The Starbucks Story: How the brand changed the world

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OK, so maybe you did hear about KFC's abbreviated switch from "Kentucky Fried Chicken," if only because the rebranding was a bit botched — by the brand's own admission. In reality, the brand simply wanted to downplay its fried offerings to an increasingly health-conscious public. Being healthy is about more than losing weight, and that's what inspired Weight Watchers to shed a few letters — 12, to be exact — when it rebranded in as WW. And a megastar spokeswoman backed the shift: Oprah Winfrey, who joined WW's board and helped lead to a boom in membership, praised the move. It took a dash of creativity or lack thereof to ready Walmart for the digital era.

With two of them, Starbucks and Nike, the products are sold at a very high premium. Both organizations have taken commodity products and turned them into desirable, sexy, coveted products that incite enormous loyalty and an almost zealotlike behavior. Do you see a common denominator in the way these products are marketed? What I observed working in both companies is the rigor and unfailing attention to the product, and the unbelievable energy spent on creating the brand experience.

This experience comes through the advertising, the retail environment, and the online experience—every single brand touchpoint.

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This is what will enable you to create an experience around the brand. Some brands have never told their story well, or have lost their story. Look at Starbucks! In order for brands to recapture their spirit, they almost always go back to their core. What if the brand manager of Kraft American cheese asked you to develop its story?


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How do you create a story if something is essentially manufactured? You go back to the essence of the brand. Why was it made? What need did it fill? What were the origins of this story? You develop a story, and then you start to identify who the consumers are. Who are you talking to? How are you going to talk to them? How are you going to tell your story to them? What are your opportunities or your channels through which you can tell that story? Examine every touchpoint and look at how you can tell one clear, consistent story.

But I think that genuinely good branding involves an examination of every single way the brand, the product, and the experience is viewed. Everything that you do, everything you release, everything you say — everything is the cumulative expression of your brand. As an American, my earliest days were immersed in brands. Brands became my acquaintances and friends as I grew up. What brands did you have emotional connections to when you were younger? I think boys always remember their first really nice pair of running shoes.

Mine were Adidas. I remember them exactly—I remember what they smelled like, what they looked like. I remember every single detail about them. I loved the look of them. I even remember going to buy them. I had earned money mowing lawns. I looked at the shelf, and those were the shoes that called out to me. Even now, when I go into sporting goods stores or shoe stores now and see the huge wall of shoes, I see that one style of shoe — Adidas still makes them — and I have a deep connection to them.

I felt like I had joined another world. Suddenly, I liked the feeling of earning money, of buying something, and then enjoying it.

Starbucks and the Power of Story

That started my dangerous journey of buying footwear and apparel over the years. Did that experience of wearing the shoes — which you had wanted so badly — make you feel better about yourself? I remember being in London in the s and first seeing punks in Trafalgar Square. But once they were out, they looked exactly like everyone else in Trafalgar Square.

No matter how hard we try to look different, we almost always still look like someone. Once a lot of people get access into an exclusive club, the original members get turned off and leave to find another smaller, more exclusive club to join. I have often wondered if I should feel guilty because of my role in this. On the one hand, it is disturbing, but on the other hand, I admire it. But as much as I believe in this, I also realize that no one has to have those products. Local coffee chains with strong heritage or those who position themselves as gourmet and unique can easily replicate the experience through offering superior products.

Starbucks customers, who are used to paying a premium for higher quality, will be open to switching wherever the same levels of quality and experience can be recreated. Constant need for innovation: The Starbucks My Product Idea portal is a nice start, but Starbucks needs to have a strong innovation strategy in place to compete effectively in international markets.

Innovation seems to have become a buzzword that is as much misused by the popular press as it is by many brands. Given such a nature of innovation, it is a fundamental building block of iconic brands.


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Leading brands create their corporate strategies with an inherent strategic element encompassing innovation. Brand strategies that are envisioned with innovation as one of the core elements affords the brand a long lasting competitive advantage that would even withstand system level shocks such as recession.

Competitors easily copy the innovation concepts in the coffee drinking industry, which include different origin espressos, season specific drinks, new flavors and additives and promotions. For Starbucks, innovation should not be limited to bringing new products to markets, but should be extended to encompass many internal functions such as innovation in channel communication with customers and other stakeholders , innovation in organizational cultures work practices and internal brand practices and innovation in implementing cost-cutting and efficiency-enhancing strategies.

Most of these are not new processes for Starbucks to administer but there is a need for consistent implementation across their global operations. It encourages everyday acts of kindness and appreciation among family and friends, by enabling users to instantly and conveniently gift a Starbucks beverage or digital gift card. First, innovation will allow Starbucks to refine and redefine its core brand philosophy in line with changing customer needs. The core brand promise can easily get lost in the competitive clutter in the marketplace.

Such a scenario will become even more plausible when the brand experiences an external shock.


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In such cases, the brand has to reach out to the customers to reinforce that aspect of the brand that earned the loyalty of the customers in the first place. Second, innovation will allow Starbucks to continually adapt to the changing needs of customers, thereby protecting its competitive advantage. Whenever competitors challenge with either lower priced products or imitation of the overall branding experience, innovation will allow Starbucks to reach out to its customers in novel ways that would reiterate the core brand promise.

Need for diversification: Starbucks placed the strongest possible hint of its future diversification strategy by redesigning its logo in So, there are sure signs that the brand is taking diversification as a strategy to identify and unlock growth opportunities seriously. In addition to expanding the beverage portfolio to include alcoholic beverages, the next opportunity lies in innovation of the food products served in its stores.

Innovation in food is specifically important for Starbucks to establish foothold in emerging markets or where the coffee drinking culture is in its nascent stage. In many Asian and Latin American countries, coffee drinking is a mealtime ritual, where the importance of food consumption is high.

To consolidate in such markets, having a differentiated food offering in its stores will be critical for Starbucks.

Starbucks Story - Why a simple coffee serving joint is a global brand?

Consistency in the brand experience: Starbucks puts a lot of emphasis on recreating similar levels of brand experience in each of its stores across the world. The attention to detail to achieve this is commendable. Starbucks is not a stranger to creating a coffee drinking experience or even educating a consumer segment in how to drink coffee outside home and work. But the concept of cultural differences in terms of how time is spent outside and for what activities need to drive the local marketing strategies for the brand.

So, if the core brand values is to create a third place to have a coffee, meet and greet your friends and have a relaxed experience, then these experiences should match with the local culture. One good example is its expansion into China — how did it manage to launch so successfully in a culture of primarily tea drinkers? The key was market research. To make its menu more relevant to Chinese consumers, Starbucks introduced beverages that included local tea-based ingredients.

Market research revealed that the Starbucks experience appealed to those aspiring to Western standards or those climbing the social ladder in their own culture. Additionally, the company also found out that the Chinese market was not a homogenous one especially in terms of spending power. Responding to this, Starbucks initiated partnerships with local coffee companies to better understand the intricacies of local tastes and preferences.

Though the brand has always targeted the upmarket customer through a premium pricing strategy in majority of the markets it operates, the strategy needs to hold in new markets the brand enters.

The Starbucks Story

Premium pricing has its potential pitfalls in many markets due to the following reasons:. In emerging markets and also in countries where the coffee drinking culture is not established, it is important to strike a balance on these two key aspects. To be successful in its international growth and expansion strategy, Starbucks needs to have a strong innovation mindset and the ability to locally customise its product offer and positioning of its stores. The brand has taken rapid strides towards implementing an organisational wide innovation strategy by investing in new technology, redesigning store layouts and investing in new concept stores.

In addition to improving the customer experience, which has always been the primary focus area of the company, the future innovation focus areas increasingly need to be around the product offering. The company, without doubt, is a successful global marketer with significant experience in entering and establishing themselves in new markets. But as it expands and grows, it needs to reassess constantly and keep its ears close to the ground to understand consumer preferences.

Innovation and operational efficiency would be the bedrock for Starbucks to continue to gain success internationally and also in existing markets. Last but not the least, it needs to evolve and elevate the customer experience of drinking coffee in its stores continuously.

So, a brand experience that is superlative today may just become a regular one tomorrow.