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Starbucks Brand Identity Essay

What are the main ways a high-street retailer represents their company to the public? Using one prominent store/retail chain that you are familiar with, describe how each aspect contributes to their brand and identity.

Founded in the streets of Seattle, Washington during the 1970’s. Howard Schultz certainly never anticipated creating a brand that has become the largest coffeehouse company in the world. Starbucks has dominated the world with its aromatic and fine quality coffee beans. It is not just a mere coffee house, it is a brand, a lifestyle, a culture and most evidently, it is an iconic figure, an identity. (Koehn 2002)

This essay shall introduce Starbucks as a renowned brand in contemporary society, its origins as a coffee roaster and the making of Starbucks. Then it will discuss how it is being represented to the public using branding techniques. Lastly it will discuss how the logo is constructed and the ways it has evolved over the years to create this identity as a brand.

Following from above, Starbucks was created by three University students who wanted to sell high quality coffee. Back then the company only sold roasted coffee and did not yet brew coffee to sell. In the year 1987, the original owners sold their company to Howard Schultz who merged his coffeehouse company, I1 Giornale with Starbucks. In the same year Starbucks grew rapidly and opened eleven outlets. Nine years after that, it had over 900 outlets worldwide. (Koehn 2002)

According to Koehn (2002) Starbucks is now an identity that commands broad awareness and has strong buyer loyalty. On the 2nd of August 1996, Starbucks opened its first store outside North America. Just like all its existing stores, Starbucks was opened in the heart and bustling streets of Japan – Tokyo. Over the following weeks, consumers of all ages filled the shop. Schultz then realised that the brand Starbucks had the same power in Tokyo than it had in New York and Seattle. It had taken on a life of its own. (Koehn 2002)

As Schultz believed, it was not due to mass advertising and promotion that formed this relationship between the consumers and Starbucks. Customer attachment was based on their experience in the store, their interaction with the person who made their coffee, the atmosphere of the shop and the sense of community. Schultz unlike other prominent brands believed that the way to a customer’s heart is to leave a personal touch. (Koehn 2002) “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people. Supermarket sales are nonverbal and impersonal. But in a Starbucks store, you encounter real people who are excited about the coffee and enthusiastic about the brand.” (Berry 2000, p. 128)

The ultimate way that Starbucks presented itself to the public was by creating this emotional connection. This is known as emotional branding. Emotional branding is based on the essence that managers will integrate emotional appeals into the brand. These are used to spur emotionally charged relationships with their customers. Over the decades, Starbucks is able to depict its personality through interactions with its customers and forge a tight connection with them. This produces long term and loyal customers who will visit the shop more than often. (Holt 2004) As Schultz (1997) wrote in his book, “The most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an advertisement campaign.”

The name and logo of Starbucks was created after discovering a classic nautical tale, Moby Dick, which is an American story that narrates the adventurous sailor, Ishmael. The first name that was initially proposed was Pequod, but the original founders rejected it. The name Starbucks then came about. This is the name of the first mate of Pequod but most importantly, Starbucks is a trader who adores coffee. The name as they believed conjures the love of seafaring and trading coffee beans. The first Starbucks logo was a two-tailed siren and this was designed to signify the romantic and mysteriousness of coffee that complimented the company’s name. (Isobe 2012)

Phillips and Rippin (2010) emailed Starbucks to inquire why a siren was chosen as their company’s logo, the swift reply from Starbucks described that the siren is a creature of strength and power. “Its stylized and anodyne nature, however, obscures the richness of mermaid tradition and iconography in general, and of two-tailed siren in particular.” (Phillip and Ripping 2010, p. 484) Mermaids are mythological creatures that have the power to seduce. This resembles the power of Starbucks to seduce their customers with their high quality coffee.

The mermaid’s beauty is an expression of exoticism that is associated to the pleasure and addiction that coffee carries. Moreover a mermaid will beguile and draw the innocent into a world that is away from duties and frustration. This resembles Starbucks, a place that is away from work and home and is filled with excitement and anticipation. (Phillips and Rippin 2010)

The siren logo has evolved numerous of times over the last four decades. When Starbucks first started, the two-tailed siren was fully topless and her double tail was fully visible as she was holding it up high. The logo was based on a Norse cut wood that had the words ‘Starbucks’, ‘Coffee’, ‘Tea’ and ‘Spices’ encircled.

In the year 1987, Schultz officially merged his company I1 Giornale with Starbucks. To symbolize this melding the original logo of Starbucks was revamped. The siren’s cascading hair was now covering its bare breast but her navel was still visible. The logo took a whole new turn and instead of keeping its detailed artwork, the logo became more contemporary. The traditional-bound brown was also changed to I1 Giornale’s affirming green. Green according to Chang and Lin (2010) presents a calm and neutral sensation and is often associated with environmentalism and peace. This suggests the main reason Starbucks’ common use of recycled tissue paper and coffee cups. Apart from the colour change, two stars were added to the downplayed double tails that surrounded the siren’s crown. The word ‘Tea’ and ‘Spice’ was also removed. This marked the start of Starbucks’ ever expanding career. (Isobe 2012)

When Starbucks became a publically traded company in 1992. The company knew they had to release a new version of their logo. They wanted a more modern and iconic impression that represented the current state of society. This resulted in a zoomed in version of the siren. The siren’s navel was not visible anymore but it emphasized on siren itself in a more up close version and the vestiges of the siren’s double tail. This improved version was designed to resonate with Starbuck’s customers who are sleek and recognizable. (Isobe 2012)

Wilson (1994), cited in Scott and Batra (2012, p. 106) that “identifying the brand of a product by recognizing the logo is a major aspect of the purchase process and is a particularly important function in this age when so many brands compete for consumer attention.” This is essentially true in this example when Starbucks celebrated their 40th anniversary. In conjunction with the company’s birthday, a logo was revealed on the 8th of March 2011. The word ‘Starbucks Coffee’ was removed and what was left was only a display of the green and white siren. The significant black background was eliminated as well. The company felt that it does not need a name to portray its significance to the public for its logo already carries a strong depth. (Isobe 2012)

By removing its name ‘Starbucks Coffee’ and only leaving the siren with its two tails, the company is creating a dimension to welcome non-coffee related products such a tea leaves. These products will be stamped with the new logo to display its high quality that is associated with the company’s outstanding coffee. With this the company is able to keep existing customers who are avid coffee lovers and attract new customers by their new line of non-coffee related products. This enables them to expands their market and simultaneously target consumers from all angels. Moreover this also creates an identity that the masses can relate to, that Starbucks is not just an ordinary coffee shop but it is a culture and a way of living. (Isobe 2012)

Advertising as Danesi (2006, p. 8) argues is “an art of persuasion and top brands that are created are able to satisfy various emotions, social and other kinds of human needs.” Starbucks over the decades has created this abstract emotional bond with its customers from all ages. Teenagers who spend hours gallivanting in supermarkets often take Starbucks as their hang out point. Middle age women would schedule their coffee session with their friends at Starbucks. And occasionally informal meetings between businessmen are carried out in Starbucks over a mug of fresh coffee. Starbucks is a now a culture. (Danesi 2006)

Over the decades Schultz knew that the most valuable asset of Starbucks is the irreplaceable ‘Starbucks Experience’, an experience that contributes to the brand’s identity. This made Schultz focused on the relationships of the baristas and the customers. He knew that the key to unlocking people’s heart is to focus on global expansion while ensuring that each shop is the center of attraction. This unique bond between customers and the company made Starbucks the ‘third space’. It is now a luxury brand that has a personal connection with its customers and is gradually becoming an affordable necessity. (Michelli and Joseph 2007)

Starbucks today is more than a coffee shop. It has created an identity that connects people and brings like-minded souls together to enjoy the pleasure of coffee. This connection has allowed the company to grow as a brand and expand to greater heights. It is a culture that people around the world can relate to and understand. A family that the young and old want to be a part of because of that sense of belonging. Although the company’s logo has undergone numerous changes it still holds firm to its core values that it is a people’s business serving coffee and not business people serving coffee. The siren that has evolved over the years still carries that seductive emotion that mesmerizes every coffee lover, not only by its beauty but by its affection towards coffee as well.


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