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Starbucks has come a long way since it’s first Seattle store in 1971. So it makes sense that last year it decided to task its brand team with redesigning the logo. 

Steve Murray, Content Manager of Brand Strategy and Expression at Starbucks, worked as lead writer on the team that spent hours, weeks and months creating a new logo and brand identity for Starbucks and he shared what they did at Starbucks to a full room of retail marketers at the recent shop.org conference. 

But how do you improve and simplify a logo that is only made of four parts and one basic colour? And why was it important to do so?

The Starbucks logo that most of us grew up with is made up of a siren, a circle, the colour green and the name “Starbucks Coffee.” As an iconic brand, a redesign of a logo could potentially go very wrong. There’s not much to change so how could it be changed to great effect?

After determining the core values that Starbucks stood for, the brand team started to re-evaluate the Starbucks’ logo by looking at the logos of the top 50 retailers around the globe. They then picked out the green ones and used them to test against to ensure the logo stuck out from them.

The design brainstorming filled a room with images and Starbucks had 6-7 designers working full time to look at all the potential options.

A blurry version of the sample logos

Finally the team settled on something that removed the Starbucks name and brought the Siren figure to the forefront. They called it “liberating the siren” and they adjusted the eyes, hair, nose, etc. until she had the right look. 

Though those changes seemed small, they could radically change the look and feel. After one change, the siren looked like Madonna, another time she looked like Lady Gaga, but the brand team finally came to a decision that embodied the Starbucks brand.  The team then used a small panel of customers to run the different versions by them and how it would play out in the world.

Even though they believed in the new logo, the brand team had to present the final logo to Howard Schultz who  (thankfully) simply said “Yep. Go. Do it.”

Now the hard work really began. After the logo was created, the team had to look at typography, materials, voice, colours used for brand expressions, photography, and store design. They had to take the new look they created and reflect it back to customers at all touch points. 

Sharing the the new branding across the company

Once this is all decided, how do you then share this brand work with the 5000 Starbucks’ partners?

The best solution for Starbucks was to have brand days. It got a warehouse space of 20,000 square feet and created a walk through experience of the brand. Not only did it create the brand in a tangible way but they could use it to explain its business case. 

The visceral experiences of smell and taste came from following the perspective of the beans from the moment they are picked until the last stage of roasting. They also showed the final logo and all the pages of inspirations that got the team to it so people could see the journey. People were also able to leave their imprint with notes on cup curtains and green thumb prints that formed a rendition of the new logo.

Taking the logo to the masses

Once Starbucks employees were introduced to the new branding, social media was a big part of launching it to the world. The comments were by and large positive especially from the design community. 

The Starbucks voice didn’t shift much but it was pushed to incorporate community leaders into the conversation. The new branding set the way and path to define the brand but isn’t the final destination but is rather the beginning.

Anything that comes in for review now is tested against the brand characteristics (like soulful, elegant, considered, expressive, etc) and must have at least three of them incorporated in order for it to be launched.  One size doesn’t fit all. This includes store design which incorporates the area it’s in such as Roy Street, Seattle, Fukuoka, and the Reclamation drive thru in Seattle, which uses shipping containers to create new “pop-up” drive-throughs.

Logo rebrand is just the face of it but it’s about more than that. Now with a new logo Starbucks can branch out beyond coffee. New products include Starbucks refreshers, Evolution juice, Starbucks reserve coffee and they have acquired businesses such as the bakery chain, La Boulange.

So though the logo doesn’t SEEM that different, I think it’s allowed Starbucks to put on a new mindset and allow itself to branch out and become something bigger. One would argue they are big enough, but with the ability to diversify, the Starbucks brand won’t just bring coffee to mind but will be an experience that will touch more parts of our day other than the morning jolt of coffee we’re all guilty of indulging in.

Heather Taylor

Published 13 September, 2012 by Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor is the Editorial Director for Econsultancy US. You can follow her on Twitter, Google+ or Pinterest.

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Neale Gilhooley

I would like to ask Steve Murray what was the specific objective of removing the word Starbucks from the company logo? There are plenty of theories but confirmation would be good.

My own is that as the coffee retailer moves into Asia the less English text adds to the impact of the logo. But that contradicts why non-US customers buy into the Starbucks brand values of aspiration and Americana. Is there a definitive answer?

about 4 years ago

James Robinson

James Robinson, UK Brand Manager at Randstad

Neale, what is perhaps more pertinent is that they have also removed the word Coffee.

If the plan is to sell a wider range of branded products, particularly through retail, then a "coffee-less" brand ID (still with the coffee heritage) makes sense.

about 4 years ago

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Charlotte

I think this is an interesting article, albeit one which left the main point of the Starbucks re-brand to the final paragraph. The reason for needing to update the logo and remove the word 'coffee' is because coffee retailers are realising they need to branch out into other revenue lines to keep afloat as well as compete in an over-crowded market place. Starbucks launched a new range of salads in the UK towards the end of last year, showing that they want to compete with the likes of Eat and Pret a Manger in the lunch time food stakes. It will be interesting to see if they successfully make this transition or not - to me Starbucks still represents coffee, and little else, but they're market leaders, so perhaps that's no bad thing. For now.

about 4 years ago

James Robinson

James Robinson, UK Brand Manager at Randstad

Harish

I don't see any issue with their approach. They clear feel that the visual brand element is strong enough to secure brand recall without the text.

Moreover, when they are selling coffee, the product still says 'coffee', either explicitly on the packaging or implicitly in the shop front and outlet design.

So they real win is having a new brand marque that they can drop onto new products in related categories, particularly if selling through retail channels.

Look out for a Starbucks chocolates range in time for Christmas....

about 4 years ago

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor, Editorial Director at Econsultancy

Steve had said that they removed the word coffee so that they could branch out to new product lines. Some of these may still say Starbucks but a lot of them aren't coffee or in the case of Starbucks new one-off coffee brands from small distributors, they are called Starbucks Reserve. They likened the move to that of Nike - you still know it's Nike by the swoosh just as I believe you still will know Starbucks by the siren. I think it's a good brand move for a good reason...makes more sense from a branding perspective then, lets say, eBay's recent logo change?

about 4 years ago

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Ali Richards

I understand that the Starbucks franchises in UAE and the Gulf are some of the most successful outside of the US but that they can't use the logo there as it shows a person so how have the tackled the rebrand for Muslim markets? Was this an opportunity to harmonise globally that has not been addressed?

about 4 years ago

harish ahire

harish ahire, MBA at Department of Management studies

Heather Taylor... Ebay has not changed their logo yet. In their website they still have same logo. While in businessweek article on ebay they say that they are going to change logo to denote that ebay is not just an auction site but now customers can purchase things on fixed prices like in any other e-commerce website. But move is good.
Your article on Starbucks is really interesting. One thing common in both is that both want to increase revenue lines..

about 4 years ago

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atieno

is there a reason for using a lady instead of a man on the logo? There was also no change in color of the logo. Is this because of supporting a greener environment or was it to prevent a complete change which would have made the brand unrecognizable to new or unfamiliar customers?

about 4 years ago

Heather Taylor

Heather Taylor, Editorial Director at Econsultancy

@Atieno the siren was actually introduced in 1971 as a symbol of the sea faring traditions of the local area. Don't take my word for it. Here's what Starbucks said about it: http://www.starbucks.com/blog/so-who-is-the-siren

As for the green, I'd say it's because its the associated brand colors though it was originally brown to reflect the look of the 16th century wood cutting the Siren came from.

about 4 years ago

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Michelle

The best logos work well in 5, 10, 15 or 20 years after they are created. Another essential element of a good logo, timeless design that works forever!

almost 4 years ago

Raleigh Logo Design

Raleigh Logo Design, Director at Vast Design, Inc.

At first I wasn't thrilled about the Starbucks logo evolution, but seeing it in it's application it is quite nice. Store signage still retains the Starbucks wordmark (usually, from what I have seen)... I am sure there are some exceptions. I love this bold move and I wish more businesses would emulate this logo evolution or simplification in their own business.

about 3 years ago

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