Starbucks: Good Move Or Poor Brand Management?

Update: Chris Clarke has written a response to this post pointing out that the store is being renovated at the moment and that Starbucks is providing the coffee gratis. While this post is about my reaction as a passerby to this scene and I think there are still lessons to learn, I say “bravo” to the person that came up with that idea if that’s the case.

In terms of lessons around this episode – if you plan to do something like this in advance, small details — like hanging a company banner from the table and hiding the garbage a bit more out of sight — can make a big difference. With those details fixed, this kind of customer service has the potential to generate great coverage instead of negative reactions.

Starbucks is a brand built upon luxury. The daunting menu options, the atmosphere… “the third place,” right?

Imagine my surprise when I saw this scene outside a Starbucks store on my way to work this morning:

Starbucks near Yonge & St. Clair at 8:30am on August 11, 2008

Coffee, cups, milk, etc. all on a temporary counter outside the store, complete with boxes of garbage (bottom right).

On one hand, this may be a good move that helps to stave-off the morning rush. However, in the long term, as a market leader in high-end speciality coffee, is this how you want people to perceive your brand?

What do you think?

12 Responses toStarbucks: Good Move Or Poor Brand Management?

  • For the occasional “special event” maybe, but not as a regular feature. The spilt coffee under the cart is particularly nasty. 😛


  • I’m not sure it’s a terrible idea (occasional, as Connie said), but that display doesn’t look appealing whatsoever. I think Starbucks could have done the convenient thing in a more experience-based Starbucks branded way. It could’ve been such a cool statement. Could’ve, but wasn’t.

  • I’m trying to reconcile that sight with the Starbucks Gold membership they gave me. When I pay almost $5 for a coffee, I want an experience.

  • They’re making Tim Horton’s look elegant by comparison. One of the crucial factors for having a brand that works is “consistency.” Some how this doesn’t seem to gel with the ‘urban oasis motif’ that I’ve expected from SB. From this angle it looks more like an eviction.

  • Hmmm I may raise some eyebrows here, but I’m not sure it makes any difference. I don’t think Starbucks portray’s a luxury brand anymore. If that’s what they’re going for, they’ve haven’t been consistent in that message the past few years. By opening one on every corner (and in the basement at Ryerson?) they’ve lost some of the exclusivity that people used to associate with the name. So why not have a coffee cart out – but I agree it looks pretty sloppy. Regardless, to me it’s just over priced coffee.

    I like Tim Hortons better anyway.


  • I walked past the store again this morning. Same scene. Looks like it wasn’t a special event.

  • I used to think of Starbucks as a luxury brand, just as I used to think of Jaguar as a luxury brand. Now Jaguar to me is just another division of Ford that makes fancy overpriced cars. Starbucks is just a coffee chain that sells fancy overpriced coffee. There is no more unique user experience.

  • I walk by that Starbucks every morning, and noticed it yesterday. I thought it was some kind of special event, too. Then I noticed it this morning, took a closer look, and realized they’re renovating. Just something to consider…

    And to anyone who thinks they’re getting an “experience” for a $5 coffee, I’d say you’re just getting overpriced coffee.

  • If you want an experience, you should go HERE:

    I think that if they’re doing renos and this is the best you can do, then you say so, or you do it as a fundraiser or something. But if this is this Sbux’s idea for a more permanent thing, I call FAIL.

  • Chris – that doesn’t improve my perception. Renovations don’t happen suddenly. I would have thought that they would have had time to prepare something a little more fitting with their brand.

  • My impression? Those responsible for the brand didn’t come up with this. A young ‘barista’ did, trying to find a solution for a difficult situation. Good improvisation, poor execution.

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