Sound and fury over the Starbucks logo, signifying…what exactly?
Like Steve Jobs, Howard Schultz is the visionary founder of a brand phenomenon. Like Steve Jobs he stepped back at the helm of the business when it lost direction and began to founder. And like Steve Jobs he is intimately involved in all aspects of the brand.
He was recently very visible explaining the latest brand evolution, which suggests that what we have seen is more than a mere tweak of the logo.
What is happening around the logo is just a glimpse of an unfolding brand story. The full picture is yet to be revealed but it’s a fair guess that, in a few years time when the chatter over the logo is long forgotten, it will be as redundant to think of Starbucks as a coffee brand as it is to think of Apple as a computer company.
And yet the eruption of debate over the logo is proof enough that the digital environment has created a new dynamic for those of us in the branding business.
I have already seen the words “branding disaster” used in a rush to judgment on the basis of what is, when all is told, an incomplete view of a brand metamorphosing around a business strategy. It is exciting to witness but the commentary makes for dismal reading.
As Allen Adamson of Landor states admirably well in his Forbes.com column BrandSimple, good branding takes vision and courage – courage being one of the most critical factors in the face of so many would-be branding professionals.
“As the digital ways and means of communications increase, as the numbers of those who can tell branders what to do (and where to go) multiply by the zillions, it’s essential that those in our business focus on the end game. Will the changes help differentiate the brand in ways that people care about? If the answer is yes, stand up and stand your ground…”
This is exactly what Gap failed to do in the miserable back-pedaling over its logo. Truth be told, much of the web noise was generated by graphic designers who were affronted that an advertising agency (Laird & Partners) would be allowed anywhere near a classic brand icon. I tend to agree with them, but where was Gap to convince me otherwise? Muttering online about crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing? Where was the leadership?
In all this how easy it is to overlook the successful rebrandings, no less significant in their own way, that have been launched recently without drama.
Xerox’s logo change, for example, hailed by the company as the most sweeping transformation of its corporate identity in the company’s history, is quietly leading the company’s transition away from its legacy business of toner and paper into the customer-centric world of business services.
FPL Group, the Florida energy company, was recently recast into NextEra Energy ahead of a visionary strategy of a renewable energy future.
PriceWaterhousecoopers has become pwc; YMCA has become ‘the Y’; and Hilton Hotels has launched a new logo that has gone back to its iconic roots. Towers Watson, Symantec, Bausch & Lomb, McGladrey, Avid and Kraft Foods have all undergone brand changes with scarce a blip on the digital radar screen.
Ultimately, rebranding can not be managed by popular approbation. Change will always have its detractors. The web has given them a voice which, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, is not so much public opinion as published opinion.
Customer input is essential for the maintenance of a healthy brand, but brand maintenance is one thing, innovation and brand leadership is another. Once a sound strategy is in place, companies just have to bite the bullet and get on with it. As Howard Schultz is demonstrating, rebranding in an age of digital anarchy is a time for vision, courage and leadership.