Problem: You have an established global brand but it is tied to a specific category. Your expansion plans require you to move outside of that category. What do you do?
Solution A: Rebrand yourself in an effort to distance yourself from your core business and its ‘restrictive’ category. Become more generic in your focus while maintaining some degree of visual familiarity with an evocative but adaptable logo that can easily fit on anything, from laptops and wine glasses to media players and shampoo bottles.
Solution B: Create a hierarchy/structure for your company that allows you to expand into other categories while preserving your core business and successful brand anchors. Create a new logo if one doesn’t already exist to differentiate the corporate entity from consumer brands.
It appears that Starbucks has opted for Solution A:
I would have opted for option B:
Incidentally, this has been done before, and with pretty decent success:
Starbucks already owns at east two brands that have distanced themselves – if not from Starbucks itself – from the Starbucks logo: 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, and Seattle’s Best. It stands to reason then, that Starbucks Corporate is perfectly capable (and willing) to manage more than just the Starbucks brand. Unfortunately, they are both coffee/coffee shop brands as well. Ideally, Starbucks should consider reversing its current model of branding various coffee endeavors under three different identities while trying to brand new business ventures under the Starbucks umbrella. The opposite – branding its coffee endeavors under the Starbucks Coffee brand while branding music, wine and everything else they experiment with as something non-Starbucks Coffee – would make more sense.
The question isn’t whether Starbucks should or shouldn’t expand into other markets – like music, wine, food, lifestyle products and even travel. Of course Starbucks should. Companies need to grow, and the coffee shop vertical simply won’t satisfy that need for the Seattle-based company. Starbucks therefore needs to expand elsewhere. Its successive attempts at creating extensions with music kiosks, wine and beer, candy, instant coffee and ice cream have all been good tests for the brand. The real question is: How does the coffee brand “uncoffee” itself enough to be able to transcend this category without diluting its brand – in that category?
Rebranding isn’t the solution. Removing “Starbucks Coffee” from the Starbucks Coffee logo isn’t it either. And making your biggest brand asset – the Starbucks cup of coffee – look bland and less than authentic isn’t it either. What this type of rebranding does is exactly what you want to avoid: It dilutes the brand, angers core customers, further increases the distance between consumers and the promise of the authentic Pike Street Starbucks experience, and does absolutely nothing to clarify Starbucks’ brand universe for consumers.
What you want to do is bring clarity to your brand environment and allow it to grow without disturbing your existing brands. You create something like this:
At the heart of the expansion puzzle for Starbucks seems to be the way the company views its own distribution channel: Starbucks coffee shops seem to have become labs for every “shift” idea. Overnight, coffee shops find themselves turned into music stores and sandwich joints and wine bars… and then back into coffee shops again when the latest idea doesn’t scale. This dependence on Starbucks Coffee stores is in and of itself a hurdle Starbucks needs to address in its quest for clarity. Truth is that if Starbucks wants to get into the wine business, Starbucks needs to start a wine business. If Starbucks wants to launch music stores, Starbucks need to launch music stores. What Starbucks cannot continue to do is dilute the coffee shop business with every new idea that comes along. This latest step – essentially “uncoffeeing” the Starbucks logo – further unanchors the Starbucks experience inside the coffee shops from the vital core coffee experience upon which Starbucks built its brand over the last 40 years. There is danger of diluting the brand in this way. Unfocused brands tend to lose relevance.
With the logo change, Starbucks’ brand narrative unravels itself into a loose brand extension grail quest: By 2015, will we still be walking into coffee shops or will we be walking into lifestyle emporiums of music, gourmet pizza, protein smoothies and wine tastings? Will Starbucks also sell bread, like Panera? Will it sell donuts like Dunkin? Will it go after McDonalds by also offering gourmet burgers for lunch? Which begs the question:
What is Starbucks if its coffee business is no longer about coffee?
The question is much bigger than a logo redesign.
In order to change, Starbucks needs to think beyond the obvious logo update. The puzzle here, while not difficult to figure out, is a little more complex than a bit of uninspired graphic design wizardry. The company’s strategic expansion model needs a little clarity and structure. Starbucks need a plan more than it needs a new logo.
Focus, Starbucks. Focus. We love you and want to see you succeed, but you need to think this through just a little bit harder. The logo should have been just a cool little detail, not the centerpiece of what comes next.