Starbucks' Logo Mishap: 5 Miscalculations To Use As A Warning

Yesterday I learned the shocking news that Starbucks is destroying its logo in the name of brand expansion. As a dedicated Starbucks fan for more than a decade, and as someone who spends a lot of time studying brands, I felt my stomach sink. It was like watching Titanic (except without having to suffer through Kate Winslet and Leonardo di Caprio on TBS for the fiftieth time.)

Immediately I Tweeted the equivalent of "Nooooo...please change your mind!"

It didn't take long before the anti-logo-change articles and blog posts started to flow. If you have time to read them, a few good ones highlighting the mistaken thinking behind the change are online at Branding Strategy Insider, Fox News, and Forbes. CoreBrand's CEO James Gregory put it especially well: "Chief executive Howard Schultz has the right idea about evolving the logo. His solution however shows some of the hubris that got the company into trouble a few years ago."

Exactly. Starbucks' move reflects not only lack of self-awareness, but also arrogance. They are in love with the "siren" (oy, give me a break, it's just a green graphic of a mermaid that looks like an octopus!)

The quote from Schultz in The Wall Street Journal makes him sound absolutely insane:
"Even though we have been and always will be a coffee company and retailer, it's possible we'll have other products with our name on it and no coffee in it."
Say what? Like - has he not been to Starbucks lately, where they sell quite a variety of food without coffee in it?

Or to the grocery store to pick up a container of Starbucks Vanilla Bean ice cream?

The statement by Schultz on the Starbucks website elaborates:
"Our new brand identity will give us the freedom and flexibility to explore innovations and new channels of distribution that will keep us in step with our current customers and build strong connections with new customers."
Whoa. This is such a colossal error in reasoning. They have other options.

I've been glancing at the Tweets - bad. The Forbes blog quotes one survey stating that 70% of respondents like the old logo better.

What do we get that Schultz and his team don't?

To get the answer all you have to do is watch the pilot episode of the megahit TV show Friends. The very first scene is "Central Perk," which is really a euphemism for Starbucks. Central Perk, like Starbucks, represented an affordable let luxurious, comfortable, neutral gathering place for the friends outside their respective homes.

In Central Perk, the six friends could experience some brief happiness together - relief from the trials and tribulations of life - by sharing a steaming, delicious cup of coffee.

Friends premiered in 1994, and wouldn't you know it - it was around 1995 that the stock price of Starbucks began to take off. (You can customize the chart in in the link to go back 20 years.)

In fact, the brand essence of Starbucks is very close to the brand essence of the show Friends. It is about a coffee-centered "third space." This is the main reason why removing the words "Starbucks Coffee" from the brand is such a disaster. The company has literally destroyed its own equity.

Let's sum up the 5 fundamental miscalculations involved in this decision.

1: They miscalculated where the equity of the brand resides. It's not in the picture. It's in the words.

2: They miscalculated the best way to handle inevitable decline. There are many options. As I stated back in 2007:
"Today, the Starbucks brand is extracting the absolute most it can from its brand equity. It is at the top of the hill. It has nowhere to go but down. The company should pull back and create another, new brand 'from the makers of Starbucks' which redefines the coffee category and gets back to the essence of what Starbucks used to be all about."
Some ideas:
  • Destroy the brand (as above) and create a new one - like Oprah did with her TV show, putting it to rest and starting a new cable TV network.
  • Take the most valuable element of the core brand (the words "Starbucks Coffee") and creating a super-premium brand, while doing something to make the core brand more appealing on a mass level - e.g., expanding the food, merchandise, magazines, and other items for sale.
  • Focus attention on Seattle's Best and other excellent coffee options - developing a portfolio of coffee-related brands each with a certain brand offering related to the original Starbucks promise.
  • Develop a Starbucks Management School where the company's philosophy of employee engagement could be taught to executives of other companies.
...and on and on.

3. They miscalculated the brand equity in the "siren." As others have pointed out, a swoosh she ain't. As marketing expert John Tantillo, principal at Metzger Tantillo Marketing, put it in his post for Fox: "we think and say the WORD 'Starbucks'... we don't think and say, 'green blotch with mermaid symbol.'"

4. They miscalculated the quality of the design of the siren. Let's face it, the image is not great. First of all, it doesn't say anything. Second, it's complicated. Third, it's unappealing. Fourth, and most bothersome to me, it's actually OPEN at the edge. There is no border around the image. It seems like they forgot to finish it.

5. They are generally drinking their own Kool-Aid. It's almost unbelievable, how egocentric this company is. The video at the top of the Starbucks homepage announcing the change is - guess who? Howard Schultz!

And the company's blog posts...well read this excerpt from the January 5 corporate blog post, "Bringing the Siren to Life" for yourself and tell me if you don't smell the b.s. wafting up from Corporate Communications:
"When we first heard about the possibility of modifying the Starbucks brand identity, our minds went wild with the possibilities. This was the project of a lifetime. The designers here at Starbucks have such a love for this brand – it’s what drives our creativity."
This propaganda-ish tone offends me, as it comes from a company that has defined branding for me for what seems like most of my adult life. In this day and age, they could have been secure enough to post something a little more genuine. Like maybe a post saying that he wasn't so convinced at first?

The bottom line is, brands lose their way when they lose touch with reality. While everything and everyone grows old and dies, it is possible to stay vital for a long time by continually mining your brand essence for new ways to delight the customer.

Sadly it seems like the company is succumbing to ego, greed, bad advice, Schultz being too close to his own business, or simply having held the same job for too long. He can't see clearly that what we want out of Starbucks is not the coffee itself, but the memory of having gone to that special place where we can grab some time to relax, read the paper, and share a good memory with family and friends.

I hope that when Facebook goes public, it doesn't suffer the same fate.

Oh No...I've Been Vetted!

When I started working, I thought "vetting" was something you did to cover your tent when you went out camping in the woods. As in, "Let's make sure we have a lot of vetting on the tent so that the mosquitoes don't get in."


Vetting, sounded exactly the same to me.



Now I know that vetting is not something you do to a tent but something you do to an idea, to make sure that it never actually goes anywhere.


As in, "Let's vet this idea with EVERYONE to make sure that ANYONE who objects has a chance to say so, and if there is NO ONE who can think of anything wrong with it..."


Well you know how that sentence ends...often many emails, and then the concept is sent to the dwelling of Great Ideas That Never Saw Airtime.


Now, it is not true that vetting is a way of keeping new ideas from being implemented. Far from it. Govies like new ideas. We like taking action.


The problem is that we don't implement the right ideas.


The problem is that we are ruled by fear. 


Those who aren't ruled by fear are quickly dismissed as naive and unrealistic by those who have been around long enough to see lots of innovation get implemented and then shot down the minute somebody says "Boo."


So frequently, vetting is a way to try and avoid being shot down later on. The idea is that you circulate the concept so many times, change it per feedback to such an extent, that when it ultimately gets implemented later on (if at all) nobody can say, "I told you so." Because you've got the email to prove they had a chance to comment.



If I were Glenda the Good Vetting Witch, I would fight back against the Wicked Vetting Witch of the West by making sure that the vetting process was motivated by positive energy and not destructive fear. Here's how it would work:


1. Set up an idea-generating and voting system throughout the agency as well as in every department, and make it transparent, as well as both online and print-based. Ideas should be everywhere. Let imagination be free.


2. Set up an objective, merit-based process for choosing a few ideas to pilot every year - a process that ensures quieter voices get heard.


3. Vet pilot projects as the pilot is being implemented - feedback is more useful when it concerns something that is already in action as opposed to a theoretical idea.


4. Communicate to employees that the organization has their backs regardless of whether the idea is criticized - that they were hired for their skill and expertise and that their ideas are valued accordingly


5. Ideas are considered regardless of the source and are not filtered through the chain of command...although the chain of command has the responsibility to manage the process of implementing the ideas that are going to go forward in some way.


While in the past it may have been necessary to squelch ideas to keep things moving in an orderly fashion, going forward it will be the ideas that save us. Let's not vet them to death because we're afraid of our own shadow!



Are You Too Much In Love With Your Brand?

Consider this.

You “fall in love” with your own brand or business or way of doing things. You can’t see what’s really going on, because you’re so besotted or wedded to the status quo. You insist that there is nothing that you can do, no way to change any dysfunctionality, because things are the way they are for good reason. Or worse, you do Band-Aid things to promote your brand rather than perform surgery when there are signs of internal bleeding.

And just like in any relationship, if you let problems fester without dealing with them…well, there is a saying that covers this. “You can pay now (by dealing with the facts) or pay later (by cleaning up the expensive mess.”)

A “lack of objectivity” sounds kind of trifling when you merely say the words. But it can pose an incredibly serious threat to your brand’s very existence. Remember when Yahoo! turned down Microsoft? When Groupon turned down Google? Yes, they’re both still here, but…I think they both made the wrong bet because they refused to read the tea leaves about their respective futures.

More examples illustrate this well. Today, does Google take seriously the threat posed by Facebook? Does Apple think that it can hold off the Droid and copycat tablet computers forever? Or do these brands think that their secret sauce is powerful enough to sink other companies’ ships indefinitely?

I could go on and on but the point is that even the best brands are vulnerable. Coca-Cola is one that understands this well. They never stop scanning the environment for both trends and threats. That’s why they’re so incredibly strong, so many decades after the company’s original founding. When New Coke flopped, they admitted it and dusted themselves off. And came back stronger than ever.

So even though it hurts, dedicate yourself this year to total objectivity. Think of your brand as a never-ending construction site, and you’re the architect of a project that will never end. Put on a hardhat and examine what is going on rationally and coldly. It’s not that you don’t love your brand, but that you have to take responsibility for its continuous improvement.

You may be wondering where to start with that, if you’re not sure.

It’s interesting. It doesn’t take any one magic pill. Rather it’s more like bringing objectivity into your consciousness. The most powerful tool, for me, is simply watching how other people act.

Here are just a few behaviors that I observed only recently, carried out by ordinary people who weren’t even conscious of trying to do anything “special.” If you watch people, and read, and even watch TV, you can pick up on actions and attitudes like this - that will get you where you need to be:

* Openness: I saw someone investigate bad feedback rather than dismissing it, and incorporating lessons learned.

* Attention to detail: I saw someone insist on improving a flawed product design—even though the client wouldn’t have known it.

* Audience focus: I saw someone quietly pre-test a communication concept, rather than just “running it past the client” before it was ready.

Don’t have much time for people-watching? Head over to intervention-style reality TV. Take your pick:

* Bravo: The Millionaire Matchmaker, Tabitha’s Salon Takeover

* A&E: Intervention

* NBC: The Apprentice

* TV or book format: Dr. Phil

How about a book:

* If You Have to Cry, Go Outside, by Kelly Cutrone (Owner, The People’s Revolution)

There are so many resources out there to choose from, and the more mundane and closer they are to you, the better. This isn’t an academic exercise!

The point is that being passionately dedicated to your brand isn’t enough. Neither is simply delivering on it consistently, although that’s imperative. If you want to make it past the Darwinian process that is brand survival nowadays, you must make it your business to face reality - even if doing so feels like it will drive you crazy.

Good luck!

Brand Excellence: 1 Rule, 5 Ways, 100 Words

#1 – Do the right thing, over and over again

#2 – Be transparent, always

#3 – Always deliver the same product, service or experience

#4 – Consistently respond to feedback quickly and thoroughly

#5 – Relentlessly evolve to meet customers' wants and needs even better


What do these things have in common? CONSISTENCY. With it you may be mediocre and survive. Without it you will be dead – no matter what.


In a world where people can't rely on each other, they turn to their brands for support. If you want their money, you better be there.

5 Brands I Want To See Going Mainstream

1. Vitamins customized to my unique needs based on individual testing
2. Social media dashboard on mobile that is truly all-in-one
3. Atkins-approved line of fast food (or a label for fast food in existing chains)
4. Business clothing that is made from exercise fabric (and business shoes that are really sneakers)
5. Radiation shield that easily slips over cellphone

Beware The “Yes-Man” Who Is Ruining Your Brand

If branding were a course of study, it would most closely resemble psychoanalytic sociology, a fancy term for the scientific study of irrational-seeming group behavior.

You would never know this from reading about “marketing” or “branding.”

The material I’ve seen in this field (keeping in mind that there is a difference between the two, but we’ll put them together for now) generally presumes a “rational actor.” Meaning, that people are generally logical and are conscious of why they do what they do.

The epitome of traditional marketing thinking is the reduction of research to surveys (quantitative) and focus groups (qualitative). Both of these tools, while they have their place, are grossly overused, even though they are ultimately ineffective. If I could TELL you what I wanted from peanut butter I wouldn’t be lured by the name “Skippy.” Skippy sounds like a kid with a baseball cap on. Why would I buy peanut butter from this person? Or how about Jif? That’s not a name I would choose for a food, ever.

You may be objecting to this thesis. You’re thinking about buzzwords like “neuromarketing” and “social media.” You read the article in Fast Company about the thirtysomethings taking courses with a Swedish company to adapt to the new and digital future of marketing, where”creative genius” is out and coding skills are “in.”

Unfortunately, as good as technology will get – and it is going to get better and better – nothing can save us from good old fashioned THINKING. Great marketers don’t lean on survey results that ask “Do you like this?” or “What were the themes that emerged about that?” They know that cognitive distortion and groupthink are such strong counter-factors that marketing research must be taken with a huge grain of salt.

Great marketers have an attitude more like Albert Einstein, who famously said, “If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?”

Unfortunately however, it takes courage to insert even a little bit of insight, intuition, innovative thinking and intentional creativity into the marketing process. Because so much money is at stake. And as you rise up the career ladder, so is your reputation as a marketing leader. It’s one thing to be at the bottom and blab about your great ideas. It’s another to be holding the reins of a Pepsi or Mercedes-Benz or Google.

And even if you muster up the courage to be bold, you face a hidden obstacle. That is the plethora of people willing to serve as “yes-men” (or “-women”) to your ideas. These days it’s no longer enough to be great on your own. Especially as you get promoted, you must surround yourself with people who will feel free to speak their minds. Better yet, supplement them with online feedback tools that give you an inkling of when people feel like you’re being an idiot.

To me, branding is an incredibly fascinating science precisely because you’re trying to get a handle on the rational and logical principles that underlie what seems like irrational behavior. It’s a lifelong journey, and I wish you all good luck along the way.

Happy 2011!

Goldman Invests In Facebook At $50 Billion Valuation

My opinion: Facebook is now a more valuable brand than Google.

Prediction­: When they start selling stuff from within Facebook, will be virtually unstoppabl­e.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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