Why I Don't Think of Coffee When I Think of Starbucks: 5 Signs of an Awesome Brand

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I love Starbucks.

On average, I go there a couple times a week. I know other people, particularly entrepreneurs, who frequent Starbucks. Sometimes we get a great deal of (productive) work done. Other times, we people watch and surf the internet. Or is that just me?

I tell friends and colleagues all the time I’m probably Starbucks’ best customer who doesn’t drink coffee. I’m a tea drinker (their Passion Tea is a wonderful, delicious creation), and I’m convinced there is crack in some of the desserts (I’d consider selling my nephews for those Double Chunk Brownies, Vanilla Bean Scones, and Birthday Cake Pops…again maybe just me).

As yummy as these items are and despite me not being a coffee fan, there is another more important reason I don’t think of coffee when I think of Starbucks. This is something I know I’m not alone in believing, as I’ve talked to others who feel the same way.

Starbucks is an awesome brand! It’s the kind of brand that people love to  talk and write about. Here are five signs of an awesome brand we find in Starbucks that we can also learn from:

1. It transcends its products and services.

The brands that generate the most loyalty and are most unforgettable manage to go beyond products. They create an experience. When I think of Starbucks, I think of business because business is often being done. I think of progress, because of the conversations, meetings, and study groups that fill the place. I’ve closed a few deals at Starbucks myself. Relationships are built. Spend enough time there and you feel this energy there that goes beyond somewhat overpriced coffee.

2. It’s cultural.

Starbucks, like Facebook, is one of those brands that has become a cultural phenomenon. It’s a part of most peoples’ lives. It’s talked about constantly. It’s often attached to current affairs and/or major events in our lives. Whether it’s racial tension surrounding the Academy Awards, the newest Star Wars movie, or a terrorist attack, people take to Facebook to discuss it. People discuss these same events in person at Starbucks (often passionately might I add).

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3. It takes risks. 

You may have noticed that Starbucks is not the cheapest on the block. Some consider their prices outrageous. The pricing strategy Starbucks chose to utilize a number of years ago came with risks, especially given its competition’s lower prices. It’s a risk that has paid off. When they decided to add music to its offerings,that was a risk. After all, this was certainly different for a coffeehouse. Turns out it was a risk worth taking. The music was well received and just contributed to the distinct customer experience. Starbucks has since taken this further by partnering with Spotify to provide digital music. Oh the possibilities…

4. It does not miss the chance for brand positioning.

How a brand is positioned can go a long way in distinguishing it from the competition. Whatever that unique attribute/advantage is about the brand should be leveraged. Starbucks opted to not imitate McDonalds or other packaged goods. Their coffee is positioned as premium, high-quality brew that’s worth the higher price tag. Premium coffee for a premium experience. Most people don’t expect premium from McDonalds or Folger’s.

5. It has a great story.

You may or may not know that Starbucks goes back over 40 years, founded in 1971 in Seattle. I think a key part of its story was the owners’ desire to really educate consumers about fine coffee. It wasn’t just about selling the coffee. Also, chairman and CEO Howard Schultz has an inspiring rags-to-riches story, growing up in New York projects and becoming the first college graduate in his family. Now at the helm of a company valued at nearly $80 billion, he describes himself – still – as hungry and driven.

So here’s the thing: I (along with a number of others) no longer think of coffee when I think of Starbucks for the same reason many of us don’t think of social media when it comes to Facebook. It’s because Facebook has transcended social media. We’re so invested in it. How many conversations include “I saw on Facebook…?” or “I posted on my Facebook page…” Our lives are so intertwined with Facebook – another major, powerful brand. The same applies to Starbucks.

This is what you and I want for our brands. Whether people are fans or not of the core product, the brand matters to them.  They tell others about the brand. And it’s hard to imagine their lives before the brand.

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