Poor Starbucks. They’re not sure what they are.
Starbucks began as a single store, more or less unknown outside of Seattle, that roasted and sold coffee beans. When Howard Schultz became involved and eventually took over, he introduced the revolutionary concept of brewing coffee and selling it by the cup. His goal was to do coffee the same way baristas in Italy did coffee. For instance, there would no lattes made with nonfat milk. No self-respecting barista in Italy would do that, so neither would Starbucks. That changed — and this was wise — when Shultz witnessed, first-hand, customers deserting his stores for coffeehouses that were less snobbish about such things.
Meanwhile, Starbucks would sell donuts and the like, but never deli-type sandwiches. Schultz wanted customers to walk in and smell coffee, not pastrami. That changed.
Then the public began murmuring, with increased frequency and volume, that Starbucks seemed somehow, I dunno, expensive. In response, Starbucks did the worst thing an advertiser can do. It ran ads effectively telling customers, “No, you’re wrong. We’re not expensive.” Here’s the thing. Most people believe they can judge for themselves what is and isn’t “expensive.” You rarely get far telling the public they’re wrong in such matters.
With flagging sales and a brand that can never quite settle on what it stands for, what does Starbucks do? Why, they update their logo, of course. Hence today’s big news is that you can now go to Starbucks and get a cup with a picture on it sans the words “Starbucks Coffee.” If anything will boost sales, surely that will do it. Er, right?
This logo update comes on the heels of the company’s recent return to a retro version of its logo. The newer decision to remove “Starbucks Coffee” was motivated by the fact that Starbucks sells non-coffee drinks like tea, cider and hot chocolate, and non-coffee products like oatmeal, panini, breakfast sandwiches and pastries. Oh, and don’t forget the strawberry frappucino.
Earth to Starbucks: the logo ain’t the problem. Which means it ain’t the solution, either. It’s more like the fact that “Starbucks” once meant coffee, and that now, more and more, no one, not even Starbucks, is quite sure what it means.
To be fair, there are times to update or change a logo. General Mills has done a good job of keeping Betty Crocker looking current. (Unlike Marie Callender, Betty Crocker is a fictional character. So are the Keebler Elves. Sorry if either revelation spoils anyone’s fun.) And the old Bell System was wise to keep updating the look of its bell.
But too often, a new logo is the default of marketers who haven’t a clue as to what else to do. Another default is coming up with a new slogan. Don’t be surprised if Starbucks cups soon sport a would-be clever line. How about: “Starbucks. We know beans about coffee.” Or: “Spend your bucks on Starbucks.” Or: “We put the de in decaf.” (Or, for their decaf latte, how about: “We put the calf in decaf.”) Or, for major markets like New York City and San Francisco, how about: “Where only one store per major intersection isn’t enough.”
What slogans would you suggest? Have at it, readers.