One of the most noticeable changes to the business world (and consequently, the entire world) is the constant encroachment of advertising in every square inch of consumable space. Buildings have become billboards, taxis and private cars are mobile commercial spots, and it seems like every television drama has shrunk to 38 minutes of actual content to allow for as much ad space as humanly possible. Our social media platforms are being crowded into the center of the screen to create more and more ad space, while every sports team from Houston to Hong Kong and from Little League to the EPL has half a dozen sponsors emblazoned on their jerseys and kits. Marketing and advertisement are massively powerful industries that affect the movement of hundreds of billions of dollars around the world. A good advertising campaign can make or break a company, whether or not they have changed or innovated their product in any way. Countless marketing gurus makemillion-dollar salaries for offering their sage advice on how to manipulate and influence consumers. Given this undeniable trend towards a planet saturated by flashing lights and clever slogans, it seems almost impossible to have a successful business without pouring 10% (at least) of your capital into advertising.
Well, “impossible” has never been a word that Starbucks particularly cares for, and the company is annually praised and perpetually studied for their ability to attract and retain a fiercely loyal consumer base while spending only a fraction of what other major companies allot for marketing. Despite the fact that Starbucks has millions of dollars that they could pour into seasonally rotating ad campaigns and new billboards on every street corner, they choose not to. Not to duplicate what has been said in the previous section, but Starbucks has always believed in spending just as much money speaking to their employees as they do speaking to their customers, because as brand ambassadors, they are far more effective than a clever catchphrase on a bus stop. Beyond the importance that every employee plays in marketing and maintaining loyalty and relevance to consumers, the company itself employs sound business strategies to keep people coming back for more. These marketing strategies may seem unconventional, but they serve dual purposes and are already an essential part of why Starbucks is so popular.
By embracing quality and spending their money on cultivating, acquiring, transporting, grinding, and brewing the best possible coffee in the world, they can lock in customer loyalty simply because they make one of the best cups of coffee (if not the best) in the business. As mentioned earlier, the idea of becoming more than a coffee shop, like a middle destination between home and work, adds an element of desirability to their business model that people will remember. Starbucks is basically a fast- food joint that sells coffee, but then also has couches, electrical outlets, charging stations, live music, snacks, and mood lighting to double as a destination, either for business meetings, quiet reading, freelance work, or a relaxing cup of tea after a long day of work. Waiters won’t be rushing you with checks or wiping down your tables as a hint that it’s time to go; people feel comfortable staying in a Starbucks for hours on end, and most understand the unwritten agreement that purchasing a cup of coffee every few hours is simply the polite thing to do. How many other fast-food/drinkestablishments would you feel comfortable sitting in for three hours reading a book and looking out the window? Starbucks has made itself a destination, rather than a stopping point along the way, and that is an extremely valuable (and free) form of marketing.
Once you leave most stores, the next time you interact or engage with them as a company will resemble one of two scenarios: experiencing some form of their marketing (poster, billboard, newspaper ad, or email) or when you return to the store. However, Starbucks has put a lot of energy into their online presence to create a community for users, inviting them to share their experiences at Starbucks, funny stories, history of the brand, or even creative ideas for improvement. This sparks discussions, many of which include Starbucks representatives who are very active on their social media platforms, so customers feel like they are actually being listened to, even from an international brand. That ability to shrink a $15 billion company into the personable and accessible small business is priceless, and creates a powerful and long-lasting bond with more Internet-savvy customers. In terms of their social media presence, Starbucks has the second most popular Facebook page for any consumer brand products with more than 27.5 million fans. The Starbucks Twitter account has a similarly staggering number of followers at more than 2 million. Unlike many other companies that swamp inboxes and notification pages with relatively useless content, Starbucks tries to actively engage their consumers in fun, non-invasive ways that rarely try to sell anything. In fact, most of the activity on these social media platforms is from followers and fans, not from the company itself.
A final note on the online side of things, Starbucks was one of the first retail brands to offer Internet connectivity in every one of its locations, providing a known destination for anyone who needs to get online, even in cities where Wi-Fi is spotty at best and non-existent at worst. This common knowledge makes Starbucks a destination for people that may not even drink coffee, but simply want to stop in, check their email, grab a smoothie and a muffin, and get on with their life.
Perhaps the most infrequently discussed part of Starbuck’s unique marketing strategy is something that costs them absolutely no money; in fact, the more marketing of this kind there is, the more money they make. When a person gets a Starbucks coffee and walks out the coffee shop door, that white cup and the green mermaid/siren is unmistakable. You may walk down the street with it, set it on top of your car, carry it into your office, and possibly leave it sitting on your desk for an entire day. There is no other purchased product that is displayed by consumers for so long, so frequently, and in such a clearly visible space as a cup of coffee. Most people don’t go shopping every day, so those swinging advertisements don’t measure up to a cup of coffee, and even designer bags and clothes can be difficult to identify. Fast-food bags from McDonalds may be a daily purchase, but it’s not something that most people leave lying around for others to see, nor is it a bizarre status symbol that this elite coffee brand seems to have become. Cars are obviously long-termmobile advertisements, but the luxury industry and the daily consumption industry are two very different things.
Now, obviously, the coffee cup advertisement angle is something very specific to the company, but when you consider that sort ofreal-world presence and proof of purchase within Starbucks’ already successful, unique, and relatively inexpensive approach to advertising itself, it makes for one of the strongest brands in the world.