Monday, August 01, 2005

The dilution of Starbucks' brand

Adrants takes Starbucks to task for its "Double Shot" promotional Web site, charging the coffee giant with copying multiple cubicle campaigns. Newsworthy in my world? Normally not, except I was just in Seattle and visited the very-much-original first Starbucks in Pike Place Market and had a unique experience with the Starbucks brand.

I've been to Starbucks from Kansas City to Tokyo and part of its brand strength is that each store is consistent in product, environment and service. The Pike Place Market store deviates much more than a flagship store might in other instances. From the throwback signage and completely different floor plan to smaller differences such as the sea-woman logo showing some pre-censored nipple and a lack of usual mass-produced "designer" fixtures and accents, the original Starbucks provided an eye-opening interaction with one of the world's strongest brands.

Interestingly, my most memorable experience was watching the order-taker employees toss to-go cups to the baristas (physically separated by a bi-level floor plan). Most of us are used to a frenetic order-to-pick-up pace that Starbucks has perfected. At Pike Place, your cup is tossed and the pace is (maybe deliberately) slowed. I loved this little touch. Many smaller coffee shops capitalize on differentiating quirks, from a design in the froth to funky cups or loyalty programs, but having such an experience at Starbucks was downright strange and refreshing.

This really shouldn't be a huge, blog-worthy deal, but it highlights what I believe is an important part of a mass brand's strength and weakness: Starbucks has managed to create an extremely strong and successful brand, while at the same time diluting its brand experience to the point of embracing and growing a lack-of-surprise atmosphere. Strong, but diluted. Successful? Of course, but at what cost?

Starbucks' Web presence for its moderately amusing "Hank/Double Shot" ad campaign is unoriginal, yes. The site also illustrates a larger issue of overall brand originality and the question of how important originality is when a brand is rooted in consistency. All I know is if a little nipple and a thrown to-go cup are all it takes to jar me loose from a brand experience I've become accustomed to; Starbucks has the opportunity to recapture the essence of its brand, so pleasingly alive at its original store.


Anonymous April said...

I cannot believe you noticed all this from our visit! You're so perceptive.

9:24 PM  

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