Thanks to Jordan McNamara, who is the Starbucks lover and contributor of this article.
Grande non-fat no-water single-pump gingerbread chai. That’s my current go-to drink when pulling through the Starbucks drive-thru, and I’ll admit no Saturday morning is complete without one (although I rarely make that my only weekly visit). I’ll also admit I’m a proud gold cardholder (pic), earning a free drink for every 12 purchased, and the app on my phone lets me pay, reload and track.
Adweek recently featured Starbucks among their “10 Brands That Changed the World” (http://bit.ly/1aqspFd), touting “they don’t merely influence our spending habits, they determine who we are.” Starbucks transformed the way we think about getting a cup of coffee, elevating it to become an affordable luxury. With sales reaching $13.29 Billion in 2012, Starbucks customers are nothing if not loyal. Paying $5 or more per drink, the average consumer visits the chain six times each month, according to Adweek. Their red Christmas cups ring in the holiday season, and terms like ‘half-caf,’ ‘grande,’ and ‘frappuccino’ have become a second language to many.
What makes Starbucks customers so loyal? As with any great brand, the answer is embedded in its culture. This culture can be defined as that intangible extra that keeps people coming back over and over. Starbucks has nailed the art of human connection, welcoming each customer in with big smiles and encouraging you to linger in over sized chairs at large tables over your cup of coffee. This personalized approach has turned buying a drink into an experience. Starbucks is a place you want to hang out with friends, study or hold a meeting, and this sense of belonging is at the heart of its brand culture. Equally important to Starbucks’ culture is Ethos bottled water, fair-trade coffee, free iTunes songs; all aspects that reinforce who Starbucks is and what the brand stands for.
In the age of technology, Starbucks has also mastered connecting with consumers beyond physical store locations. Member alerts via text and email, the Starbucks app, social media engagement and seasonal specials reinforce a sense of community between the brand and its customers. Generating an emotional response is key to reinforcing behavior and creating a devoted following, both areas where Starbucks excels. It’s not so much about the drink, but more what you feel when you’re there. Starbucks has capitalized on this feeling to turn a $.25 cup of coffee into a $5 experience—an experience that is felt in 17,500 locations in 61 countries. This sense of connectivity, this feeling, is consistent across locations.
Whether in Denver, New York or Los Angeles, each time you walk through a Starbucks door you know exactly what to expect. Your drink will be made exactly how you like it every time, which brings me to what is perhaps Starbucks’ largest branding achievement—personalization. Imagine another drive through where you can specify each detail of your order, down to temperature and ingredient amount. In an age where consumers are demanding to be part of the process, Starbucks has allowed their customers ultimate control.
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