Starbucks new brand

Starbucks existing logo
Starbucks existing logo

As a brand man through and through, I have to comment on the new branding for Starbucks.

So, i’ll nail my colours to the mast and say, that I like it. I like what they’ve done and I like their thinking, but i’ll show why and what the risks are.

1. I like it
It’s an evolution. You can see from this graphic that it is the fourth major variant since they started 40 years ago, but none have thrown away the heritage, just moved them along to reflect their current needs. That’s good thinking and good branding.

Starbucks Logo - An illustrated history
Starbucks Logo - An illustrated history

They clearly cut down the number of lines they run, when they dropped spices and tea from the logo to concentrate on coffee. Well, that worked didn’t it. they are a global phenomonem that some may find addictive.

2. It allows them to go into new product areas

This is where the risk lies. Most brand owners think their brands are very stretchy and can work on anything, but very few can in reality. being known for one thing doesn’t make you cool or credible in another. Look at what happened to Porsche when they introduced the more affordable 924 (that they are apparently considering again!).

I can see them doing spices, some cooking products yes, but hardware for cooking, no. Beer, no. Wine, no. Ice cream, yes. Sweets, maybe. Beyond that, i’d be very doubtful it would have any real brand power.

I’ll watch to see what products they are trying, so if you see any before me, feel free to send them across.

The future of branding is unbranded – ask Starbucks

CJ as a young corporate customer on his laptop in Starbucks
CJ as a young corporate customer on his laptop in Starbucks

In an article I wrote recently about place branding, I proposed that the future of branding is unbranded. You can read that here.

What I was arguing against was homogenisation. Standardisation being used as a byword for branding, that decreases rather than increases consumer choice.

And it would appear that Starbucks, in the US at least would agree with this sentiment. In a great article by Tim Haywards in the UK’s Guardian newspaper he savages them for drifting from Happy hippiedom to the same tired old corporate suit as everyone else on the homogenised high street.

For any brand to be able to survive, it has to evolve or it will die. Like dinosaurs did when they failed to build protection against meteorite strikes. Today’s meteorite strikes are coming from the upstart brands and from locally differentiated, welcoming outlets.

In Seattle, there is already a company calling themselves Seattle’s Best and who’s to say it isn’t? (my cup I had in a plane on the way to Seattle was absolutely horrid – see here) But that doesn’t mean its the most loved, by any stretch of the imagination.

With any brand the product is critical, but so is the tribe in which consuming it puts you. You have to feel good about it. You have to bask in its reflected glorious ‘brandness’ and you have to want to tell your cool friends about it.

I think this is a great move for Starbucks.

I hope they have the nerve to debrand their estate, to give their customers the chance to fall in love with them all over again.

I hope they have the nerve to allow their local people to interpret their offer locally and create cool places for their customers to hang out. If that means they want to appeal to corporate wannabe’s then that’s fine, but design your offer accordingly. If that means they want their hippies back, then that’s just as fine – again, design accordingly.

The future of branding maybe isn’t unbranded, but it has to listen to its customers needs and be flexible as hell in delivering what they want or it will go the way of the dinosaurs.

Thanks to Jayne Wilson for the use of the picture of CJ on a Laptop in Starbucks. You can see more of her fine work here.