What’s So Special About Starbucks?

by Paul Simister on March 17, 2011

I intend to focus on companies and brands which have secured a special place in markets and as it is about to pass its fortieth anniversary, Starbucks is a good place to start.

The first store opened in Seattle on March 30, 1971.

40 years later, over 17,000 locations in 55 countries and nearly $11 Billion of sales shows that there is something very special to turn the coffee house experience into such a big business with so many raving fans.

I don’t get it.

I’m told that people either love Starbucks or hate it.

I’m indifferent.

The coffee is OK if overpriced, I don’t understand the language so I’m not comfortable buying and I always find myself looking around wondering what all the converts see in Starbucks that I don’t.

The intention is to expand the Starbuck’s brand away from the coffee houses and into the supermarkets and away from coffee and towards other products too. It’s to become a lifestyle. I wish it luck but I suspect that it is a mistake.

Starbucks is in danger of losing its positioning in people’s minds – changes to the Starbucks logo.

It has successfully built up the brand as the third place – the one that is neither home or work. Again I don’t get it. In the UK, we have the pub and in Europe the pavement cafe bars which serve coffee and alcoholic drinks.

I believe Starbucks has benefited from the Friends TV show with Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler and Joey because they spent to much time in Central Perk. I’m even watching the repeats in the UK because I’ve decided that I hate the ongoing misery of Eastenders.

It looks warm, cosy, fun and friendly.

But that’s not how I feel when I very occasionally visit a Starbucks – usually if I’m meeting someone who is a fan.

There’s no denying the vast number of Starbucks fans and their passion for the brand.

Facebook has a Starbucks page with over 20 million people who have “liked” it. Mind you Facebook is another brand I don’t get and perhaps I should just accept that I’m an old fuddy-duddy.

The Starbucks following on Twitter is more modest, just 1.33 million.

Can you help? Let me know what you love or hate about Starbucks and what you think about the planned changes going forward.

It may be that I don’t have a very local Starbucks and therefore I don’t get the community feeling. There’s no denying that we all like to feel that we belong and the more you go and the more you see people you know, the stronger the feeling of community.

Differentiation Strategies in Use By Starbucks

  1. Speciality coffee – in locations where there were already traditional cafes, Starbucks offered unique drinks
  2. Funny language – you have to be one of the insiders to know what to get at Starbucks
  3. Variety of seating – from coaches to armchairs to bar stools

If you want to know more about Starbucks, take a look at the Wikipedia entry.

Paul Simister is a business coach who helps small business owners to profit from differentiating their businesses, being distinctive in the eyes of their customers and standing out in a crowded marketplace.

You too can move past your profit tipping point by answering the seven big questions of business success.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Simister April 5, 2011 at 12:34 pm

I may not understand Starbucks, but here’s an interesting article from the Harvard Business Review website

Why I Appreciate Starbucks


Rich April 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm

Well the fact is everyone loves coffee and starbucks was able to pull in the target market.


Paul Simister April 15, 2012 at 5:12 pm

I’d got a bit more in mind than that Rich. How did they manage to attract so many people?


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