Why Starbucks is crafting the perfect branded blend

Starbucks. Now there’s a business that knows where it’s going.

The latest evolution of its brand visual identity – revealed late yesterday evening (as far as the UK is concerned, that is) – is the kind of project I really admire.

Not just because I like the elegance of the design thinking that is evident in the latest brand visual ID, but because this identity is the consequence of serious and significant reflection within a business seeking genuine synchronicity of its business and brand strategy. (In fact, I’d be very surprised if people within Starbucks even make a distinction business and brand strategy; Starbucks business is its brand and its brand is its business.)

This evolution of the brand visual identity is not about Starbucks branding, it’s about what Starbucks’ brand stands for for millions of consumers, worldwide, now and in the future.

Clarity of conviction and purpose

As a business, Starbucks has clearly considered its future role in the lifestyles of global consumers – or the ‘Third Place’ referred to in the Looking Forward to Starbucks Next Chapter post by chairman, president and CEO Howard Schultz – and the capacity of its brand to be sufficiently adaptable to earn the right to play a role in those lives.

That’s why the statements from the business and the initial design visuals ooze strategic conviction, confidence and consensus. I believe that they believe what they’re saying. And what convinces me of that more than anything else is the fact that the redesign was executed primarily by its in-house design team; a team which dared to drop the text off the logo. That’s evidence of a business navigating a strategic route of stunning clarity.

The decision to go in-house has been rewarded in spades. What Starbucks design team has been able to produce is both decisive and carefully considered, expansive in ambition and sensitive to its heritage.

Any brand consultancy would have loved to have been associated with work that resulted in such a clear sense of direction.

The simple but smart idea to release the Starbucks ‘Siren’ from its cell-like roundel and restrictive ‘Starbucks Coffee’ text not only begins to realise the potential of the Siren as an iconic branding device, but it also offers deft nod to the brand’s Seattle seaport heritage. (Yes I know it may not seem so ground-breaking but, trust me, it is a stroke of design genius.)

Of course it may strike many people as odd to drop the reference to Starbucks Coffee from the logo altogether, but that reaction tends to reflect general understanding of where the brand is positioned today. I’ve no doubt the Starbucks name will appear as text in close proximity to the Siren brandmark but, overnight, the business has given itself the freedom to roam simply by taking a subtle but symbolic step.

What will be very interesting, is what other words become associated with the brand mark in the future – and that’s what this change is all about.

And besides, Starbuck’s decision to drop its name as an integral part of the brandmark may be bold but it does have positive precedents: Apple’s decision to drop ‘computer’ from its brand visual identity in 2007 (thanks to Tim Baker for posting that link on Quora, by the way) was a move intended to achieve a similar outcome to the one that Starbucks is aspiring to. In order to reflect the changing nature of its business and to give its brand the best possible shot of fulfilling its potential, Apple subtly but symbolically shifted its emphasis.

As well as elegantly seeking to resolve the constraints of Starbucks brand association with coffee shops, this latest evolution of the Starbucks visual identity has all the characteristics necessary to prove both a resilient and adaptable branding device for myriad media formats. The strength and simplicity of the Siren design will translate beautifully as a hallmark in print and packaging, an ident on web video content as well as an illuminated sign above a store.

Addressing a new communications landscape

In November 2009, I published a post at MRM’s blog that made five predictions as far as the state of brands and branding were concerned. I suggested that, by 2012:

  1. Only three communications disciplines will matter: live events, interaction design and conversation
  2. Momentum behind ‘storytelling’ will gather, ousting traditional ‘campaign-led’ push promotional marketing
  3. Sustainable reputations will be built on the quality of interaction with a product or service; conversation about interaction will drive new adopters of your product or service
  4. As they become micro-media channels, ‘other people’ will become at least as influential as traditional media commentators
  5. Debranding will gain popularity as brands seek to create characteristic brandavatars – a means of creating a signature brand interaction akin to human personality traits both online and offline

Starbucks brand has a considerable stake in each of these five disciplines. And while the latest incarnation of its visual identity is not debranding of the order of its 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea style store, it is, nonetheless, evidence of a further shift away from rigid branding conventions towards new and more adaptive branding traditions. Ironically, the net effect of loosening the grip of the branding is likely to be an enhanced brand in terms of scope, scale and reputation.

Frankly, Starbucks is pursuing a fascinating strategy that has served as a catalyst for a beautifully crafted evolution of its brand identity. It’s the synchronicity of the pursuit of business and brand strategy that gives the business every chance to more easily adapt to whatever the future holds in precisely the way it hopes.

Is the ‘new’ Gap logo a PR double bluff?

Here’s a thought.

What if the uproar about the Gap logo redesign (above) that’s occupying the blogs and tweets of the design community – and beyond – is an elaborate ruse to buy Gap more attention?

It’s an idea that my colleague at NewTradition, Maxine Cameron, was musing about earlier and I floated in an exchange of tweets with Crispin Heath of Team Spirit.

Here’s the thinking: Let’s accept that the brand visual ID refresh and rollout really is a car crash in slow-motion. Why would a brand as experienced as Gap make that kind of misjudgement?

Now consider the attention that the brand is beginning to gain by releasing the logo, sporadically, world wide and allowing it to be ridiculed, lambasted and – in some instances – alternatives being offered up. (I particularly like the tongue-in-cheek sideswipe by id29 (pictured below) posted at Under Consideration’s Brand New site earlier today.)

Then you add into the mix the curious post by Gap at its Facebook page where it says:

Thanks for everyone’s input on the new logo! We’ve had the same logo for 20+ years, and this is just one of the things we’re changing. We know this logo created a lot of buzz and we’re thrilled to see passionate debates unfolding! So much so we’re asking you to share your designs. We love our version, but we’d like to see other ideas. Stay tuned for details in the next few days on this crowd sourcing project.

What if Gap are just seeking to build anticipation and then reveal to the world a brand spanking new ID which the designers of the world fall in love with?

Risky, but it might just work.

And, even if it’s not the strategy that’s in play, there’s still time, Gap. There’s still time.

What do you think?

Twitter elegantly opens a new chapter in personalised content consumption

Now I don’t claim to be any kind of guru as far as the seismic activity of the tech world is concerned. But, as a punter, I already like the look of the new Twitter interface design.

By enabling users to weave together threads of additional content more easily – and by allowing that content to be gathered together on one screen – Twitter is bringing to life the idea of personal content curation in a really elegant way.

If the interface works as smoothly as the blend of words and imagery in the rather nice video preamble to the announcement, then Twitter may well be onto a winner.

I may be jumping the gun here but Twitter appear to be taking a leaf out of Apple’s book as far as interaction design is concerned.

It appears to be offering a really elegant way to curate your own content – less clunky than Facebook and less data-crunchingly workmanlike than Google.

I hope that a renewed stability of the platform emerges in tandem with an effortlessly easy interface. If it does, this could be a really significant milestone in the consumption of content.

Why the ‘Aol.’ rebrand is absolutely fine by me

Aol. logo

Earlier tonight I posted a comment at the Guardian’s PDA Digital Content blog.

I posted it because Wolff Olins’s work on the AOL logo was getting a no-nonsense pasting on the comments board beneath a post detailing designer reaction to the new look. You can see the post plus comments here.

I think the traditional design world needs to get used to AOL’s rationale – and you can see ex-Google-adman-turned-AOL-CEO Tim Armstrong’s interview at the Guardian’s Paid Content – because it strikes me that Wolff Olins has produced a piece of work which, assuming AOL’s core product and service stacks up, has a lot more to do with the significance of its brand in the future than its branding.

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Animating the issues of US healthcare reform

From this side of the pond, it’s been quite tricky keeping tabs on what exactly is at the heart of the US healthcare reform debate that’s raging in the United States.

So, if you take the prose of award-winning author John Green and the creative talent of the people at Thought Bubble, and mix it together, the result is a succinct, serious but engaging analysis of the issues up for grabs.

This video does what good communication design always does: it makes the apparently complex more easy to understand and engage with.

The issues – at least from Mr Green’s perspective – were much clearer once I viewed this. I wonder if you’ll think the same?

Google’s move heralds dawn of ‘signature interaction’

Restaurants are always on a mission to rustle one up, TV game shows spawned an entire genre of them, and you and me have a unique one.
Signatures – whether its dishes, tunes or handwritten monikers – are about to become the next big thing.
As Mashable reported yesterday, Google has successfully secured the US patent to its own signature interaction design – namely the search box and two buttons – after a five-year campaign.
There’s a degree of disquiet emanating from the blogs and comment pages of the blogerati over Google’s move. But why should Googlestand idly by while other brands – who simply didn’t get their first – mimick the interactive characteristics that were uniquely and brilliantly inventive at the time?
The way in which users interact with Google’s search homepage is as distinctive as its rather bizarre visual identity; in fact its part of its identity.
So Google has every right to be justifiably proud of its distinctiveness. That’s why I applaud them for making the first move to protect their brand in this way.
And they won’t be the only ones to do it either. Patent offices worldwide will probably find themselves deluged with patent applications within a matter of weeks (if not days).
Coincidentally, I wrote a brief on behalf of a client about 3 weeks ago now, which has just been pitched to some fine digital creative agencies.
It sets them the task to deliver a ‘signature digital interactive experience’ for my client.
Strictly speaking its not a design brief; it’s a strategic goal for the brand.
I’m asking them to deliver something as distinctive as Google; something that is uniquely theirs.
That’s no mean feat as I know only too well from my time as an account director for TGI Friday’s and their obssessive pursuit of the signature ‘main’ that sets them apart from the me-toos.
The trick is to hone your own signature and stand out; and not try to be just like Google.

Restaurants are always on a mission to rustle one up, TV game shows spawned an entire genre of them, and you and me have a unique one.

Continue reading “Google’s move heralds dawn of ‘signature interaction’”