Logos have become an oft discussed topic of late. First Gap and now Starbucks. With regards to Starbucks, Stephen Denny talks about how this push for simplicity in logo design is not always a good thing. Paul asks the question why do we feel so compelled to talk about such a small defenseless object? Tom suggests Starbucks missed an opportunity with the logo – that rather than talk about the corporate strategy, they should have used it as an opportunity to tell a new story. One that mattered to their customers.
Which begs the question, whose identity is it? Does the brand own their logo and everything that goes with it, giving them free reign to change as their strategy suits them? Or do the customers own it and should have a say in when and how it changes? And how important is the logo compared with the total brand experience – all those touch points from the product and service to navigating often difficult customer service centers?
Marty Neumeier in The Brand Gap articulates it very well: “A brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Thus it’s whatever image and experiences exist in the consumer’s mind. Which can certainly change on a whim. Freddie shares this sentiment in his thoughts on Starbucks’ logo change.
Now any of you who’ve navigated corporate approval processes know, in most companies, the end product is largely dependent upon how many people have a say – the more there are, the more sanitized the end result unless the company has a strong design philosophy baked into their culture. Or a very strong leader at the helm. So I really pity the team that asks its customers for design input. First, most people don’t think about the complexities of rolling out a new identity (nor should they) taking into account media (print, environmental, digital), culture (how that affects color choices, form, translations, etc.), existing infrastructure, heritage and costs to say the least.
I do think Starbucks did a good job on their change. It stays true to their heritage and is no shock to the system. It feels familiar. However, I do agree with Tom that they’re not at the level of Nike or Apple in which they can truly getaway with dropping their name. It’ll be interesting to see how the roll out goes – we’ll learn more then.
People around me often ask what a mermaid has to do with coffee. I tell them it’s a part of their heritage, but I bet many didn’t realize until this iteration what exactly that image was. Turns out it was inspired by the seafaring history of coffee. And she’s the story teller so they say.
But why do some logos create such controversy? When Xerox rolled out their new identity a couple years ago, I don’t recall too many getting up in arms about their move from a pixelized ‘X’ to a stylized red globe. Could be we’re not as passionate about printers and copiers as we are coffee and jeans?
Would Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche or VW dare change their logos? I think we’d see a lot of chatter if they did. But I can’t see they have a need to do so as they’ve done a nice job keeping their brands current without needing a logo refresh.
For consumers, though, change makes them uncomfortable. And with a brand like Starbucks – one so many people frequent virtually every day that it’s an extension of themselves, it creates discomfort. I think any change would do so. They’re in a catch 22. Starbucks does a lot of things right. I’ve consistently appreciated how they connect with their local communities. And how when they recognized they strayed by focusing too much on growth, losing their heart, they found a way to bring it back. In the face of rapid change, people like to grasp on something comfortable, stable. They go into their past and get nostalgic. It’s a way of coping.
And as for a logo being that small defenseless object, while a brand is not a logo, the logo is a way to capture all of the meaning created by the collective experiences each of us has with a brand. So when we look at a logo, it means something personal to us – good or bad. It paints a picture in our mind of what we can expect when we interact with the people and company behind it.
So before you tinker with your company’s brand, take a good look at the emotional equity it holds. And don’t necessarily think the logo is the problem with a struggling brand. Look holistically at the entire experience. While you may be able to design a kickass logo and own the strategy behind it, you don’t own what it ultimately means to those who matter most. And that extra shiny new logo means nothing if the experience it promises doesn’t hold water.