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December 01, 2004

Marketing Cornucopia

A recent BusinessWeek online article quotes Howard Schultz, Starbucks Coffee Chairman, as saying, "We (Starbucks) are much more than a retail store. Much more than a coffee store. We are becoming alternative distribution."

Howard is clearly playing off Ted Levitt's enduring 'Marketing Myopia' business philosophy where Levitt says growth opportunities decline for companies because they define themselves too narrowly. To overcome ‘marketing myopia,’ Levitt states companies should define their businesses more broadly to take advantage of growth opportunities.

But ‘alternative distribution?’ Huh? Is Starbucks beginning to suffer from a virulent strain of marketing myopia known as Marketing Cornucopia?

It’s my unoriginal take (which admittedly could use more thought behind it), companies suffer from Marketing Cornucopia and eventually stymie growth opportunities because they define themselves too broadly and fall into the trap of trying to be all things to all people. Ultimately this results in consumers no longer being able to relate to what made the company remarkable in the first place.

So … is Starbucks suffering from Marketing Cornucopia by defining themselves more as an 'alternative distribution' point and less as a third place experience provider? (Heck, defining your business as a third place experience provider seems broad enough, eh?)


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Couldn't agree with you more - "alternative distribution" sorely lacks imagination and is a sure sign of a brand losing focus. A pity as being all things to all people will ultimately lead to a decline in Starbucks' differentiation.

Conventional branding and marketing wisdom resists most attempts to develop a business concept around an attitude. “What’s your USP? Your defendable position? What space are you trying to own in the minds of your customers? Blah . . . blah . . . blah.” Unfortunately, that's why more than half of the businesses on the Fortune 500 list when I was in college (when the seminal book on positioning was published) are no longer in business.

New and improved products and services will continue to pop up like weeds in a field due to today’s unprecedented access to information, capital and global marketplaces. As a matter of fact, you do a great job of highlighting that very fact by highlighting new and exemplary businesses for folks who read this blog.

But the future of creating and growing a relevant brand revolves around more than great cups of coffee in a great environment with great people. Customers want more. And great brands will figure out precisely what that "more" is and will go as deep as possible in those brand relationships to connect people to each other, to the brand, and to other products, services and organizations.

Amazon recognized it. Google gets it. So does Sir Richard. I don't think Jobs does. He's great at product innovation, but as far as reaching deep into the Apple subculture, he's truly lacking.

If you have figured a way to appeal to a passionate subculture of like-minded people, and you can host the context in which they communicate and interact, you'd by myopic indeed not to search for and customize various products and services to address their needs and desires. But hey . . . I could be wrong.

Tom ... looks like we caught you monologuing.

And for clarification purposes ... I agree 100% with you that businesses need to tap into the passions of motivated like-minded consumers. That is exactly what SBUX has done.

I'm just not keen on SBUX maxing out the 'alternative distribution' opportunity.

I hope Starbucks doesn't turn its stores into a 'slotting fee' real estate playground. They are already doing this with the Duetto card signage and display stands. They did this with Kozmo.

SBUX stores are already cluttered enough with stuff that I fear by maximizing the 'alternative distribution' angle, the stores will get even more crowded with irrelevent marketing/promotional stuff. At that point ... the third place becomes a waste of third place space.

Wow! I just read my own post. I guess something must have touched a chord. Ha!

I suppose I'm frustrated watching my friends and relatives lead dispassionate work lives at clueless (yet focused) businesses. Business is not at thing. It's a process. Grow or die.

And I certainly agree with you John. But relevance is in the eye of the audience. Here's hoping that SBUX stays driven by them and their passions and NOT by the opportunity that owning the "space" presents ($).

Tom ... you can monologue anytime you want on Brand Autopsy. We respect people who are passionate about all thing marketing.

I’ll flip the script with ya and say ... 'stay passionate.'

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