A client asked last week, “When is it time to change our logo?” Eric answered him briskly, “When your company changes.”
Your logo symbolizes your company. It stands for all your corporate values and represents the customer experience. When those aspects change significantly—that is they improve—the logo needs to be updated to capture them. That’s what Starbucks Coffee will be doing in March when it rolls out its new mark.
Among my favorite logos are AT&T, Shell Oil and Volkswagen—all old ones that have evolved over the years with their corporate ancestor. Mostly they get modernized to reflect progressing aesthetics. Shell Oil, for instance, has updated its shell and evolved it from a representational image to an expressionistic one. Volkswagen’s initials-in-a-circle have gotten sleeker, more high-tech (and expensive) looking as their cars have done the same.
Apple Computer started out with a crunchy-granola, fruit label type logo that spoke of its California upbringing and small-company, “hand selected” philosophy. It was a great way to represent food and wine and a new way to talk about technology. As Apple dedicated itself to simplicity and being the computer anyone and everyone could use it drastically simplified its logo to just the apple with rainbow. Changes from rainbow to black to white to chrome reflect contemporary aesthetics as well as Apple’s position as a technology leader.
None of the companies we just discussed use their name as part of their logo. This is partly language-neutral globalism, partly ubiquity and partly pride. Starbucks has joined this crew with a 40th anniversary iteration of their mermaid. A company spokesman said that the mnemonic refinement reflects refinement of their strategy. The Associated Press dug a little deeper (January 5, 2011)
“The brand is now evolving to a point where the coffee association is too confining and restrictive,” said John Quelch, a marketing professor at Harvard Business School. “Starbucks is fundamentally selling an experience, but by no means is coffee the only part of the experience. It is important that they not have a logo that is too confining.”
I never did see the connection between mythical human-fish hybrids and coffee. I sort of get how she can symbolize the other-worldly, get-away-from-it-all experience of relaxing with a good cup of coffee (something Starbucks has never had). But what she has to do with students and officeless consultants sponging wi-fi, lines of SUVs snaking toward the take-out window and the pseudo-socializing of social networks someone needs to explain to me.