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Starbucks is rebranding, with a new brand logo dropping “Starbucks Coffee” from its mark. Author Jim Joseph wrote about it yesterday and invited me on Twitter to weigh in. One of Jim’s contentions is Starbucks is reaching for the same “we don’t need no stinkin’ name” status as McDonald’s, Nike, Target, and Apple.

Starbucks Brand Identity ChangesThat may be true, but there are fundamental differences in the market strategy for Starbucks and the other brands:

1. How They’ve Built Brand Identity

McDonald’s, Target, Apple, and Nike have all been significant investors in brand advertising and/or identity-building  vehicles (i.e., sponsorships). Starbucks hasn’t followed the same marketing strategy. It’s earned its brand identity recognition with daily, right-in-front­-of-your-eyeballs signage on what seems like on nearly every block in the country. Not saying one or the other is better, but they’ve clearly gotten there in different ways, setting the stage for different strategic contexts for this decision.

2. Simplicity and Strategic Brand Connections

The Apple and Target brand identity marks are memes – the brand symbol is the company name. The McDonald’s arches represent the first letter of its name. Granted, the Nike swoosh doesn’t hold the same connection to its name, but it does have simplicity going for it.

The Starbucks mark however, has a much more obscure connection to its name. It makes the audience work really hard to get it. For me (not a huge customer), I didn’t know it was supposed to be a Siren until reading Jim Joseph’s post yesterday. A Siren? Doesn’t make me think Starbucks. In addition, it’s still not simple visually, even with the changes being made to the logo.

3. Too Few Strategic Steps?

I’ll admit to not going back for the due diligence on this topic, but I don’t think the other brands made a two-step move in one step, i.e., dropping both name (Apple) and category (Computer) in one change. Starbucks is yanking both at the same time.

Was This Order Ready?

As a marketing strategy move, I think simplifying its logo makes sense for Starbucks. The brand identity change provides more category flexibility and makes a smart push for more iconic brand status.

It seems though that Starbucks has made a strategy move with more strategic risk than it had to take. Time will tell if there’s a Venti payoff for Starbucks, but it certainly won’t find itself iced over this change. – Mike Brown

The Brainzooming Group helps make smart organizations more successful by rapidly expanding their strategic options and creating innovative plans they can efficiently implement. Email us at brainzooming@gmail.com or call us at 816-509-5320 to learn how we can help you enhance your brand strategy and implementation efforts.

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Mike Brown

Founder of The Brainzooming Group, and an expert on strategy, creativity, and innovation. Mike is a frequent speaker on innovation, strategic thinking, and social media.

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  • Charles Graves

    Hi Mike.

    A colleague and I were discussing the Starbucks logo situation the other day when it first became public. I strongly believe they are looking at it from and internal point of view and not an external point of view and that is the gist of their problem. Starbucks is overlooking one of the very strengths of their own brand.

    In my humble, but professional opinion, they have made a strategic mistake. Granted, I don’t know all their internal reasons, but I think in making this logo change they have failed to recognize one key ingredient in their visual connection to their loyal customers and that is the word Starbucks. The word itself is rich in literary history and is one of those words that over time, as Xerox did, became the iconic description of an act or a product. In this case, coffee.

    It is very common for someone to say ‘let’s go get a Starbucks’ instead of a coffee. The word is the action, the noun, and the verb. And, visually, it has a certain mystic and appeal that adds graphically to their logo. Change the logo? You bet, it’s time for an update. Drop the word coffee? You bet, that allows them to pursue other venues that the word coffee restricts them from. Drop the word Starbucks? Bad move.

    If I were a betting man, I’d bet the word Starbucks will be back on that Siren logo within the year.

    Thanks for your comments and your posts.

    Charles R. Graves

    • Mike Brown

      Thanks for commenting Charles. You did a clearer job of stating what I was trying to get to that dropping Starbucks at this point doesn’t seem to make strategic sense. I just read, however, one pundit who says it’s a signal that Starbucks future growth is coming from outside the western world. That possibility makes the change make more sense.

      • http://richarddedor.com Richard

        @Charles: I absolutely don’t think the words will ever be back in the logo. As a Starbucks fan and admirer for what they have done for coffee, I love having the black and green logo. And I will miss it.

        @Mike I think I agree with your comment about more globalization, although they will still call it Starbucks, so still not sure I understand it.

        And finally, one of my good friends has grown increasingly critical of the growing “corporate” feel of Starbucks … but it is only natural. With how many thousands of stores … it is impossible to have a mom-n-pop feel.

  • http://www.alexgpr.com Alex Greenwood

    I have a bit of a blended thought on this. I don’t want to roast them for making this choice, but it seems a little instant to me. I mean, what’s the rush? We saw what happened when they grew too fast, or tried to bring food into the stores– it really stirred up trouble for them and they nearly got whipped. But you my be right, and I may not know beans about this. The logo chance may be the buzz they need as they expand.

    • Mike Brown

      Well Alex, I’d have been steamed and foaming at the mouth if you hadn’t offered a scalding comment.

      • http://www.Pilatescross.com Alex Greenwood

        And that would be hard to swallow!

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  • http://jimjosephexp.com Jim Joseph

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, Mike. Always a pleasure to hear from you. I love your analysis here, and the way you presented it. So much food for thought … I am dying to see where they go from here with it all. Jim.

  • http://www.robfrankel.com Rob Frankel

    Canadian TV (CTV) got an earfull from me about the Starbucks logo change Friday…

    http://bit.ly/hKtGhW

    It’s worth watching, if you REALLY want to know brand strategy.

  • http://twitter.com/#!/MasonTWILLIAMS Mason Williams

    Nike’s swoosh logo may not be a meme but it has been the symbol used by the company since 1972 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swoos)…even before Nike Air and Michael Jordan were around. So even though it isn’t a meme it has been linked to the Brand from the beginning without change.

    I find it interesting that Starbucks places on their store doors “Take Comfort in Rituals” http://bit.ly/hiCIoY and then change the symbol people carry around with them. I am not completely opposed to them changing their logo..however I think Starbucks of all Brands should have tested it with the loyal following they already have…better yet ask one of their community members to design the logo and then have the community vote on it. Starbucks took a step back in my mind.

  • Emmanuelle

    From a customer
    I have always known Starbucks the way they are today, for me it is Coffee, Wi-fi, convenient and well food if you are really hungry
    What bothers me in the logo change is that I had never noticed the two tailed “siren” and I agree that a siren does not give any cue about coffee or Starbucks. And I am not the only one obviously as they had to explain it on Starbucks website !
    But I disagree on the fact that the word Starbucks should remain whatever.
    I think the logo could work with our without the Starbucks word but with the same shape and colors : green circle with black circle in it and some white stars and ok the siren.
    The new one is really different : the siren is not the same color and there is only one circle instead of two. Using the one circle only design is also I think a bad choice as they are losing the “old seal” effect of the previous one.

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