Monthly Archives: April 2008

Bare breasts mean business at Starbucks.

Notice anything different at your local Starbucks lately? I sure have. The familiar green and white logo on the cups is missing. It’s a travesty to brand-conscious graphic designers everywhere.

At first glance I thought maybe it was just a corporate cost-cutting measure — the result of tremendous Wall Street pressure to improve performance. But once I looked a little closer, I noticed something even more revealing:

Starbuck has bared her breasts! The mermaid that’s been the Starbucks icon from day one, has gone back to her topless, hippy roots.

There are a lot of other changes going on at Starbucks in Seattle — you might even call it a corporate shake-up — but none are as symbolic as the undressing of the logo. I take it as a sure sign that CEO Howard Schultz is serious about stripping away some of the fat and refocusing on the core of the Starbucks brand .

That little nod to the humble heritage of his company says a lot. The green logo has just two words: “Starbucks Coffee.” The retro logo reads “Starbucks Fresh Roasted Coffee.” It’s a reminder to the world that Starbucks has always been obsessively focused on the quality of it’s product.

In his book, Pour Your Heart Into It, Schultz says, “The number one factor in creating a great, enduring brand is having an appealing product. There’s no substitute.”

I know a few coffee snobs who claim that Starbucks isn’t as good as the local guy’s Ethiopian Tega & Tula. And they may be right. But I also know that Starbucks beats the hell out of the mom & pop drive-up operations that have appeared on every corner.

At Starbucks, the product is consistent. The coffee is just as good as ever, but the company has made some operational decisions that have had a subtle effect on our perception of that quality. Shultz seems determined to correct that, and if his track record over the years is any indication, he’ll pull it off.

Ever since I read his book back in ‘99 I’ve used Schultz and his organization as a great example of focused leadership, exceptional execution and textbook branding. He has always been the brand champion in that organization. He was one who introduced the idea of gourmet coffee to a nation of Folgers drinkers, and he has always fought to maintain quality standards even during their hyper-rapid growth.

Shultz is adamant about controlling the brand experience as much as possible, down to the last detail. That’s why the company never sold franchises. At first, Shultz didn’t even want to sell coffee in paper cups at all, lest it detract from the experience and affect the flavor.

So these new “transformational initiatives” of his are no big surprise.

First thing is to recapture that appealing coffee aroma in every store. Believe it or not, that smell of fresh roasted coffee is every bit as important to the brand as the look of the stores or the music they play. It works on a subtle, subconscious level, but the bottom line is, you won’t hang out and enjoy your double half-caf mocha if the place doesn’t smell good. So Starbucks is going back to manual espresso machines and killing the sale of breakfast sandwiches.

The Starbucks business model is based on the idea of the third place… that we all need a relaxing getaway that’s not home and not work. To me, it’s more of a romantic, Vienna coffeehouse experience than a quick, Italian espresso shot. So the roll-out of free wi-fi service is long overdue. Paying for an internet connection at Starbucks was just idiotic to me.

The third and final cornerstone of the Starbucks brand is its own people.

“We built the Starbucks brand first with our people, not with consumers — the opposite approach from that of the cereal companies,” Shultz said. “Our competitive advantage over the big coffee brands turned out to be our people.”

Starbucks doesn’t just talk about treating people well, the company really does. In the retail food service industry, where getting good help is always a challenge, Starbucks leads the way with its pay scale, benefits packages, training programs and retention rates.

“We believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people. That’s the secret of the power of the Starbucks brand: the personal attachment our partners feel and the connection they make with our customers.”

The company also listens to its front-line employees. The idea for Frappuccino came from the store level. The new website, mystarbucksidea.com, started out as an internal feedback tool for employees. Now anyone can go online and post their own ideas for Starbucks, vote for the best, and see what’s being implemented.

Which brings us back to that idea of reintroducing the old logo, circa 1971.

The change coincides with the introduction of a new house blend, called Pike Street Roast, for people who just want a good, robust cup-o-joe. In that context, and with everything else that’s happening at Starbucks, the branding throwback makes perfect sense.

The mark was originally inspired by a woodcut image of a Norwegian mermaid, fully exposed. Over the years, as Starbucks grew and became “more corporate,” the logo slowly morphed. Eventually the designers gave her long hair, which covered her breasts and made her more palatable to a broad commercial audience.

Now Shultz wants to go back in time. Back to when the company wasn’t really worried about offending anyone on Wall Street. Maybe this little flash of skin is just what the company needs.

Starbucks logo updates

Updated again in 2011

If you want to recapture the magic of your brand, or build a new one from the ground up, give me a call. 541-815-0075

1 How to survive when the economy tanks.

 There’s a lot of economic doom and gloom in the news these days; Unless you’re living in a cave somewhere, you’ve heard about the housing market, the unemployment rate and the rising price of groceries and gas.

For many business owners, it’s frightening. The fortune-teller economists are predicting even more “belt tightening” as the year goes on, and if you let it, all the crummy forecasts might scare you into doing something totally rash. Like nothing at all.

It’s pretty common, actually. When the leading economic indicators start heading south, many business owners go into immediate survival mode. Stop, drop and roll! Duck and cover!

The natural tendency is to adopt a siege mentality and hunker down until “things get better.” So they pull the plug on marketing and branding. Then P.R and charitable giving. Then training and customer service initiatives. They stop doing the things that helped them succeed in the first place.

It’s a strategy of inaction, and it never works. Not in the long run.

Studies of life and death survival struggles prove that action is the antidote for despair. You see it in cancer patients, in soldiers, castaways, mountaineers and disaster victims. Those who let despair take over, sit down and die. Survivors, on the other hand, take action.

Determination and a disciplined, almost clinical approach seem to be the secret. Survivors don’t place blame, make excuses or wallow in self pity. They accept their current circumstances and start working on a solution immediately by setting small, achievable goals. They don’t waste a lot of energy running around in circles, doing things that won’t get them to the goal.

For a climber in the Andes, it meant extricating himself from a crevasse and literally dragging his starving body and shattered leg 10 miles down a glacier. All the way back to camp. For one hiker in the canyonlands of Utah, it meant amputating his own arm with his pocket knife.

Makes surviving a recession seem like a cake walk.

Make no mistake about it, a significant economic downturn can be fatal to a small business. But businesses fail all the time, regardless of what the economy is doing.

The fact is, if you have a clearly defined strategy, and the discipline to stick with it, there’s no reason you can’t do much more than just survive a recession. You can thrive. You can gain ground on the competition. You launch new products and improve your entire operation. The history of American commerce if full of war stories that prove the point.

Post and Kellog’s were battling head-to-head in the breakfast cereal category when the Great Depression hit. W.C. Kellogg plowed ahead, doubled his advertising budget and even introduced the world’s first vitamin-enriched product cereal. Post cut back and Kellogg’s has been the market leader ever since. (Kellogg also cut hours in his plant for three of his shifts and added a fourth, just to spread his payroll among more workers. But that’s another story.)

But forget about the 1930’s. Here are some things you can do, right now, to survive the perfect, economic storm.

1. Use downtime to your advantage. Most managers have so many fires to put out they never get around to long-term strategic thinking. If things are slow, do it! Clarify your objectives and fine-tune your elevator pitch. Revisit your value proposition. Make sure you can communicate your strategy clearly and succinctly. (Few CEOs can.)

2. Get your bearings and refocus your efforts. In the woods, the last thing you want to do is wander around in circles. Same thing in business. Don’t waste precious energy and money chasing business that doesn’t really fit your model. (see item #1)

3. Renegoiate your media contracts. When it comes to print ad space and broadcast spots, you should be able to get a lot more for your money right now. So play hardball. Insist that your advertising salespeople work up innovative new schedules.

4. Get creative. Brainstorm new strategic alliances, sponsorship opportunities or marketing initiatives. Look for ways to leverage your existing partnerships. Do something! And keep this in mind: When times are tough even small initiatives can have a big impact. Because everyone else is sitting around waiting for the rescue helicopters.

5. Recycle one of your favorite, old ad campaigns. A lot of people kill campaigns way too soon, before the public has ever been thoroughly exposed to the messages. So instead of creating a whole new campaign, go through your archives and dust off the advertising that’s worked for you in the past.

6. Spend a little extra time listening to your best customers. Forget about you, and find out what their problems are. Then help devise a solution.

7. Take extra care of your people. They’re reading all the bad news in the paper too, and it’s unsettling. So step up, and be a leader. As the CEO, you have to be an optimist. Because nobody follows a pessimist.