Starbucks has come a long way since it’s first Seattle store in 1971. So it makes sense that last year it decided to task its brand team with redesigning the logo. 

Steve Murray, Content Manager of Brand Strategy and Expression at Starbucks, worked as lead writer on the team that spent hours, weeks and months creating a new logo and brand identity for Starbucks and he shared what they did at Starbucks to a full room of retail marketers at the recent conference. 

But how do you improve and simplify a logo that is only made of four parts and one basic colour? And why was it important to do so?

The Starbucks logo that most of us grew up with is made up of a siren, a circle, the colour green and the name “Starbucks Coffee.” As an iconic brand, a redesign of a logo could potentially go very wrong. There’s not much to change so how could it be changed to great effect?

After determining the core values that Starbucks stood for, the brand team started to re-evaluate the Starbucks’ logo by looking at the logos of the top 50 retailers around the globe. They then picked out the green ones and used them to test against to ensure the logo stuck out from them.

The design brainstorming filled a room with images and Starbucks had 6-7 designers working full time to look at all the potential options.

A blurry version of the sample logos

Finally the team settled on something that removed the Starbucks name and brought the Siren figure to the forefront. They called it “liberating the siren” and they adjusted the eyes, hair, nose, etc. until she had the right look. 

Though those changes seemed small, they could radically change the look and feel. After one change, the siren looked like Madonna, another time she looked like Lady Gaga, but the brand team finally came to a decision that embodied the Starbucks brand.  The team then used a small panel of customers to run the different versions by them and how it would play out in the world.

Even though they believed in the new logo, the brand team had to present the final logo to Howard Schultz who  (thankfully) simply said “Yep. Go. Do it.”

Now the hard work really began. After the logo was created, the team had to look at typography, materials, voice, colours used for brand expressions, photography, and store design. They had to take the new look they created and reflect it back to customers at all touch points. 

Sharing the the new branding across the company

Once this is all decided, how do you then share this brand work with the 5000 Starbucks’ partners?

The best solution for Starbucks was to have brand days. It got a warehouse space of 20,000 square feet and created a walk through experience of the brand. Not only did it create the brand in a tangible way but they could use it to explain its business case. 

The visceral experiences of smell and taste came from following the perspective of the beans from the moment they are picked until the last stage of roasting. They also showed the final logo and all the pages of inspirations that got the team to it so people could see the journey. People were also able to leave their imprint with notes on cup curtains and green thumb prints that formed a rendition of the new logo.

Taking the logo to the masses

Once Starbucks employees were introduced to the new branding, social media was a big part of launching it to the world. The comments were by and large positive especially from the design community. 

The Starbucks voice didn’t shift much but it was pushed to incorporate community leaders into the conversation. The new branding set the way and path to define the brand but isn’t the final destination but is rather the beginning.

Anything that comes in for review now is tested against the brand characteristics (like soulful, elegant, considered, expressive, etc) and must have at least three of them incorporated in order for it to be launched.  One size doesn’t fit all. This includes store design which incorporates the area it’s in such as Roy Street, Seattle, Fukuoka, and the Reclamation drive thru in Seattle, which uses shipping containers to create new “pop-up” drive-throughs.

Logo rebrand is just the face of it but it’s about more than that. Now with a new logo Starbucks can branch out beyond coffee. New products include Starbucks refreshers, Evolution juice, Starbucks reserve coffee and they have acquired businesses such as the bakery chain, La Boulange.

So though the logo doesn’t SEEM that different, I think it’s allowed Starbucks to put on a new mindset and allow itself to branch out and become something bigger. One would argue they are big enough, but with the ability to diversify, the Starbucks brand won’t just bring coffee to mind but will be an experience that will touch more parts of our day other than the morning jolt of coffee we’re all guilty of indulging in.