Last Updated on 19 August 2017

Loss of Identity

This article is the 5th in a series of 5 where John Moore and I, two former Starbucks marketers, offer recommended changes based upon Howard Schultz’s email to the Starbucks leadership team.

I have said for 20 years that our success is not an entitlement and now it’s proving to be a reality. Let’s be smarter about how we are spending our time, money and resources. Let’s get back to the core. Push for innovation and do the things necessary to once again differentiate Starbucks from all others… – Howard’s email

The two main concerns Howard expresses are…

  • Get back to the core.
  • Push for innovation.

Stripper & Sandpaper

Starbucks wanting to return to its core, can be likened to restoring antique furniture to its original finish. What you do to an old armoire or dining table is what the Starbucks team should do to preserve the company’s original core.
On the left, I outline the traditional furniture restoration steps… On the right, I’ve loosely applied that as a lesson for Starbucks.

Furniture Starbucks


Remove contemporary knobs, hinges, and pulls recently added to spice up the piece. While nice decoration, they will not match the restored piece. Discard. Use paint stripper, a scraper, and steel wool (for the stubborn spots) to completely remove the layers of old paint.Remove the decorative items that aren’t adding to the experience. These will not match the look of the core. Discard. Strip off the added programs and products that – while pretty – prevent the core from showing. Easier said than done… this will require patience and “steel wool” on the stubborn spots.


Smooth out any damaged or rough places left in the wood. Spots where damage, over time, has penetrated the surface and into the wood. You may find gaps in the grain. These need to be filled with grain filler to achieve a smooth even finish. Apply filler and remove excess with scraper and sand paper. Of course, there will be some rough spots that need smoothing. You will notice that there are gaps exposed that the paint hid. Fill these properly for that smooth finish you’re looking for. The attention to detail here – before adding the protective finishes will make a world of difference.


Apply thin coats of finish to the piece. Layer on a protective coat to protect it from dirt Ah. Now that we’re down to where we want to be – let’s preserve the core finish. Intensify and highlight the grain – the markings of your core. Choose a durable finish – one that can handle daily wear and tear.


Admire your results. Put someone in charge of maintaining the piece on a regular basis. Create rules that prevent the beauty of the piece from once again being covered over with gaudy colors. Protect from too much heat and chemicals. Use coasters to prevent staining.

Less Innovation, More Exploration

It is easy to argue that strawberry and banana flavored blender beverages are far away from the core offerings of a coffee and tea expert… Even as alternatives for those who don’t like the taste of coffee. Driven by the continued need to increase sales, it’s a major challenge for the beverage team to maintain the investor-driven mission of constantly developing new beverages.

But Starbucks isn’t really in the beverage innovation business. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee, or espresso, or the latte. Starbucks is actually in the beverage discovery/distribution business. They didn’t invent iced, sweetened, coffee blended with milk – they discovered someone else with this delicious cold drink and created the Frappuccino. They made this recipe available large-scale. They didn’t invent Chai tea, but before Starbucks offered their version, you’d have to search for high-and-low for a place that served it. Now Chai is standard in cafes throughout North America.

Starbucks’ problem is not the lack of innovation or imagination, it’s lack of exploration. Every culture and country big and small has their own recipes. (e.g., Cuban, Mexican, Caribbean, Viennese, Greek, Turkish, and even ol’ American Cowboy coffee).

Starbucks, do what you do best and continue to search the world for exotic coffee, tea, and related beverages recipes. Uncover exotic concoctions and share them with the world. Be who you are… Explorers and discoverers.

First Things First…

Howard is smart for raising challenges and asking tough questions. What should they do first? I recommend they clearly define “who they are” and “who they want to be.”
Do and Do Not

[clip and use in boardroom]

  1. Gather the company “deciders.”
  2. Fold a clean piece of paper in half. On one half of the fold write atop the page “what we DO want to be” on the other half, write “what we DO NOT want to be.”
  3. Create ideas for both columns and continue on as many pieces of paper it takes to exhaust your ideas… and then do some more.
  4. Review the “what we DO want to be” list and move some of those ideas to the other side… You won’t be able to be ALL of those things.
  5. Use these lists to examine everything you are currently doing, and planning to do. If your ideas are supported by the “What we DO want to be” column – go for it. If the project, program, or idea hints of something in the “what we DO NOT want to be” column… Run away!

While this closes my recommendations for Howard’s five key topics, I’ve got a few more ideas inspired by these posts… But for now, check out John’s smart thoughts on Solving Starbucks Problems: Lack of Identity.

Solving Starbucks Problems Series Summary