My son asks me the other day, “truth or dare.”
“I dare you to make a radio commercial about the next product you see.”
Ironically, we had just pulled out of Starbucks and with my go-to beverage of a White Chocolate Peppermint mocha in hand, I cleared my throat…
“You’ve heard of crack cocaine…now introducing the White Chocolate Peppermint mocha from Starbucks. Just as addictive and much more legal!”
Laughter ensued. I took a sip and off we went.
This little exchange reminded me that I am most likely addicted to coffee. Not just any coffee though. White Chocolate mochas with Peppermint from Starbucks. I’ve had those same ingredients in mochas from other establishments, but they’re not quite the same. I don’t get that same rush of dopamine, caffeine and burst of quickly fading energy as I do with the Starbucks variety. It also got me to thinking that this craving most definitely has to do with the physical benefits, but each time those chocolatey, pepperminty flavors hit my lips, I’m also reminded of the very first Starbucks, White Chocolate Mocha I had way back in my college days in the early 2000’s on a dreary West Seattle morning on my way to school. I was hooked from day one! That ethereal memory floats me back to a time in my life where everything was new and fresh and exciting. I was free.
The Peppermint addition came years later when I was on a video shoot with a client at Target. This particular Target has a Starbucks retail shop in it and during my order, Heather (our client) asked if I’d ever had my White Chocolate Mocha with Peppermint? I hadn’t, but thought, heck, that sounds like an awesome addition, let’s give it a shot. That was 4 or 5 years ago and I haven’t stopped adding Peppermint since. Sure, I slipped in the occasional PSL (pumpkin spice latte, for you non-Starbucks folks), but WCMP is my jam. Point is, though, that Starbucks is a part of my history, my fond memories, my life. I’m a Rewards member, I play their fun little online games in hopes of winning some rewards points, I spend time and money regularly with Starbucks. And I’m not alone.
Then I started thinking about Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks (as we know it now, prior to being a small roaster in Seattle and Howard buying the business) and former CEO. In his book, “Onward, How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul,” Howard tells the history of how he found, bought and grew Starbucks into the international coffee giant it is today. More specifically, he talked about struggles Starbucks faced during it’s growth mode, during the recession and how he always worked to create the “third-place” feeling in every location across the world. During his tenure as CEO and then again when he returned as CEO to steer the ship back on course, Howard always kept the customer experience and their connection to the Starbucks brand at the forefront. Sure, they strayed at points in time by offering curated entertainment in stores, trying new flavors that flopped and odiferously offensive breakfast sandwich cheese incidents, but he always guided his teams back to focusing on consistent and repeatable processes so the customers could come to expect the same cup of coffee each and every time they visited, regardless of which store they purchased from. Early on, Howard even closed all stores across the United States for a barista training day. He felt so strongly about pulling the brand experience together, he was willing to invest in his staff with this training and as a result, was able to create a culture of consistent quality. “Onward,” was how Howard finished many of his emails and addresses to his staff. Learn from the past, but move onward toward the future, building a strong company culture of resiliency as they went.
The idea of a “third place” that Starbucks works so hard to maintain comes from Howard’s early days visiting coffee shops in Italy. He visited many shops while traveling for business and attending conferences and on his travels he always noticed that people were enjoying each other’s company, sitting, chatting, staying for long periods of time. At the time, Starbucks was mainly roasting and selling beans wholesale. They didn’t have the local shops to sit, relax, enjoy. This “third place” represents a place outside of your home and work (1st and 2nd places) that you feel comfortable enough in that you want to meet others there, spend time, enjoy the ambience. Yes, of course Howard needed to keep shareholders, his board and CFO happy with financial results of the company, but Howard did an excellent job at always returning to the core. The customers and their experience. Treat them right, offer a great product, make good when things don’t go exactly as planned and they’ll keep coming back, time and time again.
So what in God’s holy name am I blathering about? Well I’ll tell ya what I’m blathering about, man. Starbucks figured out the recipe. The recipe to building a brand that creates evangelists, loyalists, addicts. Beyond the physical addition of caffeine, Starbucks, regardless of how you may feel about their brand, has connected with people across political parties, age, gender, beyond the bounds of fictional, geographic lines on a map, spanning cultures in 76 countries across the world.
A strong brand comes from the inside. Company culture that allows staff to take care of customers, well-oiled processes that create consistent results and a relatable story are all ingredients in building a healthy brand.
A strong brand also creates feelings during each interaction. Nike makes people feel stronger, more powerful, more athletic. It also makes them feel, that by supporting and wearing Nike apparel, that they’re a part of a community of like-minded individuals. They feel included, validated. Even if the feeling is fleeting, it’s there and it’s enough to continue driving the swoosh forward.
So the next time you’re planning a marketing campaign, a new social post, a video you want to produce, think about how you can sprinkle in a bit of your company culture. Think about how you can connect with your audience, make them feel like they’re a part of something that resonates with them. That’s WHY people buy your product. That and the fact that hopefully they’re addicted to it and can’t get the same experience anywhere else. Rhea, our CEO, is a big proponent of culture and branding.
And with that, I’m off. Probably, yes, to get a White Chocolate Mocha with Peppermint, from Starbucks.