Starbucks brand promise

Tom Dougherty, CEO – Stealing Share

16 April 2018

Starbucks brand promise forgotten in Philadelphia

It’s easy in this politically charged climate to spout outrage. Between Trump, Comey, Facebook, Syria, Russia and what-have-you, yelling to the highest rafters becomes today’s mode of choice. So, while I understand the anger of two black men arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks shop (and agree with that outrage), most interesting to me is how badly the Starbucks workers failed to live up to the Starbucks brand promise.

Starbucks brand promiseHere’s how ridiculous the incident played out. Last Thursday, Starbucks employees called police because two black men were simply hanging out without buying anything. Meanwhile, there were others (white) who were acting the same way. But the workers didn’t ask them to leave. The police didn’t arrest them.

Why is that?

You can claim racism, and you’d no doubt be right. Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson expresses his own outrage, saying, “The actions in it are not representative of our Starbucks mission and values.”

“That’s the Starbucks brand promise. It’s an atmosphere. Now, whether it’s lost its importance is something worth examining.”

The Starbucks brand promise says you just hang out

Damn straight. You see, the Starbucks brand promise says that its locations are destinations. Environments for those just hanging out. A common joke says there is something wrong if you see a patron at Starbucks without a laptop. Because some type away at a Starbucks for hours without doing anything. Guess the joke’s not so funny anymore.

That’s the Starbucks brand promise. It’s an atmosphere. Now, whether it’s lost its importance is something worth examining. Starbucks lacks the pull it once owned because it’s spread itself so wide that its destinations don’t seem special. There’s a Starbucks on every corner, like a McDonalds or, if you live in the South, a Krispy Kreme.

And it’s not just the number of locations, which number nearly 14,000 in the US. It’s that the brand itself lacks emotional meaning. It once spoke to a kind of exclusivity, and you recognized yourself in the brand as being part of an elite club.

It’s not that anymore. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to say that loss of brand – and the discipline in honoring the Starbucks promise – led to Thursday’s incident.

It’s one thing to own a brand promise. It’s another to fail living up to it. That’s what took place in a Starbucks in Philadelphia last Thursday.

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1 Comment

  1. Graham

    Spot on Tom though I would add they stretched themselves too thin years ago. I remember in something like 2000 walking around some large store (can’t remember which) and finding this cruddy Starbucks in a basement corner. It was even enclosed so just a counter and half a dozen small tables. I was gobsmacked that they could be so crass.

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