Thursday, February 28, 2008

Starbucks Media Jolt

Branding has become a hot topic again in the mainstream media (to some, myself included, it is always a hot topic. I guess it is the nature of the job). This week on the Today Show they featured the decline of the Starbucks brand. Starbucks’ woes in the last year, slowed growth and declining sales, is no secret and it seems every advertising joe has an opinion on what they should do. Most opinions center on returning the focus to the baristas and making the best espresso. The point being that the barista position (for more on baristas visit here) is not interchangeable with the cashier or the greeter or even the store manager, it is a honed skill that takes training and plays a pivotal role in elevating Starbucks above competitors. AND the extended business lines – music, movies, network tv, really doesn’t heighten the taste of my Grande Non-Fat, Double Vanilla Late at the end of the day either.

It would appear Starbucks is listening. In addition to the expected permanent closure of several stores and 600 job cuts, Starbucks temporarily closed all stores Tuesday evening (2/26) for several hours to retrain employees err baristas to “provide a renewed focus on espresso standards” (see full letter to partners, entitled “Starbucks Makes Organizational Changes to Enhance Customer Experience”). There are also plans to stop serving hot breakfast by the end of Fiscal ’08 and offer free or discounted WiFi beginning this spring.

So the obvious question is…was this really an effort to put the focus back on good coffee making OR was it a PR exploit to show off Starbucks renewed focus?

I present exhibit A: National Media Coverage of Starbucks Closing

Exhibit B:
  • Let me also point out that Starbucks isn’t open 24 hours and could have offered this “training session” after hours.
  • Not to mention, the length of the session was reported to be 3 hours. Can you really impart knowledge, grow your craft, and produce minions of genius baristas in a one-time 3 hour session?

Will it work? Well I suppose an afternoon training session is a start, but something tells me it is going to take more than a few hours of coffee making How To, to fix Starbucks (call me a pessimist). But maybe it is a start? Maybe, just maybe this media frenzy will make Starbucks accountable to their customers and force them to return to what made them good in the first place – good coffee and atmosphere? They have drawn a very public line in the sand, put a big ol’ stake in the ground, etc., etc. and the stage is set (can I use anymore clich├ęs?) to deliver BIG. Does media frenzy = accountability = return to good coffee and atmosphere? Tell me what you think?


Eric Karjaluoto said...

Hi Jess,

Here are my two cents on the topic of Starbucks' brand:



JessDierks said...

Today's Advertising Age reports consumer findings on Starbucks store closure last month in an article titled "Starbucks' Message Lost on Consumers. Study Finds Most Knew About Closure, but Didn't Know Reasons Behind It".

Paul Janowitz said...

Check out the coverage in Fast Company for a good overview as well.