Starbucks Just Released (a Version of) Its Design Playbook: Here’s What We Learned

Marketing and branding take immense skill, there is no doubt about it. Creating timeless branding is challenging because there are countless trends that can be used at any given moment. How then does a brand select a branding style that won’t leave when trends go away? How does a brand stand the test of time?

One of the clear leaders in the branding field, from a longevity standpoint, is in fact Starbucks. Since the coffee giant’s founding in 1971, the iconic green symbol with a long-haired siren is recognizable regardless of whether or not you get down with a pumpkin spice latte.

So what is it about the Starbucks brand that has withstood the test of time brought about by several decades of being in business? To give some hints and best practices around their branding, Starbucks just released a branding playbook that creative professionals can utilize in their own work.

Touching on everything from logo design to voice and photography, the brand breaks down key elements of its design process. Starbucks’ branding is clean, simple, and minimalist. This is an attractive interface for any brand to follow, as consumers tend to be attracted to less cluttered imagery.

At the core of its creativity, Starbucks explains, is the customer experience. What does this mean, exactly? For this specific brand, it means “thoughtfully incorporating beautiful, expressive moments with calm confidence in ways that are optimistic, joyful and recognizably Starbucks.” All of these words play into a general voice and tone that the brand has established with its customers. It’s a tone of a friendly coworker or acquaintance encouraging consumers to indulge and to fuel up for their own creative processes.

By placing the customer experience at front and center, Starbucks has been able to clearly define a style that works and build around that. This is a much simpler approach and one that prevents having to work reactively rather than proactively to create marketing plans.

Starbucks talks about the voice it uses, explaining that they prioritize functional language (not overly flowery or dramatic) and seek connection and joy with consumers. These emotions are easily felt when looking through the designs that the brand frequently uses in advertisements and even social media posts.

One important takeaway from this playbook is simply consistency. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny new trends or a new opportunity that seems like a sure thing — a hotshot SEO agency, perhaps, or maybe a trendy design firm promising to connect with younger users. But flitting from one idea to the next is not usually the best approach. In fact, this can do much more harm than good and can deter from the overall goal of a marketing strategy.

So, Starbucks reminds us, keep it simple and keep it consistent. The coffee chain knows what customers expect of it. They want to find delicious beverages and fresh, hot food, they want to be able to customize their orders, and they want to receive their orders quickly. No frills, no fuss.

Style and branding require a lot of creative skill, but it’s important to take the time to fully develop a brand that will withstand the test of time and build brand recognition. The guidelines Starbucks has outlined in its branding guide are simple concepts, but they’re excellent reminders to keep the customer in mind and to build genuine connections with all audience members.

-5WPR CEO and Founder, Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian

Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5WPR and one of the most well-respected Public Relations professionals in the United States. Ronn is the author of "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations."

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