Starbucks is constantly changing their coffee packaging line to keep things fresh (pun intended?) However the changes are not drastic enough to confuse the consumer. Their design is highly illustrative which I’m sure appeals to all the designers out there. This illustrative style is carried out in the artwork they display on their store walls and the in store displays.Niki Brown

In our next episode, we will look at how a company (like Starbucks) might want to manage its expansion into new product categories and business models, but today, let’s pull a quick little bit of conversation from our last post’s comments:

From Holly Hoffman:

I think you missed the mark on this one, Olivier. I don’t think Starbucks is changing their logo just for the heck of it. As they move into the Middle Eastern and Asian markets (where their focus will be more heavily on teas), it makes sense for the logo to lose the English language words and “Coffee” moniker.

I also really enjoyed Spike Jones’s post about this topic – wherein he points out that only big brands can get rid of their names altogether.

Why didn’t you look at any of the brands that have had success with removing their names from their logos, such as Nike? Isn’t it possible that we’re simply uncomfortable with change? After all, it’s not a completely redesign, like the Gap logo. It’s simply an evolution of an existing logo. And logos should evolve as a brand evolves.

Good points from Holly. My response (edited and enhanced for clarity):

Fair enough, Holly. This is an opinion piece, nothing more. So… right or wrong could be argued all day long. But consider the following:

1. Nike and Starbucks have completely different logos. Nike’s is not symmetrical. Starbucks’ is. In Nike’s original 3 logos, the lettering looked pretty bad. It looked like an add-on. In fact, the 3rd iteration attempted to create some kind of symmetry by adding a red square. (It didn’t work.) Removing the word Nike actually cleaned up the design.

The letters on Starbucks mark, on the other hand, don’t break up the flow of the design. The outer circle anchors it and defines the brand. Comparing the two is a bit of an apples and oranges topic, from a design perspective.

2. Some would argue that the Gap logo was an evolution as well: The GAP lettering was liberated from the square in the same way that the Starbucks siren was liberated from the ring and lettering. Tomato, tomato. Pepsi got rid of its lettering too, and came up with a whole new logo. Was that just an evolution too? Nope. Fact is, it’s always a redesign. The term “evolution” in this type of context is completely subjective, unfortunately. (And for the record, the Pepsi redesign, IMO, though needed, wasn’t an improvement either.)

3. The reason why Starbucks is changing its logo – as I understand it – has more to do with branching off into new product categories than eliminating language barriers overseas. The current logo is the $6 principal latte’s selling point, and even Spike knows it. It’s what gives Starbucks its cachet. Otherwise, we would all just be getting coffee from wherever.

(See? The whole global thing can be addressed in much more clever ways:)


What’s more likely is Starbucks wants to diversify and needs a mark that doesn’t tie it to just… coffee shops. Like this:


Does this look like a coffee shop?

Flashback: Starbucks has already tried its hand at the music distribution thing, sandwiches and now beer and wine. Let’s not forget instant coffee and other Target-style retail products. I think it’s pretty clear that it wants to explore other business models. Removing the coffee anchor from the mark allows them to to just that. There’s your real motivation.


Does this look like a coffee shop?

But here’s the problem: It is both unnecessary and confusing to consumers.

It is unnecessary because Starbucks could have created this new logo for its corporate entity – the overarching, umbrella Starbucks brand – and kept the Starbucks Coffee mark alone. This would give it the freedom to apply the new mark to non-coffee business concepts without having to worry about associating them to their coffee biz. Not to mention the cost savings of not having to redo every sign in the world, reprint every menu and every cup, change all of the websites and collateral, etc.

The irony here lies in that Starbucks is already branding some of its new businesses outside of the “Starbucks Coffee” world. Its wine and beer experiment is called… wait… 15th Avenue Coffee & Tea. (Doh! Another coffee company!)

Okay, let’s try that again… Starbucks also has another business that has nothing to do with the Starbucks Coffee brand. What is it again? Ah yes:

Doh! Okay, I give up. Where Starbucks should be branding all of its coffee shops as Starbucks Coffee and its non-coffee stores as XYZ Music/wine/beer/smoothies/socks/candies/ice cream shoppe/mopeds, it seems to do the opposite: Every new coffee shop is branded something else, but Starbucks’ forays into new and exciting verticals seem doomed to be strapped onto the back of its coffee shops. What Starbucks needs to do is the exact opposite: Consolidate its coffee business under one Starbucks brand and create fresh new identities for its other business ventures.

Aside from the wine, the beer and the music, there’s always all of this stuff too:



It is confusing because if Starbucks becomes a socks, sandwiches, music, video, candy bars, wine, beer, cookies, bananas and T-shirts company, are they now shifting from the coffee company we all know and love to… being something else? Is Starbucks morphing into a sort of upscale 7-11? A Cracker-Barrel type retail experience where you can by Starbucks brownies and board games on your way out of the cafeteria? Will I soon be able to buy Starbucks cheeseburgers in my local store’s frozen section? Should I go to their coffee shop to pick up some Starbucks pizza and pasta salad? Will the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet be available at all Starbucks, or just in select cities?

There is no doubt that Starbucks needs an overarching brand to tie all of its product categories and businesses together. But it also needs to establish clear branding for each of its new verticals, starting by preserving the integrity of its core business: Starbucks Coffee.

To that end, here’s what Starbucks should do:

1. Leave the Starbucks Coffee logo alone for now. It’s fine. People love it and it isn’t in need of an update just yet. This will no longer be Starbucks’ corporate logo. It will only apply to its coffee business.

2. Use the new logo, albeit a little more anchored (is it too much to ask for just one little ring around the siren? Really?) for Starbucks, Inc. Starbucks can print that sucker on socks, bottles of wine, candy bars, music CDs and toilet paper all day long. By doing this, Starbucks Coffee and Starbucks’ other business ventures can be separate.

Cheers, Holly. Thanks for the comment.

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All kidding aside, in Part 2, we will look at a simple way to put some order into all of this, the point being to outline how a company like Starbucks might organize its expansion without a) diluting its core brand, b) creating confusion for consumers, and c) spending more money than it has to.

Until then.