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The New Starbucks Logo: Why?

Written by in Strategy
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So what’s going on behind the design scenes at some of America’s most venerable brands? A few months ago we saw the Gap introduce a new logo design that was so quickly and thoroughly panned across the blogosphere that they pulled it within a week. And now Starbucks has “upgraded” their mark. But bad as it was, at least the Gap’s attempt at a refresh included their name.

  The new Starbucks logo drops the company name, and that’s not such a good idea.

  Removing “Starbucks” (who they are) and “Coffee” (what they sell) from their logo, and merging the siren into their well-known green coloring does not seem to be a strong enough design framework to result in a usable “symbol only” form of corporate identity. As popular as Starbucks is with much of the world, it’s no Golden Arches.

  The design team at Starbucks, and, of course its Chief executive Howard Schultz, had the right idea about evolving the logo – assuming that the reason behind this evolution was to enable the company to continue to expand its offerings beyond gourmet coffee. But perhaps that could have been accomplished in a better way by simply dropping the word “coffee” and retaining the name of the folks brewing it.

  The new iteration of the logo smacks of some of the ego-driven culture that got the company in to trouble several years ago. They (Schultz) seemed to confuse “popular” with “ubiquitous” and as we know, lost some of the luster that that they had spent the last several decades cultivating.

  If the company plans to continue broadening its offerings it follows that they will also be broadening their customer base beyond the current “coffee aficionado.” This new customer might not be as familiar with the company as its core, so removing the corporate name could well end up confusing the very population their long-term business strategy hopes to attract.

  The practice of corporate identity must always be in concert with a brand strategy, and at the top of this pyramid is the long-term business strategy. Taken in this light the logo evolution has some logic. But that logic falls apart when you take in to consideration the real human beings expected to recognize the siren as representing Starbucks. Forget the new consumers the company hopes to attract; one wonders how many of the existing casual customers could answer “siren” when asked what symbol the Starbucks logo features. The decision to drop the name seems very “inside,” as if the team assumed that everyone is as familiar with the logo’s design elements as they are.

  So we’ll just have to see whether a logo featuring a stylistic siren will still make people think “great coffee” or not. Who knows? Some folks could go in looking for chowder.

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