Starbucks gives logo a new look

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Starbucks Corp. is giving its siren a facelift.

The world’s largest coffee company unveiled a new logo Wednesday that drops the words encircling its iconic sea nymph and gives her a few subtle updates.

Starbucks says the changes amount to more than nips and tucks to its favorite lady. The fresh look goes with a new direction for the company as it makes its way back from its toughest times in its 40-year history.

Prior versions of the logo helped build Starbucks into one of the world’s best recognized brands, and the company felt it no longer needed to reinforce its name at every turn. The new wordless logo also is better suited to the company’s expansion beyond coffee into a wider array of business lines and into more international markets.

Starbucks revealed the logo Wednesday to a cheering crowd of employees in its Seattle offices and on a webcast and plans to bring it to stores in March to coincide with the company’s 40th anniversary.

“What is really important here is an evolutionary refinement of the logo, which is a mirror image of the strategy,” said Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks. “This is not just, let’s wake up one day and change our logo.”

This is the fourth version of Starbucks‘ logo since the company’s beginnings as a small coffee, tea and spice shop in Seattle in 1971. The first update came in 1987, taking the original bare-breasted siren in brown to a more stylized — and modest — version in green as the company began to expand. The image was further refined in the 1990s as the company went public and its growth soared.

Starbucks eventually suffered from its own success. It grew too far, too fast and began drawing criticism that it had become the Wal-Mart of coffee. Its luster further faded as the recession hit and consumers drank coffee at home or went to lower-priced competitors like McDonald’s Corp., which had upped their coffee offerings. The coffee’s giant’s sales and stock price both fell.

Starbucks brought back founder Mr. Schultz to lead daily operations in 2008, closed hundreds of stores and cut jobs. It reemphasized training for employees, allowed customers to customize drinks more, opened stores with more local flavor, increased its Wi-Fi offerings and launched a rewards program.

Its sales have rebounded, and its fiscal 2010 profit was more than double what it earned in 2009.

“We learned the hard way two and a half years ago that we have to earn it every day,” Mr. Schultz told employees Wednesday.

The company also expanded its product lines — introducing Via, its first instant coffee. It increased its emphasis on beans, ice cream and other packaged goods sold in grocery stores. And it put a big push on its other business lines like Tazo tea and Seattle’s Best Coffee. Starbucks ramped up its plans for international markets, like China, where it now has 400 stores on the mainland and plans to open hundreds more in coming years.

“We’re sitting today with record revenue, record profit; the stock price is at a five-year high. This isn’t an accident,” Mr. Schultz said.

Starbucks leaders say the changes to the logo are in some ways a metaphor for the company dropping the boundaries of its own business and growing into new areas. Marketing experts agree.

“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.”

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