February 2016

Starbucks App Is Slick, But Reduces Customers To Transactions

2016-02-16T18:27:35-04:00 Categories: SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , |

Starbucks Vending MachineIt is an ultimate convenience that you can pre-order Starbucks from your phone. Tap your order into your phone, walk in and pick up your beverage. It is paid for and you skip the line. To some operators, I’ll bet this sounds like the perfect set-up…just take the customer’s money and hand them a product.

Starbucks can get away with this because they have 20,000 locations. They’ve established their brand, and can afford to draw from their brand with a system like this. (And, that’s what this does… it pulls from their brand bank account).

When you have 20,000 locations and plenty of collateral in your brand bank, you could consider this approach.

The “a-ha moment” is when you realize this perceived strength is actually a weakness. Starbucks has reduced this customer to a vending machine transaction.

  • Starbucks is missing out on the ability to make meaningful connections with these customers.
  • They’re squandering the time and money they’ve invested in customer service training.
  • They’re losing the chance to suggestively sell something new,
  • Up-sell a perfectly paired pastry or
  • Suggestively sell something new.

While it is neat that Starbucks has this high-tech tool. Remember it was high-touch, not high-tech that made them the brand they are today.

May 2015

Push Ideas For Better Creative Thinking

2015-05-01T16:55:57-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

A sponsored link from Starbucks Frappuccino appeared in my Facebook feed this morning. It announces a new Frappuccino flavor, S’mores.

Bigfoot Frappuccino

I won’t debate the choice of flavor. I understand the challenge the Starbucks beverage team has, trying to comp their numbers year over year with different flavors.

I will challenge the thinking and implementation of the marketing and creative team.

This used to be my job. Specifically my job. I used to think up marketing ideas to promote products for Starbucks. I’m highly qualified to comment.

This ad screams “too many chiefs” and “not enough creativity.”

Someone came up with the idea.

S’mores = camping.

Campfire = the taste of camping.

Eating S’mores  = tasting the campfire.

Drinking S’mores Frappuccino = sipping campfire!

But we can’t say that… Let’s be cheeky and say…

“Of course you shouldn’t sip campfire!”

(someone chuckles)

Someone else at the same time was thinking…

S’mores = camping = woods.

Woods… Woods… Woods…

“Oh, wait!”

“Bigfoot… Sasquatch… lives in the woods!”

“OMG! Would’t it be funny to see Bigfoot drinking a Frappuccino?! That will go viral! I’d repost that!”

(someone nods)

Okay. But, these are two different executions.

“Hey… how do you show someone sipping fire?”

“I dunno.”

“Okay… let’s go with the drinking campfire funny, and show Bigfoot!”

“Everyone happy?”


The “don’t sip campfire” line is meh. Mildly clever. Even if came off brilliant, that’s not “Starbucks” humor. That’s not their voice. Trying too hard.

Bigfoot drinking a Frappuccino is an okay idea too. But, deliver on it!

What about…

S’mores Frappuccino
Tastes so much like camping,
you’ll have to fight-off Bigfoot!

Not great. But at least it ties it all together.

Feels like the team tried to do “everything” so “nothing” really came out.

It is a lot of work to be clever. And, you can’t make something go viral. You can only make something really great and hope your audience makes it go viral.

Someone should have pushed the team – and this is the lesson to be learned –  to (a) pick one idea, and (b) push that idea harder.

November 2013

We Miss Local Store Marketing, Starbucks

2013-11-13T12:52:45-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , |

Statbucks-logoDear Starbucks,

You know I love you. We’ve had loads of great times together. We’ve learned a lot and helped each other out in good and bad times.

As a friend, I have to be honest with you. I know you like the spotlight and love being in the grocery store and convenience stores, but it is still the Starbucks Coffee cafe that validates the experience.

I know you think TV ads are for the big boys and  “local store marketing teams” feel small town local. But, the store experience is suffering… and small town local is what the company is founded on.

What is this special you had recently?

$2 breakfast sandwich with drink purchase

Back in the day you would have said a combo meal like this was cheesy. So fast food. But, when fast food does it, at least they do it right and provide the proper tools and resources.

[image_frame style=”framed” alt=”Breakfast Special” align=”center” width=”582″]http://idea-sandbox.com/blog_images/breaksfast-special.jpg[/image_frame]

Starbucks, you need a local store marketing team, if nothing else to make signs.

So that 3-hole punched page taped to the cooler is how I found out about this “special” while in-line. But, this is how the partners (employees) had to promote it on the store door.

[image_frame style=”framed” alt=”Breakfast Sandwish” align=”center” width=”582″]http://idea-sandbox.com/blog_images/breakfast-sandwish.jpg[/image_frame]

Really? It is…

  • Sloppy,
  • Unprofessional,
  • Misspelled! and
  • Unacceptable for any brand.

I’ve never seen a hand-written sign… let alone an AWFUL hand-written at Nike, or Nordstrom, or Target, or *gasp* even KMart or JCPenny’s.

We know a latte doesn’t cost $5.00 in ingredients, but we pay it because of the experience you provide. It makes it worth it. Hand-written signs and sloppy execution is not that experience.

C’mon Starbucks you’re better than this.

August 2013

How Can a Marketer Design and Implement a Great In-Store Marketing Program when Operations Demand a Clutter-Free Store?

2013-08-14T10:26:25-04:00 Categories: Crackerjack Marketer, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

POINT: Paul Williams

The secret to clutter-free in-store programs is discipline.

The discipline to say No.

As a marketer at Starbucks we were responsible for building in-store programs. Our first step was to take a look at the inventory of products and programs and craft an engaging experience for customers. (more…)

April 2013

January 2013

Starbucks: Trying To Be All Things, To All People

2013-01-25T13:39:24-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , |

I saw this ad today on Facebook, for Starbucks Blonde Roast Coffee. *sigh*

Starbucks Blonde Roast

In addition to being awkward to order:

“I’d like a tall blonde with whip, please.”

It isn’t helping Starbucks be remarkable, or stand out… It is causing them to blend in.

What made Starbucks remarkable

A secret to Starbucks success was their dark roast. It was a polarizing flavor – back in the day. You either learned to like their strong bold coffee, or you called the coffee burnt and referred to the company as Charbucks or Tarbucks. You preferred the traditional East Coast coffee we were used to – with milk and sugar – from McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.

Once you got used to that dark flavor, it was hard to go back to a cup of Dunkin’ or 7-Eleven. That was Starbucks “thing.”

Starbucks took coffee – a commodity – and made it a specialty. It was the best and the tastiest. Starbucks was remarkable.

And it worked. Proof? Today 7-Eleven, McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts – and all the rest – offer bold coffee and espresso-based beverages.

The problem with your competition catching up to what you’re doing is, in the eyes of the customer this potentially creates “parity.” A situation where there isn’t enough perceived difference between one product and another to drive preference. When there is perceived parity between products, but price is dramatically different, this creates a problem for your company.

“Gosh, I can get my McMuffin at McDonald’s and their coffee is bold too. And, it is cheaper. Hmmm why don’t I just get my breakfast and coffee at McD’s? I’m lovin’ it.”

What should Starbucks do / have done?

1. Focus delivering the highest quality, hand-crafted product. (Small batch steamed milk, highly-calibrated grinders, freshest roasted coffee).

Which they have focused on.

2. Create ways to break that parity – differentiate – by making customer service so stellar… so gold standard… so awesome… it makes every penny the customer spends more than worth it. Thus, increasing perceived value and staying remarkable.

Which they haven’t done.

Instead of differentiating, they’ve made Starbucks even MORE similar to McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts by offering a light-roast Blonde coffee.


Starbucks perceives themselves as “leaving money on the table” with all those customers who don’t come to Starbucks and prefer lighter roast at places like Dunkin’.

The myth is… by offering more, we create a bigger net and catch more customers.

The reality is… when you try to be all things to all people, you no longer represent anything specific. You’re no longer remarkable, but common. Customers don’t know why they should specifically come to you. And, if you’re as good or the same as the next place… customers may as well choose the next place.

Starbucks is no longer about great, dark coffee. They have taken their coffee specialty and made it again a commodity.

So now, their strategy, like McDonald’s, you choose Starbucks not because it is the best and tastiest, but because it is convenient.

Bummer. (p.s. Starbucks leadership… there is still time!)

Image source: Starbucks.com

May 2010

Forget The Shark, Starbucks Jumps The Whale

2017-03-01T11:56:11-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , |

Starbucks Coffee Company
on Monday the 17th of May in the year 2010
has “jumped the whale.”

Starbucks announced today they will start offering Starbucks Natural Fusions, flavored coffee beans in grocery stores.

Starbucks Natural Fusions

For those of you who remember when Starbucks was more about quality than quantity, flavored beans were considered the devil. If coffee was plotted on a Monopoly game board. Starbucks was “Boardwalk” and flavored coffee was “Mediterranean Avenue.”

Monopoly Board

Starbucks roasts its coffee darker than most – thus the nicknames: Tarbucks or Charbucks. Starbucks did this to draw out the natural flavors in coffee. Great coffee doesn’t need additives for great flavor, it requires the right beans roasted for the right amount of time. Great wineries don’t add apricot, honey, or oak flavoring to their wines; they grow, blend, and age grapes in a manner to draw out those flavors.

Starbucks is dumbing down their coffee to make money in the flavored coffee category. Just as they dumbed down their coffee to enter the instant coffee market with their VIA product.

It doesn’t matter if you’re making THE premium quality product. You could make the best quality, gourmet, all-natural, organic, fried pork rinds in the world… But, you’re still selling fried pork rinds.

To drive sales, Starbucks should focus on the “specialty retailer” part of their business and improve the quality and experience in their stores. Starbucks used to be about providing a delightful in-store experience; hand-crafted beverages, community, quality.

Starbucks wants to become consumer product conglomerate – with focus on getting their products in as many channels as possible.

Last week I wrote about Seattle’s Best Coffee, Starbucks little sister brand, and despite a new logo – have no real news to share. Flavored beans and instant coffee are a perfect fit for the Seattle’s Best brand, and would be quite newsworthy for the brand. Let Seattle’s Best offer the gimmicky coffee, keep Starbucks premium.

(I know what you’re thinking… Isn’t a dark cherry mocha Frappuccino a gimmicky coffee? Yes, it is. And the topic for another post! That’s how Starbucks is trying to be more like Dairy Queen than the king of coffee.)

There is a decision-filter product managers and marketers often forget when there is an opportunity to make more money.

“Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

Just because Starbucks found a way to make a higher-quality flavored coffee, doesn’t mean they should.

The Phrase: Jumping The Shark (and Jumping The Whale)

Jon Hein, the guy who coined the phrase, says that jumping the shark is the “defining moment when you know that your favorite television program has reached its peak. That instant that you know from now on… its all downhill… From that moment on, the program will simply never be the same.”

Fonzie Jumps The Shark

The phrase originated from a climactic scene in American sitcom Happy Days in September 1977. In this story, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where Fonzie (Henry Winkler), wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a confined shark on water skis, answering a challenge to demonstrate his bravery. (Source: Wikipedia)

*Here, with Starbucks dismissing one of it’s founding quality principles, a shark isn’t large enough marine life. Jump the whale is the scale. Particularly, for a coffee company named after a character from the book Moby Dick. In the novel, Starbuck was the ‘coffee-loving’ first mate.

Seattle’s Best Coffee Announces Cart, But Where’s The Horse?

2010-05-14T17:39:24-04:00 Categories: SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

On Wednesday May 12th, Seattle’s Best Coffee, announced the beginning of their “brand transformation” with a new logo that (as they put it) matches their “optimist outlook and simplified approach to great coffee experiences.”

Over the next months and years, they plan to “show up in new ways and different places. Places where great coffee should be.”

This tactic is premature and not customer-ready.

Starbucks purchased Seattle’s Best in 2003. It was positioned in press releases as a way to offer coffee lovers a different taste profile than what Starbucks offers.

The two key drivers for buying Seattle’s Best discussed within Starbucks were:

  • For their food service business, and
  • To have a sister brand – of a lower tier – that would allow Starbucks (the corporation) to open in sites not suitable for the Starbucks brand. (Keep Starbucks positioned as premium, yet don’t lose business in those other spaces.)

Other than opening in Border’s bookstore locations, Seattle’s Best hasn’t done much during the past seven years.

And, each time one of those “second tier” locations became available, a Starbucks was built instead.

This has also helped to create a situation where consumers no longer see the gap of service / experience / quality between Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s / McCafé.

One of the original intentions was to not broadcast Seattle’s Best as a sub-brand of Starbucks… Rather to leave them perceived as separate and even, competitors.

Other than making Starbucks seem even BIGGER and intent on taking over the world – there isn’t much value in promoting Seattle’s Best connected with Starbucks. So it makes no sense why Seattle’s Best is being promoted with the tagline:

“The next big thing from Starbucks isn’t Starbucks.”

Unfortunately, more than anything, Seattle’s Best is showing us what NOT to do.

What’s Confusing

  • Why Should Customers Care? Other than a landing page, a new logo, and a homemade video – there are no other changes. Especially none that benefit customers.
  • Seattle’s Best has killed their own thunder. When they do make a meaningful change, it will be expected versus a surprise. They will “owe it to us” versus surprise and delight us.
  • The ‘hope it goes viral’ video featuring Seattle’s Best employees breaking into the bell tower of Starbucks headquarters and covering up the Starbucks siren logo with the new Seattle’s Best logo doesn’t make any sense.

    Covering up the old logo with a new logo is what businesses do when one business buys another.

    Based on this tactic – to the average consumer – it appears Seattle’s Best has purchased Starbucks.

  • [Starbucks Bought By Seattle’s Best?]

  • Why is Seattle’s Best being promoted as “the next big thing from Starbucks?” What good does it do to promote Seattle’s Best as a Starbucks product?

    Seattle’s Best was recently launched at the coffee brand at SUBWAY sandwich shops. The ads feature the old logo. It would seem to make sense to wait to launch Seattle’s Best in SUBWAY until after the brand transformation? Especially with exposure Seattle’s Best is getting of the old log in SUBWAY ads.

What To Do Differently

Seattle’s Best has no news now. Stop trying to generate buzz and excitement for something that doesn’t yet exist.

  1. Make changes that benefit customers. (A spiffy logo is not a customer benefit). Do something new, different, or better than now:
    • Better product,
    • Better prices,
    • Better environment,
    • Better service…
  2. Relaunch this new, different, better at all locations on one day. Surprise customers – like an overnight beauty make-over.

    I visit my Seattle’s Best location today and BAM! – there is a new logo on the building exterior, new menu boards, new cups, new logo on products, on the aprons, new ads, and SUBWAY locations change as well. All this unveiled the same day – all at once. Wow!

    THAT is a brand transformation!

    Instead, they’re are doing it piece-meal. Instead of a beauty make-over, we have to watch them slowly grow out their hair… So slow, will we care that it is happening (and I quote) “over the next months and years.”

  3. Until there is anything truly newsworthy to share – keep this information internal .

    • Focus on getting buy-in and participation from your franchise team.
    • Get your employees on-board and excited.
    • Focus on whatever it is that is going to make you better than you were – other than a new logo.

What do you think?

March 2010

“The Basics” May Be Enough To Make You Great

2017-03-01T11:56:15-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog|Tags: , , , , , |

Taking your business from good → to great → to remarkable can seem a daunting task. But, it may be easier than you think.

The bad news from a customer perspective is that companies aren’t doing the basics properly, let alone getting to remarkable. Customers hopes are high, but expectations low. This bad news is good news for your company. With expectations so low, simply doing what you’re supposed to do (the basics) may set you apart from the competition.

Breaking it down to basics, you’ll realize customers are looking for:

  • The product/service they want,
  • with the right performance/quality,
  • in an environment they expect,
  • in a convenient location,
  • supported with the right level of service, and
  • with good value for the money.

And this all needs to be Goldilocks-style. “Too little” and the customer will feel cheated and unhappy. “Too much” and they’ll feel they’re paying more than they need.

Let’s take a deeper look into this…

The Product/Service They Want
As a customer, I want the product when I want it. I need it to what I want it to do. The way I want to do it. I’m willing to learn a little to use the product. But, too much of a learning curve… I lose interest. Isn’t there a company that makes a simpler one? It needs to be “just right.”

I want the product to match my perceived level of quality. I want it to do the type of things I expect it to do. If the ‘ice crusher blade’ doesn’t crush ice – that’s a problem.
Your business should be easy to find. Your website should be easy to navigate. Your menu should be easy to read. If I have to use my car to get to you – you should provide parking. Your hours should revolve around my hours (after all, you are targeting me).
When I get to your office or website, I’ll lose confidence if it is junky, cheesy, broken, or unprofessional. In brick or click store, I want to be able to find things easily. I don’t want to poke around to find pricing, product details, and the information that helps me make my decision. If you make me do this, I will go to someone who doesn’t make me jump through hoops.
Service can be human-to-human: a knowledgeable salesperson to explain the difference between two televisions. Alternately, a salesperson leaving me alone. It can be as simple as a smile and a genuine “thank you for coming” from the hostess as you leave the restaurant.

Service may also refer to the post-purchase service of a built-in warranty, guarantee, or easy to buy replacement parts. It also means not abusing trust. Don’t try to trick me into buying your warranty – if I don’t really need it. And, yes, I signed up for your newsletter. But that doesn’t give you permission to send me spam.

I want to feel I paid enough – or even better – NOT enough for your product or service. Ultimately, you want customers to feel they’re getting a steal. The secret to “value for the money” is, people are willing to pay more if you’re doing all the other things properly and consistently.

How often do you get the:
[×] right quality of
[×] what you want,
[×] where you need it, with the
[×] right support, at a
[×] fair price?

You’ll notice there’s nothing remarkable about anything on that list. However, if you do them all, at the same time, and consistently, you can be remarkable.

What Now?

To get started, consider running through this list with each of your business categories, products, and services.

Here’s an example Starbucks Coffee could use it to explore their core coffee products. (brewed/espresso drinks)

Product/Service They Want
Coffee (brewed / espresso beverages)
With the Right Performance / Quality
Fresh Brewed, Hot, Great Tasting. If a latte, with a properly pulled espresso shot and fresh steamed, (to the proper temperature) milk.
In A Convenient Location
Away from home. In Transit.
Expected Environment
An orderly store that looks and feels clean. With clean tables. That smells good, like coffee, not burnt milk. At the right temperature, warm in the winter, cool in the summer.
Right Level of Service
Order taken politely. Money taken graciously. Beverage prepared properly. (That’s the secret to success, right there!)
Value for Money
Do the above consistently. Once in a while try to “surprise and delight” the customer. Be a responsible, contributing member of our local and global communities. With this we will support our mission of creating “enthusiastically satisfied customers all of the time.”

That’s pretty clear, huh? It spans the whole experience. It also involves many departments from the company. For this Starbucks example it involves: the beverage team, real estate, store development, training, operations, and marketing. And, most of it is accomplished locally, by the local teams — not the folks sitting at headquarters in Seattle.

Here’s a random, relevant example. In proofreading this article, I used the build-in dictionary function in my Mac to look up a synonym for “daunting task” (up there in my opening sentence).

The word daunting didn’t sound natural. I thought formidable may work better.

But look at the Word Toolkit (pictured below) presented by the Apple thesaurus. It indicated that formidable refers more to something physical: opponent, competitor, barrier. Daunting is the right word to describe a task or challenge. When I click on daunting, Word Toolkit links me synonyms, such as: intimidating, unnerving, and dismaying.

Wow. That was more service than I expected. When I didn’t even know I needed it!

This article was originally published on the Marketing Profs Daily Fix Blog

Driving Trial To Drive Sales

2017-03-01T11:56:16-04:00 Categories: grow, SandBlog, solve|Tags: , , , , , , |

Mocha Valencia Frappuccino, was the one of the new beverages in the summer of 2002 at Starbucks Coffee. I was the marketing manager in charge of the summer promotion.

The beverage team described the taste profile like eating pieces of “chocolate orange” – like that made by Terry’s. (Which is interesting – because Terry’s Chocolate Orange wasn’t / isn’t a universal flavor the way Oreo Cookie or Orange Creamsicle are).

Anyhow, it became a featured beverage.

I don’t know about you… but orange + chocolate isn’t one of my favorite flavors.

I don’t know about you… but I would never order that flavor… I wouldn’t even try it because it was new and different – it is not a taste that sounds appealing to me.

However, sales of Mocha Valencia Frappuccino did fairly well that summer.


Because partners (employees) in stores sampled it morning, noon, and night. That summer, you couldn’t walk into a Starbucks without a tray of mini-Frappuccino samples being thrust at you.

Long story short – trial led to purchase. Through trial you drive sales.

Allowing me to try your product or service prior to purchase reduces the anxiety I have about buying your product. The risk is gone. I’m not going to fork-out $50 for your software to find out it doesn’t do what I want. I’m not going to buy that phone without first trying out the buttons.

Which leads to this great direct mail ad.

Neat Idea No. 1

How does a phone company get you to try their product before purchase? They get you to try it at the retail store. But how do they get you if you’re not visiting the store?

Below is a way to creatively solve the problem of “how do we get trial of our expensive device.”

[click for larger view]

The purple area is actually cut out… The idea is to put your thumbs through the holes and “try” the BlackBerry…

BlackBerry Thumb Trial

I’m not sure if this ad for this “groundbreaking new phone” drove sales and exceeded expectations. But it was a clever way to engage the customer. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the mail carrier tried it – just for fun – before he delivered it.

Neat Idea No. 2

How do you get people to try grape juice? You could sample in-aisle at the grocery store. Or, maybe have a booth at the mall. But how do you get them in their home? Short of shipping small bottles to customers?

Welch's Taste

Welch’s used a flavor strip in print ads. Peel up the tab and lick to taste. (I wouldn’t recommend this if you found the ad at the doctor or dentist office).

I used to drink grape juice all the time as a kid. I can’t recall ever buying it myself. Perhaps the taste is enough trigger the memory of that flavor as a kid and prompting the addition of “grape juice” to this week’s grocery shopping list?

What are ways you can get your customers to – taste, smell, feel, see, touch, hear – experience your product?

*I’m pretty sure it was 2002 that the Mocha Valencia drink launched, it could have been ’01 or ’03…