Logolution: evolution, revolution, devolution.
There are often good reasons to update your logo:
you’ve changed and your mark no longer reflects who you are;
your market and your customers’ needs and expectations have changed, and you need to evolve with those changes;
sales are down, so you’re making some strategic changes to increase your connection and value to customers, and you need a spiffed up mark to both increase attention and signal those changes.
Both Starbucks and Gap embarked on logo refurbishment as part of larger plans to gain back some lost sales and luster… but there the similarity ends.
Gap, for reasons that perhaps made sense in a boardroom—but certainly not on the street—took their highly-recognizable logo (its consistent, huge implementation on shopping bags turned every customer into a walking billboard and an unpaid member of a global sales force), and canned it.
The new mark—generic corporate-speak that could just as easily have been attached to a drug or office park—we presume was meant to signal that big changes were afoot. But what kind of changes?
Yes, the team of strategists and designers tried to bring along the original mark’s considerable equity by incorporating a pale blue square in the redesign, but the new affect-free configuration generated a crowd-unpleasing firestorm from customers and, after another mis-step (withdrawing the mark and starting up a crowd-sourcing contest for a “better” mark), the original mark is back in place.
(Maybe the brouhaha made the folks at Tropicana feel better.)
Starbucks took a different route. Their new (or renovated, more accurately) mark, the fourth in the company’s history, brings forward and simplifies their signature siren—and loses the type that encircled her. The new mark clearly signals evolution (beyond coffee, beyond markets who can read our alphabet), not the zig or zag that the Gap mark seemingly was trying to herald.
And it says to loyal customers, “you know us so well you no longer need the words ‘Starbucks Coffee’ to understand our logo; you’re part of the club.”
Starbucks could make these moves precisely because their mark had become a symbol (like the Nike swoosh or Apple’s apple) and was no longer something that people “read.” Like a stop sign (understood around the world by color and shape and four characters that now mean “stop” even if a driver has no familiarity with the English word), the earlier Starbucks logo was already perceived as a single stimulus: one’s brain didn’t read the words, take in the siren, and assemble. It was all of a piece, which then allowed Starbucks make the mark simpler and bolder—without losing any meaning.
As I write this, Matt and Meredith on the Today show are going on about the new Starbucks mark: “What’s the lady doing with her hands?” Of course, they, and others, could have asked that about the earlier versions of the siren. They miss the point.
The Starbucks mark succeeds, as did the earlier ones, because it is invested with what the Starbucks brand means; because it’s a platform for the company’s messages; because it’s differentiated, recognizable, and memorable; and because it helps to build connections and relationships.
All those people carrying Starbucks cups “believe” in the company (in ways Dunkin’ Donuts cup-carriers probably don’t); they want to be part of the culture Starbucks has spawned—and, to some extent, define their own personal brands through their association with the Starbucks brand.
The new mark should strengthen those connections and allow the company to invest the mark with additional meaning as it expands its offerings and geographic scope. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know what the lady is up to, really.
Postscript: Just to be clear, logos can, should, and do change in ways as significant as those Gap attempted.
Of course, it’s better if the new mark is a good platform for meaning and story-telling, and a badge people want to own. But even so, if Gap had stood firm, people would have gotten over it—if the company continued to make products that people wanted.
And let’s not forget the huge change at Gap’s sister company, Banana Republic: some readers will remember when that organization was all about mufti, bits of military hardware, and sawdust on the floor. They certainly needed a new logo when they radically changed direction and swapped out the camouflage for gray merino wool.