Starbucks: The visual and verbal language of a branding master

It’s a Monday morning and I’m settling down to enjoy a cup of Coffee at my local Starbucks. It’s become a common ritual, but something is different this time – the branding.

With Halloween a thing of the past, the holiday season is upon us (at least in the mind of retailers), and Starbucks have a new coffee cup out. The distinctive green and white colours remain, but the balance has been inverted and it’s no longer a mermaid logo that looks back at me, but rather the faces of my fellow customers, the people of Starbucks. As I smile and take a photo of the new cup, I realise I’ve been caught up in yet another great piece of marketing from one of the world’s strongest brands.


Starbucks have always looked to be more than just a coffeehouse; they “set out to be a different kind of company. One that not only celebrated coffee and the rich tradition, but that also brought a feeling of connection.”

Starbucks does not have a slogan as such, rather relying on the mission statement to define their values: “Our mission to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Klopper and North noted three verbal and visual language properties that are key to any brand:

  1. Brand tone of voice
  2. Brand symbols
  3. Brand story

Analysing the framework provided by Klopper and North, one can see that the Starbucks brand personality and values are evident in their verbal and visual language.

The Starbucks tone of voice is informal and the language used is friendly and this is consistent across all platforms, from their website to their social media accounts, and the baristas working in their stores.

Starbucks baristas (image courtesy:

This consistency is crucial in ensuring that Starbucks are able follow through on their goal to “inspire and nurture the human spirit” – the welcoming communication and positive atmosphere combines with their products to foster an environment in which this is possible. According to marketer Tessa Court “having a well crafted and consistent tone of voice makes your brand more human, which will enable you to have better conversations with your customers”, and Starbucks are certainly having conversation that has struck a chord with their customers.

The language of Starbucks has also become something of a symbol of the brand. Hearing a fellow customer rattle off “please can I have a grande decaf pumpkin spice Frappuccino with no whip” may seem like a lot of intimidating jargon, but with baristas and customers alike using terms in this fashion makes one feel like this is a place that knows its coffee.

The name ‘Starbucks’ is inspired by the Herman Melville novel Moby Dick, and is said to “[evoke] the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders”. This nautical theme continues into Starbucks’ logo and branding.

Since its foundation in 1971, the Starbucks logo has always included the bare-breasted, two-tailed mermaid, or siren, with the intention, according to the Works Design Group, that the mermaid be viewed as seductive, like the coffee itself.

Starbucks logo (image courtesy of

In 1987, green was introduced to the Starbucks logo, and it has become the central colour in the Starbucks branding, a constant that is used effectively on all branding, and with neutral tones in-store creating a more timeless feel.

The Starbucks brand, and by extension its logo, has become so strong that in 2011 the bold decision to remove the company’s name from its logo was made; the logo itself is so recongisable that no name is required.

Evolution of Starbucks’ logo (image courtesy of:

Starbucks’ story is one of a desire to provide a coffee experience that is about more than simply consuming a beverage, it’s about an experience, and, to refer back to the company’s mission statement, it’s about “Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

As a company that operates in 23,768 locations worldwide, in some respects Starbucks have a difficult job of telling their story in a way that resonates globally, but as can be seen in their first global advertising campaign from 2014, the notion of “Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit” is one that can defy borders.

Meet me at Starbucks (


Court, T., 2016. Your Brand’s Tone of Voice – and Why It Matters. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 7 November 2016].

Starbucks, 2016. Company Information. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 7 November 2016].

Works, 2015. Brand Stories: The Evolution of Starbucks. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 7 November 2016].



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