Friday, March 18, 2011

What Starbucks Did Wrong With Their New Logo

Starbucks officially launched their new logo last week. Stores were running out of stock with the old logos and had to 'hold on' until 'new logo day' to replenish their stores. It looks like the official launch day was relatively uneventful. But of course, that's because the ruckus had already occurred a few months ago when Starbucks announced their new logo. People were shocked, outraged, even though the logo wasn't drastically changed from its previous incarnation:

Some even went so far as to ask where the idea for "the mermaid" came from, even though you can see the siren has been a part of the logo since the beginning. So why all the fuss? Why the complaints? Sure, it wasn't the backlash that Gap experienced, but it was definitely there. Why were people so put out about a change to the logo?

Because, Starbucks forgot their own brand promise.

In a world with coffee shops on every corner, where meetings happen, business deals are negotiated and graphic designers set up remote offices, the coffee shop industry is highly competitive. Starbucks has spent years working their way into the hearts of their customers by making and keeping a very solid brand promise. You don't go to Starbucks to buy a cup of their coffee. You go to buy your coffee.

Starbucks has over 87,000 possible drink combinations. One would think that such a level of variety on the menu would cause paralysis of choice. Too many options. But it's not the case. Customers very quickly find their way to their own drink, or couple of drinks (grandé wet cappuchino, or grandé soy Tazo chai, in case you're ever buying for me). So the brand promises to sell you your drink, every time. Ask the baristas. They get to know you by your drink, often offering it before you have a chance to order it yourself. They have to work to learn your name but they know your drink. This makes a purchase from Starbucks a very personal experience. Customers have a tremendous sense of ownership in the brand. And this is gold for any brand. This is the kind of customer loyalty that marketing executives will sell their first-born for.

So then Starbucks decides they want to change their logo. The reasoning? Ostensibly to extend their line beyond coffee. Basically removing the words from the logo to be able to expand the brand. And among the design community, the assessment of the simplification is pretty positive. Designers like it. It's iconic, clean. And it has a history of being an image associated with the product since day one.

But it's not their logo. It's your logo. It's our logo. And they decided to change something of ours without asking. It's like coming home and finding out your pet has been replaced. But hey, the new one is younger, healthier, eats less and cleans up after itself. Sorry, don't bloody care, I want my pet back, warts and all!

The crazy thing is they could have reached out to their customer base and involved them in the process. They could even have come up with exactly the same logo, but by being transparent, asking for feedback from their customers and starting a conversation about it, they could have strengthened that bond instead of challenging it.

Brands spend billions of dollars around the globe every year to get that kind of loyalty, that kind of brand ownership. Starbucks has it. So it's sad that they forgot all about it when they changed the logo.

The lessons to be learned?

One: it's proof that a logo is a shortcut to an emotional association with your brand. The logo itself might not even be seen - "Where did the mermaid come from?" - but it is felt.
Two: You don't own your brand. You can shape it, nudge it, even manage it, but you don't own it. Your customers do. And if they don't, you have your work cut out for you.

Three: In a world of social media that connects you so closely to your customers, you no longer have an excuse to be distant. Involve your customers. Share the ownership of your brand, because that's where your loyalty will grow.

This won't hurt Starbucks. In fact, they may not have even noticed a blip in their sales. But that loyalty base was tested. And just as you can't measure the emotional connection your customers have with your brand, you also cannot measure the damage these sorts of things can do. Not until it's too late.

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