When Starbucks (aka Fourbucks) changes their logo, the brand world treats it like celebrity magazines treat Lindsay Lohan’s latest court date. Big news. See Makeover for a Mermaid today in the Times. I will tell you that in spite of the expert/guru talk about all the reasons the change (dropping the name Starbucks and “allowing the mermaid to come out of the circle”) is brilliant for the brand, it won’t sell a single additional cup of coffee. Not one.
The real strategic reason was buried in the comments by their CEO who said: “the company is thinking beyond coffee.” There you have it. Howard Schultz has decided that if the company is going to sell frozen turkey dinners, or golf equipment, it can’t say “coffee” any more.
This type of literal corporate thinking is classic brand extension foolishness and will cause Jack Trout and Al Ries to roll over in their graves–and they’re not even dead yet! When the Starbucks brand thinks it no longer ought to stand for coffee–look out.
KFC is one of your more famous examples. They wanted their customers to suddenly forget what the FC meant, and think they might someday get garden salads, pizza and god knows what else at their favorite chicken joint. But rarely can happen that way. By the time your brand is that big, famous and beloved, it belongs to your customers and resides in their heads, not yours. And they don’t like change. KFC has retreated to some extent to its brand reality–THE CHICKEN PLACE–the brand they created and gave to the world. They’re not going to spend another billion dollars changing their signage back from KFC. But it says “Kentucky Fried Chicken” on every associate’s cap and uniform shirt.
Anyway– for years, if you went to any marketing conference, 50% of the speakers talked about two golden brands ad nauseum: Starbucks and Nike. They stopped fawning over Starbucks when their star faded quite suddenly in the last few years. Turns out they weren’t the all knowing brand geniuses after all. What they mainly did was create a great, distinctive product at the right time, then they just showed up–on every other street corner in America. Didn’t need to advertise or even have a tagline in those days. Now they do. So what brand strategy have they unveiled? Now that they have competition from everyone from McDonalds to 7-11, it seems like “coffee” no longer needs to be on the logo. We can all wonder where the Starbucks wunderkinds will guide the brand now.