Why Starbucks Rebranded Seattle's Best Coffee

Starbucks is brewing a fresh image for Seattle’s Best Coffee, a specialty brand it acquired in 2003. The coffee giant this week kicked off a rebranding effort, which includes a simpler, more contemporary logo and design. Starbucks hopes to grow Seattle’s Best into a billion-dollar business by expanding it to fast-food channels, convenience stores, drive-through restaurants and even vending machines this fall. But the coffee chain faces a challenge presented by competitors like McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts; both have rolled out lower-priced coffee drinks aimed at penny-pinched consumers. That’s why Starbucks is rounding up its best and brightest marketers to lead the rebranding effort. One of them is Michelle Gass, the former evp-marketing, who oversaw the launch of Via. She has served as president of Seattle’s Best Coffee since September. In an interview with Brandweek, Gass and Robson Grieve, president of Creature, the agency that worked on the rebranding, discussed the thinking behind the new Seattle’s Best image, the challenges the brand faces, and more.
Brandweek: You ran marketing at Starbucks and helped grow Frappuccino into a billion-dollar business before being tapped to oversee Seattle’s Best Coffee in September. How would you characterize the transition?
Michelle Gass:
I’ve been with Starbucks for 13 years now and this has been an unbelievably exciting journey. Over the last seven months, I’ve had the opportunity to totally reinvent not only a business model, but a brand. This is one of those icons in the Seattle area, and it’s steeped in decades of history. We have really great coffee that’s approachable and great to drink and we offer a premium experience.
BW: Starbucks has looked to Seattle’s Best Coffee as its next big potential business for some time now. Why is it launching the rebranding and new logo identity just now?
That wasn’t a deliberate intention on our part. The business was a nice, healthy, steadily growing business and there was just a moment in time when—and I’ve got to credit [our CEO] Howard Schultz—he said there could be something much bigger here. When you look at the history of Starbucks Coffee Corp., we do grow and develop big, emotional, meaningful brands in this world. Not just with Starbucks businesses like Frappuccino or Via [instant coffee], but Seattle’s Best Coffee has the opportunity to be one of those next, big powerful brands that is not only big, but also has a special place in people’s hearts. That is our objective.
BW: So, how did you start? What challenges and category nuances did you have to consider?
We started with the history. When you go back to the early approach, in the 1970s, the brand was very [whimsical] and fun, but some of that got lost and when we assessed the market today, we thought it was time to bring a little bit of that fun back. We don’t have to take the category too seriously.
BW: What’s your goal with the new rebranding and logo effort?
We are looking to create a global identity and this is not just a domestic play. We need a brand that reflects our values, and the ones I’m speaking about are fun, optimism, simplicity and mobility and also showing that with great design. When you see Seattle’s Best Coffee and all of our marketing, you’ll get a very clear picture of what we stand for.