Starbucks | the soul of the brand

Aligning leadership, retail expression, innovation and brand identity: what’s happening with Starbucks?

Lots of friends have been forwarding me comments and remarks on the transitions of the new mark design created internally at Starbucks for their new promise of the future. They’ve been making their own pronouncements as well. Or asking me: “hey, did you do (or know anything about) this?”


The work from transition — that’s Doug Fast, Seattle legend. The new work, my guess – managed by Terry Davenport, SVP Marketing, Starbucks and x-Yum strategist. Girvin’s relationship with Starbucks lives in experience design: brand blogging and retail design commentary. Our work, in synchrony, moved in the examination of aligning other brands inside Starbucks retail space.

I’ll not beleaguer the reader with yet another gathering of commentaries and scripted retorts and smart-ass remarks from online cynics. Nor the parody YouTube videos — out there, and can be found. It’s all out there — but studying the nature of the response – and the care and thoughtfulness of the Starbucks approach to releasing the story on the brand, it’s clear that they’ve left the field open for response: good and bad. And the split is just about that: 50/50% — people are okay, don’t like it, or simply don’t care. Their real relationship is with the barista that knows them — calls them out by name on their arrival in the store, and is ready to stir up just what they’re looking for.

Studying the millions of “likers” on Facebook — Starbucks being the exemplar of the most brand friends (as of this writing, 19,079,329) there’s plenty of commentary, but it’s not of the lashing sort, the ripping cat o’nine tails of a previous logo expression and transition — Gap.

What I’m thinking about is the balance between the strategic emergence of a wholly new line of thinking about retail food and beverage hospitality convivial design experience. If the new soul of Starbucks could be exemplified in the new mark — clean, supremely restrained, balanced and trim (but not necessarily burgeoning with emotionality) how might this strategy relate to the nature of new retail planning, rolling out world wide? Warmer, more “hand made,” rougher hewn, textured? The intentions, in exploring this with Arthur Rubinfeld and his team, is about geographic connectedness and relatedness, links to community are critical attributes deeply detailed paths of the greenest of the green sustainable strategies — reused, recycled and locally (and industrially) “harvested” materials, a design language that might be framed in the sensitivities of high touch, use-textured, wabi-sabi finished sensuality. Sites, and sights — Starbucks — explored here.

My question — to the heart of the tactical intelligence of the brand, is where does the emerging innovations of store / food / beverage consciousness and third place positioning align with the new mark?

A question — and I don’t know the answer. But I’m certain, given the friends, colleagues, Starbuckers and others in the trade that have reached out to me — live and digitally — there will be discussion.

In the crisp, circular ring of the clipped double-tailed mermaid (lots of stories there) — the siren song of Starbucks’ long calling in the history of brand, coffee, place and experience design, the point will be alignment — listening to Howard Schultz’s thinking about the need for change and celebration, coupled with the new clarity of the emerging (March) identity — the issue will be the touch of the mark, and the link of the market (do they really care?) and the sensations of the new stories told in the spirit of the place-made itself.

What’s the next step to innovation in the place-making of the third place (or the fourth realm of living — the new amalgam of home, work, eat-drink-sleep-love,) and the mix of the digital thread entwining it all?

Should brand design suggest superlative visual management in the clearest of the clarified, the cleanest of the cleanly, in how that design speaks to place — or should there be intentional and thoughtful contrast — the space is rougher hewn, the logomark badge is crisp and bright — burning like a green beetle on the shopfront fittings round the world.

What’s your take?

t i m


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