The Starbucks experience

I recently finished reading Onward by Howard Schultz – current Starbucks CEO – a book with lots of takeaways, from marketing strategy and corporate communication, to brand execution and new product development. It’s worthwhile observing all the hard work that gets invested in a global brand so loved and respected such as Starbucks.

starbucks-coffee

I’m particularly referring here to all those small things (and not necessarily obvious to the consumer’s naked eye) which are part of the Starbucks experience and which take a significant chunk out of the company’s priority list: the barista interaction with the consumer, the freshness of the coffee beans, the coffee’s aroma particularly and the whole general sensorial experience in a Starbucks coffee place.

Some cool stuff from the book worth sharing:

  • at one point in time, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz advocated for the replacement of the old coffee machines with new personalized ones. The old ones were too high and were blocking any visual contact between the barista and the consumers, thus limiting his/her opportunity to engage in small chats with the consumers waiting in line.
  • the coffee which is not used in the first 30 minutes from its grind gets thrown away.
  • the employees (referred within Starbucks as partners) are kindly requested not to wear any perfume or cologne, so that its fragrance won’t spoil the coffee smell in the room.
  • for a short period of time Starbucks had also served warm snacks. The main problem with that was the odor produced inside the microwaves (burned ham or cheese) which was overwhelming the one of the coffee in the room. Eventually the problem got solved by replacing the warm snacks with cold ones only.

Then again, for some of you these might come across as small and uninteresting things. For me however these are fascinating from the brand’s experience perspective and of the continuous efforts so that the experience remains the same for all their consumers, wherever these might be: at the Starbucks in the airport, at the one from the train station or at the one across the street.

There are numerous people for whom buying a cup of coffee is part of their morning routine and ritual. We appreciate the enticing coffee smell as soon as we get through the door, the smile of the person serving our coffee and the casual chat. Without even realizing maybe, all these direct contacts with the brand are extremely valuable and they surely contribute to strengthening our loyalty and our attachment to the brand.

In an era dominated by social media, apps and digital, where the large majority of the brand-consumer conversations are taking place online through a display (be that a smartphone, a tablet or a laptop), these real life interactions with the brands are growing in importance. They humanize the entire relationship and I wholeheartedly believe that they will become one of the most important marketing instruments for companies to keep their consumers close.

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