reExperience Starbucks: One Year Later

It was January 7, 2009. Howard Schultz came riding in on his white steed to save an iconic American brand. While holding on to his Starbucks Chairman reins, he would also grab those of CEO. And he published his very first Transformation Communication Agenda. While looking forward, Schultz also looked back. He wanted to recapture that magic ingredient that changed the way America drinks coffee: the Starbucks experience. As part of that memo Schultz declared that Starbucks would be…

“- Re-igniting our emotional attachment with our customers by restoring the connection our customers have with you, our coffee, our brand, and our stores. Unlike many other places that sell coffee, Starbucks built the equity of our brand through the Starbucks Experience. It comes to life every day in the relationship our people have with our customers. By focusing again on the Starbucks Experience, we will create a renewed level of meaningful differentiation and separation in the market between us and others who are attempting to sell coffee.”

It was that promise that inspired the launch of the reExperience Starbucks project. Becky Carroll of Customers Rock! and I would chronicle and analyze the efforts of Starbucks to re-ignite an emotional attachment with customers. I published a letter to Howard and Becky posted her State of Starbucks address. We expected Schultz to be a man of his word. He was not.

starbucks experience
Photo Credit: CarbonNYC

Instead of a “laser focus” on the customer experience, Schultz changed the brand. A brand that was built on emotions and a new experience is now teetering on a pile of continuous product introductions: smoothies, oatmeal, hot chocolate and now instant coffee. The Starbucks that we fell in love with is slowly fading away with each new product gimmick.

Will Schultz’s efforts to revive the brand work? No. Why? As Jackie Huba points out, Starbucks has lost its way because Starbucks has lost its purpose. What is the purpose of Starbucks? To sell stuff; any stuff. Coming soon to your local Starbucks, hot breakfast sandwiches. That’s not a purpose that defines a brand. And it’s not a strategy that will re-ignite the customer experience.

Starbucks is Not Dead

But Starbucks has not lost all its magic. I still hang out there a couple of times a week to do some thinking and writing. There will usually be a couple of groups involved in conversation and a couple of geeks slumped over their Mac Book. But I think it’s just a matter of time until this changes. Starbucks popularity shut down most of the local coffee houses in the last couple of years. There is just no other place to go right now.

But that will change. Soon, local entrepreneurs will realize that while McDonald’s and Starbucks compete on product and price, there will be an experience void. When that happens you will see the rebirth of the local coffee shop. Until then we’ll just have to accept the wave of new product introductions in lieu of an experience.

More reading on Starbucks:
reExperience Starbucks Project Archive
reExperience Starbucks Blog

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