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Q&A: Starbucks Marketing SVP on Logo Redesign

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It's hard to believe, but in March, Starbucks will celebrate its 40th year in business, expanding from Seattle coffeehouses to a global caffeine powerhouse with more than 16,800 stores in 50 countries and an array of new products on grocery shelves.

Starbucks possesses one of retail’s most familiar brand marks, and the company will celebrate its 40th anniversary by introducing a new modification of its trademark siren logo, the inspiration for which goes back to a 16th century Norse woodcut found by Seattle graphic designer Terry Heckler. Most notable in the redesign is dropping "Starbucks Coffee" from the ring encircling the mermaid.

There have also been less obvious tweaks to the visual itself—more emphasis to the top of the siren and less on the scales—but consumers may see stylistic patterns reminiscent of the tails used elsewhere in Starbucks’ graphics. Terry Davenport, Starbucks' svp, marketing, spoke to AdweekMedia about what the company’s changing visual identity reveals about the brand’s expanding business model.

AdweekMedia
: What are your marketing plans for Starbucks’ 40th anniversary?

Terry Davenport: It’s a big year for Starbucks; we’re 40 years old and going into the new year we have big news this week as we unveil our new brand identity. Ten months ago (Starbucks’ chief executive) Howard Schultz grabbed a handful of us in his office and said, "Next March, let’s make a big idea, a big statement for our (employee) partners and our customers." That resonated among our most frequent (loyalty card) customers and we got encouraging response from them when we asked about changing the logo and about the 40th anniversary.

Q: Tell us about the new logo.

A: One of the unique things about Starbucks is that it has a large internal creative studio; 85 percent of the work was done in-house and then we reached out to (design and brand strategists) Lippincott for the global rollout. The logo has been about the same as in 1992 when Starbucks went public, with 165 stores. With this anniversary, we’ve created a brand identity that looks backward and forward. We separated the siren from the word ring and are keeping the wording "Starbucks Coffee" separate. It’s a nod to the future as we see our brand play in different categories both at retail and in CPG.

Q: How big was the challenge of modifying an iconic mark, given the negative reaction consumers had with the recent redesign of another well-known logo for the Gap?

A: Obviously with a brand with such a huge profile as Starbucks, we approach this change very sensitively. We actually explored a very wide range of options and when we stood back and looked from afar as well as looked close, we all unanimously gravitated toward the images that freed the siren from the word mark. We really took inspiration from companies like Nike where at one point they separated the word "Nike" from the "swoosh" in their logo. This allows us to bring our identity to life anytime and anywhere. You’ll see it as we apply it to our white cups that will be showing up in stores around the 40th anniversary.

Q: You’ll be breaking new advertising from BBDO in March. Will the messaging be built around the anniversary?

A: Clearly BBDO is a critical global partner which is very involved in the brand strategy that led to the new brand expression. We’ve worked side by side to create a comprehensive one voice/one feel to everything the brand does. While these anniversaries seem like a big thing internally, we found that our customers are not so concerned about it. So we may have a little nod to our 40th, but we’ll mostly be celebrating our partners, customers and the role of the brand going forward.  

Q: Will it incorporate new positioning, a new tagline or new creative?

A: You’ll see some of all of that involved. A lot will look fresh by putting the new identity with it. We have a pretty unique brand offering that in conjunction with our traditional media advertising, we can leverage our leadership in social media and digital. Three to four years ago, if you were writing about us, you wouldn’t have said we were a leading brand in social media and digital, but we’re now the No. 1 brand by a lot of sources. We’ve become a leader in social media and in the digital space, and with our Starbucks Rewards program we continue to grow in how we engage with customers. We have a million registered cardholders. So we have an ongoing conversation with consumers in social media and the digital space and with our cardholders.

Q: How has the brand’s positioning changed over the past two to three years, particularly in the economic downturn?

A: The last two years have been turbulent times for any brand and particularly for retail brands. We’ve used this time to really listen to our customers and to provide them the Starbucks experience even more consistently, and we’ve used this time to look beyond the downturn and focus on becoming a growth brand. We’re a pretty unique brand. On one hand, we’re a retail (store) concept. The Starbucks experience is a big part of our brand and it has become a big brand in the consumer marketplace in retail stores and as a packaged-goods product sold in other venues. One of the things that is unique to Starbucks is our 200,000 (employee) partners worldwide. They are the face of the brand and our brand ambassadors.

Q: You’ve started a new promotion this week with $2 artisan breakfast sandwiches. What can you tell us about new menu offerings, breakfast and other dayparts?

A: We’ve moved from the holiday promotion to the next phase with discussion around our brewed coffee, including Pike Place Roast coffee, which is our consistently best-selling coffee that has been a hit since we introduced it in 2008. It reinforces the everyday values of the brand at $1.50 a cup, in contrast to the perception you can’t get anything at that price point at Starbucks. Our artisan sandwiches have been a big hit and have grown steadily since we introduced them in March 2009 and they’ve become the hero of this promotion.

Breakfast is still our most important daypart and has grown as a brand and business over the past two years. We see tremendous growth in breakfast, with espresso drinks, brewed coffee beverages, pastries and warm breakfast items. We think there is plenty share growth there for us, so we’ll continue to focus on breakfast and morning snacks in and around lunch. We’re growing a second Starbucks’ visit of the day with things like Frappuccino with that brand relaunch last summer. That’s helped us regain and grow afternoon dayparts in the economic downturn. While our die-hard Starbucks’ customers wouldn’t give up their morning coffee, we did see people not coming back for their afternoon treat. Now we’re seeing a pickup in Frappuccinos, ice tea and ice coffee, particularly in the summer months. Between lunch and dinner is a tremendous opportunity for us and we look to bring out some news about menu items there.

Q: Starbucks continues to expand its VIA instant brew into new flavors. Do you think VIA has created a taste for instant coffee with Americans?

A: VIA was an overwhelming success by any measure, not just in the U.S. but in the global markets, and it also brings an innovative edge to the brand. We assumed VIA was going to generate growth internationally where there has been more of a market for coffee in an instant, soluble form. But now in the U.S. you can get an instant coffee with the quality of Starbucks. We’ve almost created a new market.

Q: How is product development changing at Starbucks?

A: We’ll stay close to our brand equity; there’s only so far you can move beyond your roots. But already we have products that don’t contain coffee, like Starbucks Vanilla Bean Frappuccino Ice Cream and Soy Strawberries and Crème Frappuccino. We’ve freed up the brand as much as we’re freeing the siren.