When the Branding Gets Tough, the Tough Quit Branding

August 3, 2009

starbucks_debrandingWord of Starbucks’ new “What Starbucks? I don’t see any Starbucks” strategy took me by surprise. Could you imagine a place that offered, among other things, two all-beef patties and special sauce on a sesame seed bun without being sold from underneath a pair of golden arches?

That’s pretty close to what Starbucks seems to be doing with its debranding efforts. According to the Seattle Times:

The ubiquitous coffee-shop giant is dropping the household name from its 15th Avenue East store on Capitol Hill, a shop that was slated to close at one point last year but is being remodeled in Starbucks’ new rustic, eco-friendly style.

It will open next week, the first of at least three remodeled Seattle-area stores that will bear the names of their neighborhoods rather than the 16,000-store chain to which they belong.

Names and locations for the other two shops have not been finalized. If the pilot goes well in Seattle, it could move to other markets.

The new names are meant to give the stores “a community personality,” said Tim Pfeiffer, senior vice president of global design. Starbucks’ logo will be absent, with bags of the company’s coffee and other products rebranded with the 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea name.

As local news site the Minnesota Independent pointed out, Minnesota might make for a fertile testing ground for debranded coffee shops, as this is the only state in the union where non-Starbucks shops outnumber Starbucks shops.

But before the testing spreads, the coffee giant will need to determine whether this is even a good idea. Does this reflect an utter lack of faith in the brand? “Well, some folks seem to react negatively to the Starbucks identity, so what do you say we just scrap the whole thing?”

When I asked my Twitter friends for their thoughts on the matter, Cydney Wuerffel chimed in with a nice bit of poetic branding advice:

I think u can take the skin off an apple, but it’s still an apple. If the orig problem is u had 2 many apples, you’re still SOL.

Too many Starbucks. Coffee shops with bad coffee. Who said selling CDs was a good idea? The complaints about Starbucks range far and wide, but a company doesn’t get that big without having a few things going its way. Is abandoning the brand really going to get Starbucks anywhere?

Photo courtesy of Benjamin Lukoff on Flickr