It’s Not About The Starbucks Logo, Stupid

January 6, 2011
By Lisa Barone in 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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