On January 5, an update on the Starbucks Facebook page announced that the coffee company’s logo would be changing in the spring of 2011. The status update linked to a video message from CEO Howard Schultz on the Starbucks website in which he explained the reason for the change. An accompanying blog post said that the famous Siren needed the update in order to position the company “for future growth” as it explores new channels of distribution (think grocery stores).
As a quasi-traditionalist, I don’t always acclimate easily to institutional change – especially when it involves a sacred cow like my coffee. But I also understand that brands need to evolve in order to grow and enter new markets. The Starbucks logo introduced in 1992 – the one I’m reluctant to give up now – replaced the brown, vintage-looking Siren that decorated the first store Starbucks opened in Seattle’s Pike Place Market. I’m sure the original customers who discovered the coffeehouse before its explosive growth were reluctant to see that logo retired as well. But people are resilient and coffee habits die hard.
Brands change – they have to in order to survive – but that doesn’t mean change for change’s sake is necessarily a positive development. Remember New Coke or Gap’s recent logo fiasco? Starbucks is all about the experience they deliver for customers – from the store ambiance to the service. Oh, and of course the coffee. People pick Starbucks because they feel better about themselves after they leave the store, not because it’s better than Dunkin’ Donuts. If people start feeling different, they may go elsewhere. It remains to be seen whether people will acclimate to the new, modern logo and feel the same about their $4 latte. If the experience feels too institutionalized, Starbucks may lose its edge.
Starbucks’ handling of the switch doesn’t bode well for the direction of the company. As far as I can see, it hasn’t responded to a single comment on Facebook, despite hundreds of respectfully negative feedback on the new logo. If top management is as out of touch as the person managing the Facebook page, then the coffeehouse may be losing its bearings.
I certainly hope that’s not the case. After all, I’m dependent on their wi-fi internet and caffeine. But you can’t build a business model on wi-fi and jitters; I think my local McDonalds has wi-fi and lattes now. But they can’t beat the Starbucks experience. At least for now.