Monday, January 10, 2011

Putting the logo cart before the service horse...

Imagine that you're at Starbucks.  Not your usual hangout but one in another city.  You buy some coffee, do some work thanks to free wifi and mind your own business.  Then nature calls but you see the WC is in need of TP.  You share with the idle staff that the WC could use some TP TLC and the only answer you get is, "Does it need it right now?"

That happened to me.  I only nodded yes in answer to the question but in my mind, I said, "Well, if it wasn't urgent why would I share?"  It was an unfortunate reply to a TP request.  Here's why:
  • You start to notice more things about that location: dirty tables, chronically overflowing garbage, the WC itself is filthy etc.
  • You start to remember the other service lapse the last time you were there: no milk canisters out and when you tell them of this, they say they're there.  When you show the sole empty canister, they take it from you and start to fill all canisters to put them back out.
  • You remember burnt coffee.
  • You wonder about things you can't see but can imagine: are the fridges at the right temperature, do they clean the display case, how food is treated generally, do they adhere to a clean up schedule?
  • You wonder where the managers are and you think that the staff at this location have low morale.
(In fairness to Starbucks, I provided feedback about the store and received an acknowledgement.)

Normally, I would not have shared this story because, honestly, it was gross.  Then this whole new Starbucks logo redesign came about.  I saw many articles (this, for example) reporting and analyzing.  And I saw the video from Howard Schultz (see below).

Anytime I've worked on a value proposition, branding or logo project, there was no shortage of romance.  Selling the idea to your customers during market research, selling the idea internally to management and selling the final product to the public required no small amount of lovemaking.  The only things missing were roses, candelabras and a diamond ring.  But despite the romance, we always had to ensure there was truth that went along with it.

And this video is no different.  I think my favorite is the comment that this new logo represents the essence of the brand: love of coffee, the relationship with partners and the connection with customers.  Given my recent experience, I couldn't help but think of "lipstick on a pig" (not an entirely fair thing to say).  As a customer, I didn't feel any kind of connection with them that day (or this day) so I'm not sure how a new logo will enhance or improve upon that.

And so, as they move to launch new products to launch in their stores to complement the traditional offering, I'm not so sure I'm inclined to believe in it.  I applaud the willingness to expand on their model.  They're feeling the heat from Dunkin Donuts among other competitors.  That said, I wish their work as they improve upon the brand would also include effort on superior (and consistent) customer experience and not only a refreshed logo.

After all, if there is truly love of coffee, a good relationship with partners and strong connections with their customers, then it may or may not matter what the logo actually is.


Parissa Behnia
Idea Chef


  1. Starbucks did put in a huge effort on the coffee itself some time ago. Remember the day when all the Starbucks closed for coffee training?(If not, here's the story: Alas, it sounds like they didn't get the concept of reinforcement - ongoing training, mystery shoppers, inspections.

    A decent bathroom and decent staff will do far more to attract me to the store than a meaningful logo.

  2. Thank you, Meta, for commenting. That's the tragedy of it all and kind of goes back to my "lipstick on a pig" comment. It now seems to be that day was more window dressing than anything else. And, funnily enough, the most heard comment we had from doing Sears value proposition work had to do with clean restrooms. Go figure!

  3. In fairness to Starbucks (and I'm not a fan at all) you're hitting on two different silos - daily execution and visionary marketing. That said, there seems to be a trend to represent yourself with a logo, without any reference to the name, these days. I suppose this is cool in some way but it makes me think of your post about reaching all audiences - McD and Nike I can see; but is Starbucks in every corners of the globe too? If not, and combined with the dip in execution you experienced, their growth will falter. And in that case the logo cart will definitely not help. Thanks!

  4. Well - I don't agree with the silos comment because the romance of the brand and the logo have to be consistent with every single interaction no matter how large or small. The brand/logo has to conjure up the tangibles of the product and experience. The really great, high performing brands understand this in that no matter where you are in the purchase or post purchase process, the expectations of the experience and the experience itself do not differ that much.

  5. Wow! You are just beginning to witness the lack of execution at the store level? Starbucks lost me a long time with their dirty tables, burnt coffee, etc. We are talking early 90's. Parissa, you are right that a brand has to deliver on all touch points, but Publius is correct in that there are silos, that is an issue Starbucks needs to deal with; classic was a friend going in for their Foursquare promotion in Atlanta in 2010, workers had no clue what he was talking about, let alone what Foursqure was. Logo change is visionary to a degree, got some short term buzz going, but I doubt I will be going there in the future when they evolve into a cafe with wine, beer & food. Sorry I have to go against the masses here.

  6. If it weren't for you Parissa, I wouldn't have given their logo any thought at all. You write very well, by the way. I am a customer. I do have a connection with my local Starbuck and they know me by name. I drink some of my coffee there. But I go to lots of Starbucks without feeling any connection, and I am agnostic whether it's Starbucks, Panera, Caribou, or Corner Bakery. I like a reasonably tasty cup of coffee. What surprised me in the video was how Shultz described the essence of the brand: love of coffee, the relationship with partners and the connection with customers. Customers mentioned third, and after partners. Why? Observation suggests that the bulk of their business comes from people who walk in, buy something, usually a drink, and walk out. Whatever is causing that to happen, that's their essence. I bet almost none of them give any thought to their logo or their partners. Cleanliness - yes! logo/partners - no! I guess I don't even know who their partners are, or why they're so darned important.

  7. Hi Bill - thanks for the comment and the positive feedback! I also think partners is an interesting term and, if I'm not mistaken, refers to the Starbucks employee base. It would almost be better if they presented a pyramid and said that the two bottom points were coffee and partners bolstering the customer, or the point of the pyramid.

    Truly, you know with Starbucks that you may not be getting the best cup of coffee but you have a reasonable idea of what to expect not unlike you know what to expect when you arrive in a new town, are hungry and see a Cheesecake Factory off the main road. The known versus unknown.