Gotta give you props, you’re one the best brands ever at making your marketing plans everybody’s business. Selling instant coffee in supermarkets, simultaneously closing all your stores to retrain your baristas, adding free Wi-Fi, slowing down your service to improve quality. All these moves generated untold value in public relations and more coffee sales. The media just loves you guys.
So now you’re dropping your own name from your logo. How very hip, global and super retro–and all at the same time. After all, what better proof of a brand’s ubiquity is there than its ability to be recognized without the hassle of, you know, words? And it really was the ultimate step, wasn’t it? It’s not like your name was Amalgamated Premium Coffee Experiences. It was already one pretty unique word. But apparently still one too many.
You posted this explanation of the new wordless logo written by Howard Shultz (listed as Starbucks chairman, president and chief executive officer–no shortage of words there) on the your web site: “…our new brand identity will give us the freedom and flexibility to explore innovations and new channels of distribution that will keep us in step with our current customers and build strong connections with new customers.”
OK, what’s another word for non sequitur? Oh, yeah-Huh? Am I the only one that doesn’t get this explanation? To expand beyond your current markets you want to drop your name? How exactly was it holding you back? Excluding pariahs like BP and AIG, brand names are usually the bridge to a new market, not the chasm between them.
With a little more exploration of your web site, I found this carefully crafted ode to the redesigned siren symbol that will be your brand’s defining mark, written by Steve M., senior writer: “Our new evolution liberates the Siren from the outer ring, making her the true, welcoming face of Starbucks. For people all over the globe, she is a signal of the world’s finest coffee – and much more. She stands unbound, sharing our stories, inviting all of us in to explore, to find something new and to connect with each other.”
She’s unbound all right; she’s naked. But seriously, Steve M., was there a little something extra in your latte when you wrote this? You may be able to extrapolate all this meaning, but I’m thinking your customers, loyal as they are, may be a little less, um, introspective.
A century ago and more, brands frequently used symbols like mermaids, lions, and tigers (and, yes, bears) as non-verbal ways of communicating benefits and distinguishing themselves from the competition. The reason was simple enough: Many of their customers couldn’t read, but they could recognize a symbol and its inherent meanings.
Back to the future: I’m betting, Mr. Shultz, that your clientele’s literacy rate is somewhere between 100% and you’re-insulting-my-intelligence-with-this-new-logo-explanation.
A quick scan of the latest top 100 brands list from Interbrand reveals a handful of brands that dare to represent themselves, at least some of the time, by symbols only. Here they are ranked by value, highest first: McDonalds (6th), Apple (17th), Nike (26th), and soon, you, Starbucks (97th). Of those, the McD’s monogram is the golden arches forming an obvious “M,” Apple looks like an apple, with only Nike having no graphic hint that leads directly back to the brand. Lucky for them they’ve invested a zillion dollars imprinting that brand on our minds and just about everything remotely athletic. Target just announced that they are dropping their name from their brand as well, but their mark looks remarkably like, well, you know.
So you think you can match non-verbal brand power with your west coast compatriot? To your credit, you didn’t pull a Gap move and just dump it on us. You announced it and gave us several explanations, some of them hard to follow and some of them loony, but the important thing is, at least you tried. But here’s what I’m predicting: You won’t really do it. Every time the unbound siren appears, I expect to see the Starbucks name somewhere nearby. You won’t be able to completely step away. You can prove me wrong by dropping your name from your storefronts, your advertising (especially radio), and your gift cards. We could place a small wager, but you’re already betting your sales and your stock price, so you’re pretty well all in.
Word up, Howard; Nike you are not. Good luck.