New Logos: Sink or Swim for Starbucks?

A recent blog by Maureen Morrison on on www.adage.com discussed Starbucks’ new logo, and that CEO Howard Schultz said this signaled the java giant’s intent to “think beyond coffee.”

According to the blog, “Starbucks revealed the logo – which drops the green ring with the text ‘Starbucks Coffee’ and more prominently displays its famed siren – to employees in its Seattle offices and on a webcast.”

New logos are a risky business for any company – how will Starbucks’ revised sea nymph fare? Morrison’s blog describes several recent efforts in the world of logo change.

Pepsi-Cola, Tropicana and Gap all created new or revised logos, with a notable loack of success. All have either received further tweaks or have been scrapped completely.  From the blog: “Pepsi-Cola, which initially rolled out three different smiling logos, scaled back to just one. Tropicana reverted to its straw-in-an-orange imagery after consumer outcry and a drop in sales. And Gap quickly scrapped plans to roll out a new identity when consumers panned the logo’s Helvetica font and gradiated blue box online.”

The consumer expects to be part of identity change now, and why shouldn’t they? If we are asking consumers to identify with brands/products and the lifestyles they embody, then it’s only fair to ask for their input when considering a major change to the brand. Morrison notes that an Ipsos Observer poll conducted by Ad Age during the Gap logo debacle “showed that more than half of consumers expect companies to ask for the public’s input before making a major change to its logo, packaging or product. Thirty-six percent said they didn’t expect that, and 12% said they weren’t sure.”

Starbucks seems to get the message: Mr. Schultz scheduled a call with associates, and the company posted a video explaining the change as well as a post on its website. But with the tools of social media at their disposal, consumers are generally quick to judge a logo change and vocal about their opinions.

The blog quoted Tony Spaeth, president of Tony Spaeth/Identity. He feels that people can dislike a logo without affecting their view of the product. “It’s easy for people to demean a logo change. Does that really reflect their genuine perception of Starbucks? I don’t think so.”

Also quoted was brand consultant Denise Lee Yohn, who said consumers are “always resistant to change, and given what happened with the Gap logo, there’s probably going to be a backlash in the social-media world.” Sure enough, noted Morrison, “there were a few dissenters, with some tweeting comments such as, ‘Starbucks has to be feeling pretty confident to drop name from new logo’ and ‘Is new Starbucks going to last as long as the new Gap logo?’  Mashable.com added its comments, noting that the ultimate success for a business is to be able to remove the company name from the logo and still be recognized, offering Nike as another example of logo evolution.

Not only do today’s consumers voice their opinions on a logo change – something that was formerly a totally corporate decision – but they are aware of what other companies have experienced in introducing a new visual identity.

How will Starbucks’ new logo fly? In the blog Mr. Spaeth said “he thinks the Starbucks logo rollout will fare much better than the Gap logo debacle. ‘The big difference is that Gap management didn’t really understand the significance of what they were doing and that the public was interested. Howard Schultz is very much on top of this and regards this as a very significant step forward. It’s being undertaken with supreme confidence and pride.’”

When deciding to make a major change to a company’s corporate identity, remember that the customer is an important part of the process if you want a new logo to succeed! Read Full Blog Here

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