clear that the leaf would have to be green. The problem was “the financial-services landscape is littered with green logos,” Wilson pointed out. (Green, of course, also stands for money.)

The first logo: 1996-2009

The solution was to reshape the leaf and also soften its color. Instead of a solid hue, the designers went with a gradient that favored a bluer green. “The softer, blue-green is a much warmer and open color,” Wilson said. “One of our key core values is to be open and candid. That’s the reason we did that.”

The designers nixed the “weird looking” old leaf—it was more like a box with rounded, opposing corners—in favor of a tapered, upturned leaf whose blade narrows and curves around to become a rib. Wilson said this stylized leaf is more “open … and it has a little bit of symbolism.” The rib also resembles the nib of a quill, which hints at the signing of important documents.

“Financial documents,” added Wilson, who is confident that the new logo (equipped with the new leaf) will resonate with younger consumers. “We tested the heck out of this,” he said.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.