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October 03, 2005

Building the Business Creates the Brand

[First in a series of posts on Starbucks Tribal Knowledge]

Starbucks never sought to create a brand. The company was too busy being a business than trying to be a brand.

Starbucks was too busy building a viable and profitable business to think about something as seemingly trivial as branding. Starbucks was too busy sourcing and roasting the highest-quality coffee beans to think about branding. Starbucks was too busy educating customers on how and why they should appreciate a stronger, bolder cup, more flavorful cup of coffee to think about branding. Starbucks was too busy creating a comforting and welcoming place for people to exhale to think about branding.

And because Starbucks was busy working on and working in the business, they built a business, of which, the by-product was the creation of a strong brand.

Starbucks teaches us that rarely, if ever, can you sprinkle magical branding dust to create an endearing and enduring brand.

But that doesn’t stop companies from trying. Instead of spending money to improve the functionality of a product, the quality of services offered, or enhancing the customer’s experience, many companies will attempt to build a brand by throwing money into multi-million dollar mass advertising brand image campaigns.

These companies fail to realize that your business is your brand.

Starbucks Tribal Knowledge tells us you cannot create a brand before you create a business. Your business creates your brand. Your brand should never create your business.


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I was once told that happiness is the by-product of right living. And so it is with brands - they are the by-product of the product/service/customer experience. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

It is a shame they don't teach "tribal knowledge" in colleges and universities across the country. Instead they teach the boring textbook baloney of 4 P's, branding, advertising, etc. This is where the problem lies. Colleges and universities are still teaching out-of-date, boring marketing concepts that worked backed in the heyday. No longer is that true. Its refreshing reading John's posts. Thanks John!

Thanks Jack and Steve for adding your voice to this conversation.

Ya know ... I get a kick outta speaking at colleges for the reasons Steve mentions. When I last spoke at Baylor University (my alma mater) I sat in on the class for the first half to hear the marketing professor teach. I gotta admit ... I was bored to death. So much jargon and so much hullabaloo my mind could hardly take it. When I spoke, I tried my best to use real words with real meaning and real-life business application. Not academic drivel but marketing reality.

I truly believe we have over-complicated this marketing thing. We've made it more difficult than it has to be. Hopefully more of these TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE lessons will see the light of day and help to uncomplicate this marketing hairball we are entangled in these days.

It's all about business-building.

Starbucks was too busy building a viable and profitable business - they worked on their mission, vision, values, strategic position, goals - all of this lead to their brand.

More bloggin about business-building (and a little about branding) at Be Excellent™


Thank you for blogging this. I am a designer [ logo designer, graphic designer ] and have realized that it's not the logo that makes the business a success, it's the business which succeeds and then everyone recognizes the brand/logo. It's not that a logo/brand is not important, it's just that the business needs to do "business" to do well - first.

Naina Redhu

The primary strategy at Starbucks was and is to build a strong brand. Read Pour Your Heart Into It and that strategy comes through loud and clear.

Yep Lewis ... Howard's POUR YOUR HEART INTO gives great strategic advice on building a strong business/brand. However, he writes Starbucks early strategy was more focused on building a business than a brand ...

We never set out to build a brand. Our goal was to build a great company, one that stood for something, one that values the authenticity of its product and of its people. In the early days we we so busy selling coffee, one cup at a time, opening stores and educating people about dark-roasted coffee that we never thought much about "brand strategy."
[pg. 244 | POUR YOUR HEART INTO IT | hardcover edition]

I wonder if Scott Bedbury would agree with the topic of "business creates the brand" or would he argue the antithesis?

Bedbury would indeed concur ...

The best brands never start out with the intent of building a great brand. They focus on building a great - and profitable - product or service and an organization that can sustain it.

[pg. 11 |A New Brand World (Scott Bedbury) | hardcover edition]

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