Research Shows Starbucks' Logo Redesign Could Benefit Company

Despite mixed U.S. consumer reaction, it's a good move as the company expands in Asia.
January 10, 2011

HOUSTON -- Despite U.S. consumers?? threats of protests in response to the redesigned Starbucks logo unveiled last week, the new look may be a smart move in the long run as the coffee company expands into Asian markets, according to a Rice University researcher who has studied consumer reaction to logos.

"The logo of a brand is much more than a pictorial representation of the brand," said Vikas Mittal, professor of marketing at Rice and co-author two studies on customers, logos and brand commitment. "For consumers who are highly committed to the brand, the logo represents a visual conduit that enables a customer to identify with the brand. Our studies have shown that highly committed consumers also have very high levels of brand attachment. As such, any changes to the brand conduit -- the logo -- are seen as a violation of the psychological contract between the brand and the consumer."

Starbucks dropped both its name and the word "coffee" from its 40-year-old logo as the Seattle-based coffee chain prepares to triple its locations in China from about 400 to 1,500.

In one of his studies, Mittal found that companies that changed their logo design were most likely to estrange their most committed customers. A second study found that when angular logos were changed to rounded logos, they were more acceptable in interdependent and collectivist cultures -- often found in Asian countries, such as India and China -- than in Western countries, which tend to have a more independent or individualistic culture.

"It is important for companies to refresh their logos, but the process of doing so must be carefully managed," said Mittal. "Our research shows that companies need to carefully consult customers -- whether through Internet sites or chat rooms -- to ensure that customers feel they have been heard in the redesign and repositioning process. That will ensure that highly committed customers -- who are also often the heaviest consumers of the brand -- feel connected to the brand."