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  Starbucks' evolved brand identity


It's unlikely that anyone is better-placed than Mr. Schultz to decide whether or not the new Starbucks brand strategy is sound. Judging by his presentation of the new identity there seems little reason to doubt his decisions. He comes across as a committed, passionate and visionary leader. This is almost reason enough to back the brand identity decisions him and his team have made.

There are clear parallels in the brand identity strategy to other highly effective and flexible brands. If the 'second coming of...' wasn't already attributed to Steve Jobs it might be tempting to say the same of Mr. Schultz. As has been pointed out, the evolved Starbucks brand identity, in its basic format, has been treated similarly to Apple, Nike, McDonalds and Target.

Most notably the name and symbol have been separated and the symbol has been presented as the 'logo' alone. The name is now presented in a clean and relatively generic typeface and the design of the name and its position relative to the symbol is of minor significance. This new configuration of the brand identity elements offers a level of flexibility that accommodates products other than coffee and enables relatively hassle-free translations of the brand into other languages. Starbucks are clearly scaling up to the next strategic level and they now appear to have a brand identity to achieve this ambition.

The design of the symbol appears fresh and modern, and has plenty of space to breathe. However, it seems a little raw in comparison to the richness and 'completeness' of the previous logo. I suspect this impression will pass when we see it in its flexible (and unbridled) application. The relevance of the siren/mermaid hasn't been given an account and, for all intents and purposes, seems besides the point. It is without a doubt evocative, proprietary, highly distinctive and thoroughly owned by Starbucks.

The Starbucks brand is also an opportunity to demonstrates why it's not useful to think in terms of the Starbucks 'logo', despite Mr. Shultz's use of the term. The new version of the identity is not a logo in the strongest sense of what people normally mean by a logo. A logo is traditionally comprised of a symbol and logotype (as per the previous version of the Starbucks identity). Some logotypes (aka wordmark) appear without symbols and are still considered logos. This is still a relatively strong version of what people mean by a logo but when a symbol appears without a wordmark in a traditional lock-up it's more of a challenge to think of it as a logo. On a technical level, it is best referred to as a symbol. The same is true for the Apple and Nike symbols and, by this logic, Starbucks, Apple, Nike etc. have evolved beyond logos.

It is my view that whatever the primary element of a brand, whether it's a full logo (logotype & symbol), wordmark alone or symbol, they should be handled as the 'brandmark'. The case for this is made stronger when the brand name is treated as a name and not a stylistic element of the brand. The name has a visual form but only insomuch as is necessary to communicate the name. By this treatment, and as with Apple and Nike, the name is no longer part of a 'logo'. The visual identity of the Starbucks brand is now carried almost entirely by the symbol. The linguistic mark of the brand (the name 'Starbucks') aside, the visual symbol has taken centre-stage as the primary mark of the brand and this should be done justice with a more effective term.

Gap got an new logo and that was all. Logos alone, no matter how well designed, are weak and deserve to fail because they are not supported by all the other marks of a brand that have been formed and configured in relation to a strategic vision for the brand. And so, the Starbucks symbol should not be considered a logo. It's a new 'brandmark' that will serve to lead a new brand identity that will determine the experiential component of the new bigger and better Starbucks brand strategy.


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