It’s Not About The Starbucks Logo, Stupid

by on 01/06/2011 • 80 Comments | Branding

Hold on, kids. We have another logo apocalypse on our hands!

If you caught any of the marketing or advertising blogs yesterday afternoon you probably heard the shocking news – Starbucks has changed its logo. I know. They did it and they didn’t even ask your permission. However, unlike Gap, it seems like Starbucks actually has a good reason. They’re about to open up a new chapter and the new logo is part of that. If you haven’t seen it, the new logo puts more focus on the Starbucks Siren and removes the outer “Starbucks Coffee” ring. It’s the first refinement of their logo since the ‘90s and people went bananas.

Everyone from AdWeek to BNET to Huffington Post had an opinion on the logo switch up and important brand questions were raised:

  • Would the new logo turn off loyal customers?
  • Would people still recognize the Starbucks brand?
  • Was Starbucks turning its back on its roots?

I think the questions, themselves, are important. However, if you’re looking at the logo for the answers, you’re looking in the wrong damn spot.

The only time I drink Starbucks coffee is when I’m locked in various expo halls for SEO conferences, so I’m not going to pretend to be a raving fan. But I like the new logo. I like it a lot. I think it’s similar and historical enough that the average user will recognize it. But more than that, it finally frees Starbucks from the box they stuffed themselves into back in 1971 when they opened up that first coffee shop in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. As a marketer, I can respect the hell out of that.

Take a step back: How many of us started businesses and sites without a plan for tomorrow? You bought that trendy domain name (you know, the one about Furby’s or POGS or iPads) and backed yourself into a corner when the fad had passed. Or you picked your business name based on what you do today, instead of what you plan to do be doing tomorrow? This isn’t a new problem. However, the new logo will allow them to gracefully get out of the corner and expand. The logo change was necessary, it’s not just cosmetic. It represents a fundamental change in where the company is going.

And that’s what Starbucks’ brand battle is really about. It has nothing to do with a logo. It’s about how they’ll be able to keep the brand and the vision intact while they expand into new areas. When you’re known for being about hand-brewed coffee, how do you keep that same experience when you’re marketing ice cream? Or when you bring in instant coffee? How do you move in a way that makes sense for the brand? How do you grow without diluting or fragmenting the experience?

This isn’t a new battle for most businesses and it’s certainly not for Starbucks. They faced it when they took their first detour from the hand-brewed coffee image and introduced automatic machines. They faced it when they brought in ovens and risked creating stores that smelled like food, not coffee. They faced it when they started tacking on drive-thrus reducing witty barista/customer interaction and opened the door to possible McDonalds associations. They faced it when formed partnerships with places like Barnes N Nobles, started selling liqueur products (which appear discontinued),etc.

It’s all of those changes that look little (but are actually huge) that the brand revolution is based on. It’s the risks, the evolutions, and the breaking through those self-imposed walls. That’s the heart of what makes a brand great. And it’s so not about a logo. Sometimes, it is. Sometimes when it’s just the logo that’s changing, it can be about the logo. But right here, it’s about a new direction for an established brand and the fight they’re going to undergo to carve that out.

It’s the start of a new year. What brand wars are on your plate right now? At Outspoken Media, it’s building a bigger team without diluting company culture and the experience we provide for clients. That’s what we’re in the trenches fighting every day.

What about you? Let’s stop talking about our logos. It’s not about that.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

80 thoughts on “It’s Not About The Starbucks Logo, Stupid

  1. I’ve noticed this a lot in my Twitter feed, it’s surprising how excited people get over a logo for a hot beverage. Of course in reality it’s not simply a hot beverage supplier but a lifestyle brand which people connect with.

    I wish I had a logo which generated this much heat ;)

  2. Lisa –
    Thanks for the different view on this. I was / am mixed in with the bunch of people who wouldn’t have recognized Starbucks without the “starbucks” ring around their logo.

    Their original store does still have the original Starbucks logo with is just ever so slightly different than the current one.

    I hope that everyone does receive it and that they don’t go back on it. I just am interested to see how it all goes. Thanks for the business perspective on this!!

    • I really hope they don’t go back to the original simply because people are getting loud on the Internet. It’s a good business decision, IMO, so hopefully it sticks.

  3. Starbucks isn’t really a coffee and tea store anymore. It’s a gift shop. To most people, it’s a free, clean bathroom that also gives out free water if you ask (with really cool opaque plastic straws). I’m sure the new branding will showcase that.

    As for “thinking ahead”, who new that Upper Left Placement would lead us into the paid search business? Who knew? ;-)

  4. I remember my agency years where people would discuss logos, pantone numbers, shapes and the hidden symbolism behind them.
    Then our client would wake up from the big ‘branding’ meeting and simply say ‘I want the logo to be 20% bigger everywhere’.
    Designers, branding specialists later would mock the lack of understanding. But the client and you, Lisa are both right. The logo doesn’t matter.

    Its what you deliver behind the logo which really counts. I wonder if BP will be changing its little elios this year.

  5. I wish I was at my computer so I could fully bitch about this in paragraph form, but I’m on my phone :(

    Old logo:
    * Bold
    * Robust
    * Local feeling (even outside of Seattle)
    * Honest
    * A small company that just happened to get big, but still cares about customers

    New logo:
    * Show off (but then, that’s what they are about now)
    * Lost the Seattle look (but, they could probably care less about the community now)
    * Lost the focus on coffee (which actually isn’t true, they don’t mass produce like they did a few years ago)

    Maybe the new logo does indicate a new direction properly, but that’s what I’m not a fan of.

  6. I totally agree with you on this one Lisa! It makes sense for Starbucks to get rid of the word coffee from the logo…it enables them to slap that logo on other various products. Expansion is the name of the game in 2011!

    • RIGHT ON! It’s the same thing we tell all business owners – be careful not to paint yourself into a corner. Yes, maybe you only sell coffee today, but where do you plan to be in five years from now? Starbucks didn’t do that so they had to back peddal a bit. It was a good decision.

  7. Point well-made, Lisa. As a parallel, people still buy UGGS even though they are ugly. Do we delude ourselves into thinking that people wouldn’t buy them still if they changed their logo?

    It’s the power of the established brand: Mohammed will continue to come to the mountain even if the sign outside changes from posterboard to neon. It’s the mountain they want.

    Hat tip.

    • Okay, UGGS are ugly as hell, but they’re also mighty comfortable. It’s like a Snuggie for your feet. :)

      And I really agree. I don’t think this logo is that far off from the older one that people are going to suddenly stare confused at their cups wondering what they’re drinking. Also, hi, you mostly buy Starbucks coffee while IN Starbucks, don’t you? I think they’ll put it together.

  8. I couldn’t agree with you more and the approach they’ve taken is actually quite a good one in comparison to say The Gap. As I noted yesterday, my 2 year old knows the Starbucks logo and she still knows it’s coffee. The change in the logo isn’t so dramatic that they’ll lose everything. Look at how NIKE took away their word mark and are now just the swoosh logo. Even McDonald’s has gone to utilizing just the golden arches in many campaigns – people know.

    Now what I do find interesting though is their approach to the new logo. They released it in a controlled manner. They sent emails to their loyal customers with registered cards talking about the why and even linking to a video (which was compatible on iPhone and non-flash devices). The cool part is that it’s “coming in the spring” so if for whatever reason there was major backlash a la Gap, then there’s plenty of time to tweak it and adjust it. Starbucks has truly engaged it’s fanbase clientelle in a proactive way to ensure that the experience, whether it be the coffee, lattes, mugs, food, service or whatever Starbucks 2.0 item, will be positive and consistent. Much like Apple, SBUX has their own little cult.

    And BTW, in case I didn’t actually mention it completely, great article.

    • I also love that the logo is “coming in the Spring” so that people have time to adjust and wrap their heads around it. Like you said, it also gives them time to react and maybe change something, if necessary. It’s almost like…like they get it. :) Thanks for a great comment!

      • It doesn’t look like they did *any* market research though. If they did they’d realize they are dropping the part of their logo that is their *entire* brand (their name, Starbucks.)

        Doesn’t sound like they get it to me. Just because they get it more than Gap doesn’t mean they get it. :)

  9. To be honest with you..the real world care less about the logo..if it helps them sell coffee then they did their job..but if not then..it is what it is..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  10. Regardless of whether or not you like the change, its brilliant pr Look at all this free publicity they’ve generated! I hope people will care that much if i ever change my logo!

  11. I have to say, I disagree. From a branding perspective I think it’s silly. I think it’s great Starbucks is trying to branch out and expand and I would of been all for them dropping “Coffee” from the logo, because I don’t think that is part of their brand. Starbucks though, is a name. The identity in their brand is in that name, and I would argue that it was the most recognizable part of their brand.

    Nike and “swoosh” are synonymous, as are McDonald’s and “golden arches” but never, have I ever heard Starbucks be synonymous with “siren” or “mermaid.” The trend right now in corporate design seems to be type-less brand recognition, so to me this logo change just seems like Starbucks’ arrogance and jumping on the bandwagon.

    When you have to write a blub on the site about what the “siren” is (http://www.starbucks.com/blog/so-who-is-the-siren) and explain what it has to do with your brand, don’t you think they missed the mark? They shouldn’t have to explain anything, it should be self-explanatory.

    The backlash of the Gap logo I think stemmed from the fact that in increasingly design-centered world, Gap chose to move to a gradient square with Helvetica print. It was probably more hilarious than anything else.

    Maybe it’s just me…but I don’t think mainstream consumers are going to see how this change = expansion for Starbucks, and it seems like they are spending way too much time having to explain it.

    • I think the Starbucks logo is synonymous with having a lady inside a green circle and having it all appear on a white cup. That, to me, is Starbucks. It wasn’t the word “Starbucks” on the logo. Which is why I don’t think the new design is that far off that they’ll get in trouble with people not recognizing them. The basic shape is the same, that’s all most people will notice.

      The swoosh is synonmous with Nike *now*. I don’t remember when they took away the words (we were old enough to have cognitive memory when that happened?), but I can’t help but wonder if it was the same reaction we’re seeing to this one.

      I actually applaud Starbucks for the way they’ve handled this. The siren goes back to their roots — roots regular consumers probably aren’t familiar with. So they’re taking the steps to educate them. But, in reality, regular consumers don’t care. They don’t care that the siren is there, nor that the logo is different. I don’t think most people will even notice the logo is different, to be honest. We just do because we’re marketers. And we drink way too much coffee. It was good banter for a day (we’ve only been talking about this for 24 hours!). I don’t think we’re going to see that large a mainstream reaction.

      • I think they could have a poop smear on the coffee cup and still make loads of money selling it as long as it was *in* a Starbucks store, but we *are* talking about a logo change, so I am just speaking my piece.

        The name Starbucks and it’s type design were basically the old logo. The “siren” was so secondary, even though it’s their roots it, to me has nothing to do with consumer recognition. Since I am a marketer, this will of course probably bother me more than usual.

        But think of it this way – if they want to focus people on their roots *and* them expanding their ventures they the *smart* thing to have done was to drop “Coffee” from the logo. Nobody is focusing on their plans for expansion, they are just focusing on how they don’t like the new logo.

        So, while I agree with you that “it’s not about the logo” I think Starbucks themselves ended up putting way too much emphasis on it. Your assertion that people will not notice I think is actually wrong. We notice everything.

        Side Note: Google “Starbucks Shared Planet”, do you see any Siren in there? This is why I was confused initially. They’ve been using just “Starbucks” as a logo without the siren many times before.

        • It’s not starbucks if it doesn’t have a mermaid on the cup. Gigantic brands don’t need text to tell their consumers who they are.

          • I didn’t say gigantic brands needed text to tell consumers who they are. But when that brand has used text as their logo for many things dropping the mermaid all-together, it seems weird to me that they are claiming that their identity is all of sudden about this mermaid.

            Do a google image search for “starbucks chocolate” or “starbucks via” and tell me where the mermaid is.

        • I think it’s important to remember that the only people freaking out about the logo change are nerds. :) Normal customers are going to go, hmm, that’s different, and continue sipping their lattes. Starbuck’s brand isn’t the word Starbucks, it’s that round mermaid-filled logo. That’s still there.

          • I know many people that never knew/paid attention to the fact it was a mermaid, so I don’t know how true that statement is.

            And, I hold my nerd card high, thank you very much! :)

            • Not recognizing that it’s a mermaid doesn’t mean that there isn’t brand recognition in the logo.

            • *sigh* I was trying to get away with not writing a book.

              Not paying attention to that part of the logo and then deleting everything else and blowing the most unrecognizable part up does, yes.

              And my arguement is that the highest amount of brand recognition from that logo is in the stylized type of “Starbucks”

              That is like Coca-Cola deleting “Coca-Cola” from their logo and having their new logo be just the shape of a Coke bottle. Sure, there is recognition in the Coke bottle, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the type.

  12. I may be in the minority, but I’m not a Starbucks fan. I’m more concerned with what’s in the cup than on it. If they improved their coffee, and it weren’t so bitter, I may care more about what they did with their logo. Is that marketing blasphemy? :-)

    • I’m more concerned with what’s in the cup than on it.

      Yeah…that’s just weird. :p Like I said, I’m not really a Starbucks coffee drinker so I have no opinion on that side of things. :)

        • Yeah, I’m pretty sure the only time I drink Starbucks is at conferences because they always have one in the conference hall. We don’t even have that many local in Troy. It’s all mom and pop coffee shops. As a SMB owners myself, I like supporting those guys.

  13. Isn’t Starbucks success because of the “experience” they create or has that changed now that their logo changed? Logo Shmogo, their logo change has got me thinking to stop a local Starbucks soon as I almost forgot about them with my obsession with McDonald’s Cafe Mocha. Logo Changing is the new link baiting/buzz building for big brands.

    • Ha, it certainly seems that way. If you want to get some links, just change your logo and drop it over to the SEO nerds to fight over. :) And I’d take a McDonald’s Cafe Mocha over Starbucks any day. I actually really like McDonald’s coffee. :)

  14. You want to know what this truly proves? That people have way to much damn time on their hands. It’s amazing how bent out of shape people get over stuff like this. I think Sage’s video sums that up best. I could understand the uproar had they decided to stop selling coffee and started offering car rentals but it’s a logo people.

    I wish my biggest concern in life was whether or not a specific company changed their logo. Must be nice. :-)

      • I definitely see the benefits for why the change happened I however, truly will never understand the ‘outrage’ that typically follows such a change. Maybe I’m the one that’s off a little? Oh well :-)

    • I would like to point out that I tweeted about this issue last night and had since let it go.

      I would like to blame Lisa for drudging it up again. ;)

      Also, I am passionate about design and marketing because they are both my livelihood. I never really thought it would change their sales *for coffee*, but I do think it’s a strange decision and am not sure it will help them with their goal of cross-platform integration. It really depends on what their expansion plans are.

      From a professional point of view, there can be a million comments on here about how it doesn’t matter and nobody cares, but the fact is there are large portions of money invested into branding and identity design for a reason.

      Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. That’s the beauty of healthy debates such as this one.

  15. I love your point that ‘logo – “Starbucks Coffee” = greater possibilities’ and think it’s an excellent move for their brand, but what I find most interesting about this is the backlash over the backlash. At a time when listening, engaging and responding to customer opinion supposed to be paramount, it’s funny that large waves of negative consumer sentiment over a small logo change can be treated as people just going a little bonkers over the delivery system of their morning fix. Imagine if every single logo-enraged gold card user spent a little less this year? Yikes.

  16. I thought brand recognition was the purpose of any logo. Starbucks has that and is adapting their logo to align with their diversification.

    1. It’s a symbol and due to it being around for nearly 40 years, we still recognize it as Starbucks, text, no text, circle, sans circle.

    2. It’s now all green. >>Eco-friendly<>No language barrier<>>Starbucks coffee break next exit>>> :)

    It totally makes sense to me. I think most of the fuss is that people still squirm at the idea of change for what they’ve grown accustomed to.

    P.S. I prefer Caribou Coffee

  17. Our office is about 3 blocks from the original Starbucks. I can guarantee the amount of people taking their picture out front and going in to buy a signature coffee cup from the original store isn’t any different than last week. that.is.all.

    • Sigh.. that “original Starbucks” is not the original Starbucks… it’s a marketing gimmick (the original was not there and is long gone since Starbucks abandoned it before they could afford to keep it as a memento). People came to Seattle and wanted to ride in a boat-shaped tour bus and see “the original Starbucks”. Give the people what they want, right?

      And now Starbucks, the company that put the Starbucks logo onto every hotel coffee service (apparently regardless of quality), inside even Fred Meyer chain grocery stores (coffee drip-brewed in advanced and served up from a vacuum thermos as “customer fresh”) is now free to brand just about any experience they want (no longer labeled as “coffee and tea”). Whatever you want to overpay for, Starbucks is prepared to deliver.

      The one thing clear from this thread is, Lisa knows how to get comments. Now if she can evoke responses from the upline advertising/marketing/branding folks she’s targeted, we should all clap for sure.

      • That was my point John. People are still going there today and taking their silly pictures and buying their “original Starbucks” cups. Logo change or not, people are still eating their shit up.

  18. I love it when you have to spell things out for people. I think it’s a great modification of the logo, still very obviously Starbucks, but w/o containing themselves w/in the coffee world. I mean, duh. Either people have too much time on their hands, or they need to just chillax and cut back on their caffeine intake.

  19. LOVE this post! 100% true! Same reason McDonald’s Hamburgers became McDonald’s. People need to embrace the change as a positive for what’s to come!

  20. Heyy Lisa

    Considering I am an avid follower of your Twitter feed, this is actually the first time I am visiting or reading your blog.

    I loved your point of view on a discussion that is frankly getting out of bounds. I mean, CNN showed us the Starbucks logo news even before talking about the Floods in Australia !

    Personally, I think that far too much is being made of the Starbucks Logo. While I totally agree with you that Starbucks is right in rebranding away from only Coffee to a host of other things, I still think it should have left the Starbucks on the top and the ring around the siren. I think the siren looks pretty naked without the ring around her.

    But for Starbucks, its not like the logo was a problem. The problem Starbucks faces now is that is seems to have moved so far away from its roots that it is being compared to that big bad daddy of capitalism, McDonalds.

    Instead of fcuking with the logo, maybe it should have spent a little more time on strategizing how to improve its negative public image.

    Cheers
    Mihir

    P.S. Speaking of logos, how come nobody ever talks about the horrible new Pepsi logo ? Far from supposedly looking like Mona Lisa’s smile, it looks cheap and fake and costs a million bucks !!!

  21. Great take on the logo “controversy” Lisa. I can really relate to your point “you picked your business name based on what you do today, instead of what you plan to do be doing tomorrow? ” When we changed our business name in year 6 of our business (2010) to reflect our expanded services, we were lucky enough to be able to keep most of our logo so our clients had some semblance of continuity, which was helpful. (Not that our client base is anywhere near the size of Starbucks’, but who knows…someday…?) It will be interesting to see which direction(s) Starbucks plans to expand into in the near future.

  22. Starbucks is the epitome of trendiness and their newest logo is a direct reflection of that, as is the overwhelming amount of SB merchandise we see in the hands of our friends and family on a daily basis. Their new logo, for me at least, fits in with exactly what they represent, so more power to them. Their coffee and their logo can continue to ruin small business shops around the country, and we can all continue to support them in doing it.

  23. So, if it’s not about our logo… or our Twitter… or Facebook… or “disguised social media metrics”… or LinkedIn and its sometimes weird group conversations… or our Apps… or email-opening statistics… or what we had for lunch… then, what is it about? (Hmm. Awkward silence.)

    Cheers Lisa — great post! ~Paul

  24. Spot on.

    What Starbucks doesn’t seem to have figured out is how to keep their core business strong (the coffee experience) while expanding into other markets. At the core of this puzzle for them is their distribution channel: Coffee shops are coffee shops. They can’t be turned into music stores and sandwich joints and wine bars every six months. If Starbucks wants to get into the wine business, start a wine business. If Starbucks wants to launch music stores, launch music stores. Just don’t dilute your coffee shop business with every new idea that comes along.

    This logo “redesign” would have worked a lot better if Starbucks Corporate had adopted it as its overarching logo for all Starbucks properties, but had left the Starbucks Coffee division logo alone. Differentiating Starbucks Inc. from Starbucks Coffee would accomplish their goal without confusing (even enraging) its loyal customers. Not only that, but Starbucks wouldn’t now be faced with having to deal with the considerable (and unnecessary) expense of replacing every Starbucks sign around the world and all of its packaging.

    Right idea, but completely botched execution. In their bid to copy Apple and Nike, the folks at Starbucks simply didn’t think it through.

    Good piece, Lisa.

  25. interesting timing. When I was motivated at the turn of the year to invite a star-studded lineup of industry people to become contributors to Search Marketing Wisdom, I realized that changing the cute, but clearly unpolished owl logo I had on my blog was going to be crucial. Not because it’s all about the logo, but because it’s a reflection of the vision I hold for bringing SMW up in professionalism.

    Instead of the blog being a mix of all things Alan, including a lot of over the top rants, it’s now going to be a platform where each contributor has a distinctly unique area of expertise in our industry, and where readers can come to truly gain knowledge, engage in dialogue across a variety of topics.

    So like the Starbucks change, the new SMW logo conveys that vision of professionalism, while holding enough of a sense of its roots.

    Of course, ours is just a small potato in the big industry bag of potatoes. So when I introduced the change it wasn’t exactly earth-shattering. More important to me, it is a reminder to me personally of how I hope to guide the value-change moving forward.

  26. I caught MSNBC’s story on this and they lumped the GAP logo and Starbucks into the story. The GAP logo was created by a third-grader who accidentally left the cap of the Sharpie while the Starbucks logo was created by a highly skilled marketing person. Apples, oranges.. they’re both fruit, right?? ….. ooooo, look at the kitty…

  27. That’s what I get for not connecting for a full day, last comment on the totem pole.

    Starbucks will do what they do because they can. If you like the new logo, cool, if you don’t, then you have a private hissy and move on.

    I’ve never been one to recognize that mermaid. I just don’t “see it”. It doesn’t convey any message to me. The WORD Starbucks, however, has a lot of history and a lot of recognition. Now, the point of the logo change is to allow them to do anything they want. Fine, that logo does it, it doesn’t mean anything, so it can go on a mp3 player or tshirt or credit card or whatever. But it still doesn’t mean anything to me, and I’d venture to guess a few peoples out there.

    Where I think they are making a silly choice is forgoing the strength that comes from a mega brand name like Starbucks. Starbucks the text name does mean something. I mean, nobody on this thread has posted that logo when referring to the company, they type out the name. The text is what I seem to recognize, not the mermaid, and I’m one of those very visual guys. Got a piece of paper on my wall that says I gots me an Art and Contemporary Design higher learnin degree, which means as much as owning Photoshop and Illustrator.

    But don’t pay attention to me, I just walk around from room to room and post comments on a blog a day late. :)

  28. It’s amazing how many people get all riled up when their favorite companies change their logo. In this case, I expect less brouhaha because the logo is staying essentially the same. All they’re doing is removing the outer ring with the words.

    I think it’s interesting that Gap changed their logo back to the old one after all the outrage, and I wonder how many other companies would consider doing that after spending thousands on a brand designer to come up with something fresher?

  29. I agree with you, it’s not always about the appearance, it shouldn’t be. Sometimes the reasons for a “cosmetic change” are far than cosmetic at all. Reminds of my company, started to do some very specific task with a very specific name which – fortunately – turned out to be ok to do a much more generic thing. Otherwise, we would have the very same problem right now (ok ok, on a much smaller scale).

  30. I caught MSNBC’s story on this and they lumped the GAP logo and Starbucks into the story. The GAP logo was created by a third-grader who accidentally left the cap of the Sharpie while the Starbucks logo was created by a highly skilled marketing person. Apples, oranges.. they’re both fruit, right?? ….. ooooo, look at the kitty…

  31. Blimey what a lot of hype about not a lot. But its always good for ‘buzz effect’ publicity. I agree with others I’m more interested in what’s in the cup and when I want a coffee there’s an outlet near me to get one!

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