Starbuck’s answer to McCafe: messaging disaster?

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In a New York Times article today,  Starbuck’s answer to McDonald’s McCafé $100 million dollar blitz is:

“If your coffee isn’t perfect, we’ll make it over. If it’s still not perfect, you must not be in a Starbucks.”

In the article Terry Davenport, chief marketing officer at Starbucks, is quoted as saying..

“[Competition] is trying to just commoditize coffee and take it down to a level where all coffee’s the same, and if coffee’s coffee, you might as well buy the cheap stuff. … We just don’t believe that to be true. That’s why we wanted to tell our stories.”

See more of what Starbuck’s is saying and the ads on their blog.

So, what is the story? At Starbuck’s, we make a mistake once but never twice?

I am disappointed that the message for the ads has to be driven by negative undertones. I understand they hope to drive social media to help by employing a Twitter promotion contest. And negative news is good news, but for an iconic brand who defined a category for so long to not see a positive message to push is concerning.

If you want a story, talk about heritage or the fair trade efforts that you have helped to implement for farmers or even the premium ingredients. This type of story is real and authentic vs. “just don’t buy the other guy’s stuff”.

Comments welcome!

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  1. Interesting stuff. I think Starbucks is suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, and it really shows so far in this campaign because whatever the “story” is…it’s vague, I’m not sure they have a real grasp on their story.

    Starbucks accomplished something that is extremely rare…build a premium brand while also being the market share leader. However, when that phenomenon takes place, it is inevitable that that space will be disrupted. That is what McDonalds and others have done…put the attention back on a product that was always looked at as a commodity…”it is just coffee”.

    What Starbucks has forgotten and what they need to refocus on is once again “experience”. It was never the actual coffee that allowed them to enjoy successful, but rather a differentiated experience. But greed, understandably got the best of them and the experience and intimacy of the brand got diminished with broke-neck expansion.

    Now they are faced with a decision…margins, or market share…they (like the overwhelmingly great majority of companies) can’t have both…which is what this campaign is trying to recapture. By trying to be all things to all people the brand will be further diluted and Starbucks will have to spend millions on top of millions trying to convince the masses that there is a difference between coffees and that that difference is truly important….good luck with that.

    Instead, pick the segment you think is going to be most profitable, and focus all attentions on that…you may lose share, but you’ll gain profitability through leaner marketing expenses with greater effectiveness through sharp targeting….

    but hey, what do I know…I prefer Caribou coffee

  2. I was in Seattle in 1991 before Starbucks went national. I remember that espresso coffee was everywhere even at the 1-pump gas station on the corner. I wasn’t sure what the big deal was until I tasted it.
    I do agree with Greyson, that Starbucks is an experience, but it is really about the bean. The coffee is superior and everyone knows that McDonalds is for hamburgers and fries.

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