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Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

bn branding's iconic logo

I’ve been a fan of Starbucks since they opened their first store in Portland, in 1987.  I don’t think there’s been a brand, since McDonalds, that has had a bigger effect on our society than Starbucks. It truly is, one of the most iconic brands in the world, and has grown to be one of the most valuable.

 

Interbrand ranks Starbucks as the 56th most valuable brand in the world. It’s market cap of 120 billion dollars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo.

 

A great article in Fast Company magazine reveals some of the latest nuances added to the siren logo.

 

 

 

 

 

I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

 

 

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

 

 

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

 

 

 

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the logo evolved, it got too perfect. It lost some of the mystery of the older versions. Lippencott article in Fast Company

 

 

 

 

1

Catching frogs and campfire songs — Branding lessons from summer camp

BNBranding logo

I find branding lessons in some pretty funny places. Like on a wart, on a frog, on a log at summer camp.

Every summer when I roll up the sleeping bag, pack the bug spray and make all the preparations for another camping trip, memories of my childhood summer camps come flooding back. Like the lyrics of my favorite old campfire song:

There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea. 

There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

branding lessons from the Brand Insight BlogThere’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a germ on the hair on the wart on the frog on the knot on the log in the hole in the bottom of the sea.
There’s a hole, there’s a hole, there’s a hole in the bottom of the sea.

So what’s what’s that silly old song have to do with branding? Where are the branding lessons there?

 

 

The germ on the hair on the wart on the frog is your logo. Its just one, teeny-tiny part of a much bigger branding effort.

Don’t let anyone tell you differently. A new logo mark does not constitute a “branding effort.” Logo and Brand are not synonymous.

If it’s done well, your logo is a graphic reflection of your brand, but it’s just one small part of your branding effort. That’s the branding lesson here.

Branding is everything you do in business that might effect the perception of your company.

It’s the words you choose that go with your logo, or on your website. It’s the people you hire, the vendors you choose, the values you hold dear, the marketing tactics you deploy and the companies you affiliate with.

Branding is more than just the images you show. There’s also an audio component of branding that’s often overlooked… the music you play in the office, the sound effects you use in commercial, the script for answering the phone.

Like it or not, everything matters. Branding lessons can be applied to every facet of your business.

 

Branding lesson from BNBrandingMore branding lessons from Camp Wannalogo. Use songs. Sounds. Hearing.

Branding should employ all the senses, not just sight. You should strive for what Martin Lindstrom calls”sensory synergy”… Sight, sound, touch and smell.

But short of that, at least employ sound.

Echoic memory — the memory of songs, lyrics, tunes and sounds — is dramatically sharper than iconic memory — the memory of what you see.

I remember that old song from summer camp. I remember jingles from my childhood. I all the lyrics from a coke commercial, vintage 1970. I remember the first three notes of thousands of popular songs… name that tune.

And yet most businesses completely ignore the elements of sound in their branding efforts.

They spend thousands and thousands of dollars on high-def video production, and they completely ignore the music. The sound effects. The quality of the voice-over. It’s a shame.

 

Choose one main thing BNBranding

These days, summer camps have learned some important branding lessons of their own… They’ve become very specialized.

The camp owners have figured out that they can’t be all things to all kids, so they’ve narrowed their focus.

There are canoe camps, music camps, space camps, water sport camps, tech camps and camps for any interest under the sun.

They’ve figured out that branding means giving up something.

By catering to very specific interest groups, they have way fewer incidents where the parents have to drive out and fetch a teary-eyed, home-sick camper just a few days into it.

That’s a good branding lesson, right there… Make the experience something the kids want to remember and repeat. Not something they want to flee from.

 

Here’s another element of branding that I picked up at summer camp: Creative names, colorful flags and house identities.

Camp Wannigan. Yes, I wanna go again.

Camp Waziyatah.

Camp WeeHahKee

Camp Funnigan.

Your brand name is probably the most important element of your initial branding effort. If  you have a crappy brand name you’ll have a very hard time designing around that problem.

Design firms will go to great lengths to deliver a beautiful new mark and type treatment for you. They’ll devise extravagant reasoning for their graphic solution, and it’s usually a huge visual improvement.

But that’s as far as it goes.  All the other components of branding — the bigger issues —  are left to the client to handle.

From a broader, business perspective, logo design is but a speck on the pimple of that frog. Like one song in a lifetime of campfires. Some stick, but most are quickly forgotten among the overall experience.

So don’t kid yourself. That new logo isn’t going to make up for mediocrity in other departments, like customer service. It’s not going to plug the gaping hole in your operations or compensate for a crummy, me-too product.

BN Branding lessonsActions speak louder than logos.

It’s what you do as a company, and what you believe in, that make a brand. Not just how your logo looks reversed out of a dark background.

So if you’re thinking of redesigning your logo, I suggest you look a little deeper than just the design exercise. Take the opportunity to assess every aspect of your business, and ask yourself this?

Am I seeing the bigger brand picture, or just the germ on the hair on the wart on the frog?

For more on logo design vs. branding, try this post.

For a more wholistic approach to branding, give us a call.

 

8 crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Crowdsourcing logo design (Getting literal for little.)

brand credibility from branding expertsCrowdsourcing logo design is a sore subject in the graphic design community. I could easily write 10,000 words and show 1,000 examples of why crowdsourcing is a bad idea. But I’m just going to focus on two practical reasons that you probably haven’t considered… These two ought to be deal breakers for many people who are trying to save a few bucks on their brand identity:

1. Managing the crowdsourcing process is a time-consuming pain in the butt. If your time is valuable, it could actually cost you more than hiring a local designer.

2. The finished product usually falls flat. Branding firms and graphic designers spend a lot of their time “re-branding” companies that originally crowdsourced their logo design.

 

First, let’s address the managerial issues of crowdsourcing logo design.

I recently coordinated a crowdsourcing project for a client. (Against my most adamant advice.) The client believed that his money would be better spent “outsourcing” the design work and using me as the Creative Director/Project Manager.

crowd sourcing logo designs waste of money

Fair enough… I’ve played that part in my company for more than 25 years, so it should be easy, right?

Wrong.

Managing a herd of young, unproven designers from far-away lands is far harder than managing the designers who I know and trust. It was a valuable experiment, and a bit of an eye-opener for me.

My first task was to provide an insightful, tightly-written creative brief that would provide all the inspiration the designers would need. No problem, that’s right in my wheelhouse. Plus, I had already devised a brand platform for that particular client, so the brief was relatively easy. In this case, my creative brief even included specific graphic concepts that I wanted the designers to explore.

Too bad nobody read it.

The first 50 design submissions were obvious throw-aways — A complete waste of time from designers who didn’t take even five minutes to read the creative brief. It was ridiculous. Using the handy “comment” tool on the crowdsourcing platform, I strongly suggested that they start over. “Don’t submit anything until you’ve thoroughly studied the creative brief,” I told them.

The next batch wasn’t any better. The designers were obviously submitting old designs that had been sitting around from past crowdsourcing “contests.” They just changed the name of the company, and voila!

Back to the comment tool: “We will entertain original designs only… no recycled designs please. “

I also loaded up more background material for the designers who actually choose to read. But as more designs rolled in it was painfully clear that many were just derivatives of earlier submissions. That’s one of the worst things about crowdsourcing… the designers see all of the submissions and what the client has “liked.” This system inevitably leads to copy-cat design.

“The client said he likes that font, so I’m going to use that font.”

crowdsourcing logo design “The client liked that purple color, so I’m going to do some purple versions.”

“The client commented favorably about that mark, so I’m going to do something like that.”

At one point a cat fight erupted between two of the designers, with one accusing the other of stealing her designs. Never mind. They were both terrible. I saw more crummy designs in that month than I had in the last 10 years. Back and forth and back and forth we went until we finally selected the “winning” designer.

That’s when the real work started.

After looking at more than 250 designs we finally had one that was, at least, a mediocre solution. Again, I went back to the “comments” tool and began the fine-tuning process. Unfortunately, the winning designer had no experience producing a simple bundle of materials like letterhead, business cards and an email signature, so there was a painful back-and-forth process on the simplest little production details. Stuff than any junior designer should have known.

For accomplished creative teams, every new design assignment is a learning process. The work is driven by insight and spurred on by a thorough understanding of the product or service.

We thrive on the challenge of that and there’s a disciplined process that we follow. We do the research, study the market, live with the products and pour our heart and soul into helping clients succeed. Because that’s how we succeed. We have to learn about the business before we can design anything.

crowdsourcing logos Brand Insight BlogCrowdsourcing logo design eliminates that process. It skips the insight phase and jumps right to execution with no business thinking involved. No listening. No collaboration. It also leaves the client in the unenviable position of  Project Manager and Creative Director…  A tough dual role to play if you’ve never been in the design business.

Professional managers know the danger in this. They don’t choose to manage projects when they have no experience or expertise in the activity they’re managing. So if you have no experience managing freelance designers, don’t choose crowdsourcing. Hire a design firm to manage the process for you.

Now for a discussion about subjective quality…

The finished product of my one crowdsourcing experience was mediocre, at best. Even though I served up ideas on a silver platter, and provided tons of insight on the market and the business model, the designs were weak. Most were just too darn literal.

Advice on crowd sourcing logo designs on the Brand Insight BlogIf you’re in the roofing business you’ll get a drawing of the roof of a house. If you’re in the ice cream business, it’ll be a cartoon ice cream cone. If it’s the veterinary industry, it’s always a dog and a cat together in one logo. Nothing is left to the imagination. And there seems to be an assumption that all prospects are idiots.

Well guess what. If you dumb down your logo design, and pound people over the head with visual clichés and literal redundancies, you will not make the connection you’re hoping for. Your brand will not become iconic.

Imagine if Nike had gone the literal route…  Instead of the Nike swoosh, we’d have a an illustration of a shoe. And Nike might only be a two million dollar company.

If the I.O.C. had chosen the literal, quick-n-dirty design there would be no Olympic rings.

There would be no Golden Arches.

If Starbucks had chosen crowdsourcing there would be no mermaid.

There would be no crocodile for Lacoste.

See, logos are supposed to be symbolic. They are symbols of something, or the graphic interpretation of the idea behind your brand. Not literal descriptions of your service or product.

So stop trying so darn hard to get a literal logo. Let a good graphic designer apply a little creative license, and you’ll have a much better chance of becoming an iconic brand.

When it comes to crowdsourcing logo design, it’s a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”

For more on designing a great brand identity, try THIS post.

If you want to see what real, professional brand identity design looks like, check this out.

9

These two words are NOT synonymous: Logo. Brand.

brand credibility from branding expertsHere’s something I heard from a young graphic designer recently:  “Oh yeah, we’re going to create a new brand for that company. Totally. ”  No she’s not. She obviously doesn’t understand the difference between logo and brand.

She’s not going to create a brand, she’s going to create a brand identity. There’s a difference.

Only a business owner can create a true brand, and it takes a long-term, concerted effort on many fronts. It’s not just design work or marketing.

So let’s get the definition of brand straight, once and for all and make sure everyone knows the difference between a logo and a brand.

A logo is just one element of a brand identity project, and a brand identity project is one small part of an overall branding process.  If you stick with the process long enough you might actually create a brand in the minds of your prospective customers.

A complete brand identity project typically includes a strategy document that spells out the core brand concepts that drive the design work. From there, we deliver a brand name, a logo mark, a tag line and graphic standards that dictate fonts, colors and visual language for the company’s marketing materials.

It’s a valuable service with plenty of moving parts, but it does not add up to a “Brand.”

 

If it’s done well, your brand identity is an accurate and appealing graphic reflection of your brand. But if you want to understand the difference between a logo and  a brand you have to look deeper.

difference between and logo and a brand is what's below the surface

The tip of an iceberg showing whilst the rest is submerged.

The brand identity is just the tip of the tip of the Iceberg… “Brand” is everything above AND below the surface.

The vast mass below the surface is a thousand times bigger and more important than just the design work that people see on the surface. A logo is artistic. A brand is holistic.

Everything you do in business is branding. Like it or not, it all matters… The words you choose. The images you show. The social media posts you do. The values  you hold dear. The vendors you choose and the people you hire.

The sum of all those parts is the Brand.

Take Nike, for example. The swoosh is one of the world’s most recognized logos, but the Nike brand goes way deeper than that.

It’s deeper than the advertising. Deeper than the collection of Nike-endorsed superstars. Deeper than Nike’s manufacturing practices or the products themselves.

The Nike brand is a psychological concept that’s held in the mind of the consumer. Quite simply, it’s an idea. An idea with all sorts of affiliated images, feelings, products, words, sounds, smells, events, people, places, policies, opinions and even politics.

The conceptualization of Nike, in my mind, is much different than the idea of Nike in my daughter’s mind or in Phil Knight’s mind.

Business owners and chief marketing officers have a skewed image of their own brand based on insider knowledge, best intentions and dreams for the future. Cling to that perception at your own peril.

The consumer’s idea of your brand is much more important. Their perception — that story that they tell themselves about your brand — is based  on personal experience, word of mouth and the stories that they’ve been exposed to in advertising, social media or wherever.

The trick is to bring those two worlds together. Great “branding”  combines the aspirational mindset of the business owner with the realities of the customer experience and the demands of the modern marketplace.

Which leads me to another tricky term: “Branding.”

The verb “branding” is often mistakenly associated with design services. You’ll hear an entrepreneur say, “We’re going through a complete re-branding exercise right now,” which in reality is nothing more than a refresh of the logo. It’s often a good idea, but it’s not going to magically transform a struggling business into a beloved brand.

You have to do a lot more than good design work to build a great brand. It’s a process. 

BNBranding how to choose the right message for your adsBranding is everything that’s done inside the company that influences that psychological concept that is The Brand;

If you redesign the product, that’s branding. If you engineer a new manufacturing process that gets the product to market faster, that’s branding. Choosing the right team of people, the right location, the right distributors, the right sponsorships… it all has an impact on your Brand.

Not only that, there also are outside events that you cannot control that affect your Brand. New competitors, such as Under Armour, affect Nike’s brand. Personnel changes, political policies, grass roots movements, Wall Street and even  foreign governments can help or hurt the Brand.

So you see, branding is not the exclusive domain of graphic designers. It’s not even the exclusive domain of the marketing department.

I love working with great designers. When I bring a concept to the table, and the designer executes it really, really well, it’s absolutely magical. But the graphic designer and the brand identity are just tiny components of the branding equation for the client. In the course of her career a designer might craft thousands of gorgeous brand identities, but the only Brand that she truly creates is her own.

If you want more about the definition of brand, try THIS post.