Friday, February 29, 2008

Better Latte than Never: Starbucks Strives to Reclaim the Old Brand Magic

So, Starbucks shut its doors for three hours on Tuesday. Oh, the tragedy for its loyal customers!

What loyal customers, you say? Well, that’s the problem for Starbucks. The gourmet coffee giant has lost customers over the last several years, with an overextended brand that’s taken the company too far away from its roots. Which, ostensibly, is why Starbucks shut down across the land Tuesday afternoon: to give its “baristas” a refresher course on how to do justice to the Mermaid brand.

CEO Howard Schultz has been leading a back-to-gourmet-basics effort since he returned to Starbucks last year. For one, he 86ed the hot breakfasts, whose watery, eggy aromas were stifling the more valuable scent of Starbucks’ daily roasts. More boldly, Schultz also closed hundreds of stores—we’re guessing in those areas where Starbuckses (?) were literally across the street from each other.

How much can the baristas really have learned in Tuesday’s three-hour, one-off training session? That’s not really the point. Now, it may have instilled a little extra pride in employees’ work. And doing it during normal work hours couldn’t have hurt. But the biggest victories in the Starbucks shutdown lie in all the related publicity and the underlying message about refocusing on its coffee and its core customers.

Of course, competitors like Dunkin Donuts took advantage of the opportunity to spin the story their way. Touché!

But if Starbucks is successful in reclaiming the differentiating brand that caffeinated its original success, the company should be able to fend off Dunkin just fine. B2B companies tend to emulate what B2C companies do right. In this case, however, we should learn from what Starbucks did wrong. Stay committed to what sets you apart, and you’ll maintain your competitive edge.

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