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Starbucks executive chairman Howard Schultz, who does an awful lot right as a business person and brand builder, issued a mea culpa in newspapers across the country today for the racially biased incident in one of his Philadelphia stores this past winter. At great expense, Starbucks will close stores today for a half day and provide sensitivity training to all employees. His letter was heartfelt and nicely coiffed, but right out of the PR play book. (No doubt, we all need to be more sensitive to race, gender and sexual proclivity… and we could all use a little training. It’s the biggest global issue of the day.)

But it’s my belief Mr. Shultz should have used a different tactic to “prove” the company’s commitment to improving race relations and sensitivity.  He could have hired more black people. Put a race sensitivity suggestion box in the stores. Developed a new customer greeting that celebrated inclusion. More inclusive store artwork. Changed a business behavior.

The apology letter is nice but consumers are inured to the tactic. It has become a check box. Training, too, is good but it’s a one-timer.

This is complex shit. But a good coffee is complex and you figured that out. Do Better Mr. Schultz.




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Nike is parting ways with 11 top executives in the face of an employee survey pointing to sexual harassment in the workplace. Facebook is reorganizing into three divisions to put senior management eyes closer to the work areas that have been a little lax in the security department.  It seems that firing and reorganizing are the reflexive methods of apologizing for public company problems.  Other typical tactics include NYT and WSJ apology letter ads and training days (see Starbucks).

Customer-facing business change is best served cold. Not right away. Business change needs to be properly thought out. Not knee-jerk. Poorly thought out change can be more disastrous than the disaster. Nike needs to live its shame for a while. As does Facebook. They need to publish and discuss what they’ve found and how they are going to deal with it. Most PR people will tell you to do something quick and put it to bed. I disagree. Companies need to spend more time living, learning and grieving. Glossing over big mistakes is a big mistake.

Act like a human and you can come back from it. Endure the shame, study it, heal – then move on.



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I went to the Starbucks yesterday, one housed in my local Ingles grocery store, and a nice young women in a non-descript polo shirt came to serve me.  I was looking for an Ingles logo on the shirt, but didn’t see one.  Within a minute another woman walked into the Starbucks retail space with a green apron on – she more befitting the brand experience.

I asked her if they were still called baristas. She said yes.  Then I asked her when telling friends what she did for a living if she said “I’m a barista” or “I work at Starbucks,” she admitted the latter.  Howard Schultz are you listening?

When Starbucks began, the barista was fundamental brand thing. They co-opted the word. Now people just work at Starbucks. When Starbucks first got rid of the hand-crated latte and espresso machines in favor of automated brewing, I thought it might be the beginning of brand stasis. Think I was right. The brand can advertise blonde coffee and all the new flavors it likes, but if it doesn’t tighten up the in-store brand experience, it will suffer.

Peace be upon you, children and parents of Parkland, FL.


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In the part of my brand strategy presentation where I lay out my framework (1 claim, 3 proof planks), I talk about the many targets a brand must address. With B2B products, the targets tend to be job or function-related. For a healthcare service, as an example, I might want the brand to speak to patients, docs, care-givers and insurance companies. This adds complexity when it comes to finding the claim. On the consumer side of the house, the targets are often consumer segments.

starbucks machiatta

I was reading about a Starbucks barista in Williamsburg Brooklyn this morning and how he is one of group of highly skilled Howard Schultz employees, dialing up the flavor selections of artisanal brews, soon to be released under the “Roastery” name — coffee draughts which may list for as high as $10. The Williamsburg drinkers of this high-end coffee are not the bulk of the Starbucks buyers around the country; they’re not part of the double, double, half hazelnut, half vanilla, two sugars, muffin top set. A group that pays the bills.

So how does one brand cater to both targets with a single Starbucks brand? Without, sorry for the pun, diluting the brew? Well, the brand has to be future proof. It has to have a claim and proof plan array that appeals to all segments. Though I am not privy to the Starbucks brand strategy, I know it’s accommodating. It will handle the Roastery and the mixed coffee drink crowd. Starbucks has a brand strategy that encompasses. That includes. But also focuses. Starbucks has mad blending skills.




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Fight the Machine.


Starbucks executives, always on the lookout for ways to make more money (as they should be), have, until now, sat idly watching the growth of Nespresso and Keurig. Home and office brewing of coffee in single servings it is a hot category.  A category that follows the razor blade theory…discount the device, make money on the replenishments.

Starbucks see this single brew trend as not going away and recognizes coffee bought in pods is not coffee bought at their retail stores. Sooo, they’ve decided to sell a coffee maker. In other words, they are betting against themselves and accelerating the single serve brew category.

Stop it!  This is not a line extension, it’s a cannibalization. It diminishes the mission of the brand. These machines are the enemy.  The afternoon Starbucks run, the mocha, choca, locca $6.50 morning drink, the aroma of the coffee beans and din of the cool music gone. Fight it. Go all Davy Crockett on its ass. Davy may be dead but he’s alive in our hearts and minds and he defended and reshaped a country.

Starbucks is part of the craft economy. Convenience be damned.  Starbucks needs to stand up and fight! Fight the machine. Peace this holiday season.


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I love this logo. I am not a hot tea guy but the marketer in me sees the tea drinking trend and mad growth potential in the US.  Apparently, so does Starbucks who purchased Teavana last year.  For those unfamiliar, Teavana is a retail chain selling various teas and tea-making accessories.

The block letters of the logo and the word itself, do not make the logo perfectly readable.  The name isn’t particularly poetic or easily mispronounced, but the mark before the name is splendid. It’s Eastern, relaxed, friendly and conveys warmth and goodness.

I’m not sure tea is the Facebook to coffee’s MySpace just yet, but keep your eyes peeled.

I’ve spoken with the CEO of a big ready to drink iced tea brand, which is growing quite nicely YOY, about the “tea-ness” in his brand plan and I am waiting for him to step up.  He’s 65% committed, but not all the way there yet.  When he rolls, he’ll whoosh his volume.  Tea’s, hot then cold, are going to be the haps.  Peace!

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One of Starbucks cornerstone brand traits is its rich, hearty, no-nonsense coffee. A brilliant differentiator for the masses. The aroma in the store, the bags of beans the real time brewing all contribute.  It is this rich taste however that has kept some coffee drinkers from being customers. And that is a sales opp. How do we convert a person from a “drive by” to a “drive in?”  And do it while preserving “our thing.”  The answer is by moving the cheese a little. And these cheese is the roast.  Roast gets you credit for rich and flavorful.

Introducing Starbucks new Blonde Roast – a lighter flavored, easy drinking coffee option. Tagged with the line “It’s the coffee we’ve been missing for the people we’ve been missing.”  I haven’t tasted the product, but I like the marketing and positioning. It’s quick, telling, contextual and a focused new product. It’s what consumers, or should I say non-consumers want.  It’s not a tea or a slushy…it’s coffee. And a long time coming.

Turn on the sales steamer, this puppy is going to be hot and bring in  a lot of new faces.  Bravo team!

PS. I’m sure hours were spent deciding to leave the “E” on the word blond or take it off. Interesting choice.

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So yesterday I suggested that Starbuck’s misnamed its new fruit flavored iced coffee product Refreshers, jumping straight to the benefit in the name, and not necessarily an uncommon benefit at that. Starbucks missed an opportunity.  Here is link to the video explaining how Refreshers are made. Green coffee extract is the secret to the new product.  Three words that together don’t particularly make the mouth water.  No wonder they called them Refreshers.

Here are a couple ideas and words that may have been overlooked in the naming meeting. Words that don’t deliver the benefit, but work to explain the new product.  The  Is of the Is-Does, as it were.


– Natural state beans

– Pure caffeine

– Arabica beans

-Young, you get the idea.

Naming is hard.  Think Apple.  Brand are empty vessels into which marketers pour meaning. But consumers extract meaning from brands and the first experience in the name. Make it a good one. Peace. 

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The problem with appointment promotions is they don’t really build customer loyalty. When Starbucks tells you to come to the store on Thursday between 12 and 2 P.M. for a free apple fritter and they publicize it in a big newspaper ad, you have to make an appointment to go.  They’re trying to generate traffic. If you must buy a new cup of something in order to get the free fritter, it’s about product trial.  It’s not really a loyalty play because everybody can participate.  Unexpected promotions are much better for loyalty building. 

Unexpected promotions are much better, also, because they’re more social. With an unannounced promotion, especially one of the free variety, there is a wonderful surprise and feeling of serendipity. With mobile phones what they are today and our “always on” culture, free can go viral fast.  And those virused are usually best friends or most appropriate friends. 

Let’s say I go into Starbucks to order coffee and get a blueberry fritter, not my usual apple fritter. As I’m waiting online I might tweet or 4square it.  Or, text my commuting office mate.  Why would I do that?  Because I’ve been hit with a pleasant random act of kindness and I can pass it on. I’ve been recruited to be a good guy.  And Starbucks has enlisted me to curate their promotion.  I mete it out based upon who I think will enjoy it.  The human algorithm.  And, by letting “the people” promote your promotion, you can spend more money on the giveaway itself and less on advertising. Try it you’ll like it. Peace.

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The Ford Story


Ford Motor Company does not really have a campaign today. An old mentor of mine, Peter Kim (now deceased), once told a very important client that “campaigns are overated.” The Ford story is not a “Drive One” campaign story – it’s a lot of little ones.

It’s social media stories curated by Ford’s Scott Monty. It’s leadership demonstrations by CEO Alan Mulally. It’s smart marketing directed toward millennials, the next generation of car buyers. It’s a promotion where a 100 cars not yet available in the U.S. are given to average Joe and Jane bloggers to drive for a year. And for the tech-savvy it’s a cool product like v.2 Sync the in-car software that in the future will have the ability to shut down texting while the car’s in motion. For motor heads, how about a newly engineered engine that offers V8 power with V6 fuel efficiency. Or the Edge that goes beep-beep when you are about to back into a fire hydrant?

This is a car company that smelled the Starbucks and decided to do something. A lot of somethings. This is a car company that is showing, not telling. Ford is rebuilding an American car company with good product, forward product development and no campaign. The story is a wee bit disorganized, but the gestalt is that this company is beginning to win – on many fronts. And Bill Ford deserves credit for getting out of the passing lane for a few miles. Go Ford Go. Peace!

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