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March 31, 2011

Solving Starbucks Problems | March 2007

The Brand Autopsy Archive Project
1,400 posts since December of 2003. That’s a lot of HMOs (hot marketing opinions) served up on the Brand Autopsy blog. For this week, we’re going to revisit five vintage posts from the Brand Autopsy Archives. Enjoy...

BACKSTORY | April 1, 2011
Howard Schultz is doing a full throttle media junket tour promoting his book on how Starbucks rediscovered its soul, reinvigorated its financial footing, and reengineered its growth engine. The book is titled ONWARD and this has me looking backward to when Paul Williams and I offered Starbucks some tough love on how to solve its growing problems.

In a ping-pong series of posts in March of 2007, Paul and I, both former Starbucks marketers, were responding to Howard Schultz’s leaked internal memo where he admitted that Starbucks has “… had to make a series of decisions that, in retrospect, have lead to the watering down of the Starbucks experience, and, some might call the commoditization of our [Starbucks] brand.”

With the publication of ONWARD, this five-part (with 10 posts) series has been given new relevance. Re-read, or read for the first time, the laundry list of strategies and tactics Paul and I believe Starbucks could’ve implemented to become the company Howard’s book says it has transformed into being.


We began by addressing the LOSS OF COFFEE THEATRE issue:
Paul analyzed the switchover from the La Marzocco espresso machine to the Verisimo automatic machine and offered up tactical ideas Starbucks can use to course-correct itself back to espresso authenticity. I riffed off Paul’s post and added the idea Starbucks needs to give permission to store partners to showcase their flair and personality while on the bar in order bring some of the coffee theatre back.
Next on our list was the LOSS OF COFFEE AROMA issue:
I explain in detail how “operational efficiencies” (not Flavorlock packaging) have led to Starbucks stores no longer smelling of coffee. I offer the quick-fix solution of finding ways to grind coffee in-store again. Paul disagrees with my exoneration of Flavorlock packaging and he smartly offers up the idea of implementing an “Aroma First” rule. This “Aroma First” rule would have Starbucks making in-store decisions based upon how any proposed activity would impact the aroma of coffee inside a Starbucks.
We also addressed the LOSS OF STORE SOUL issue:
Paul breaks down what it means to be a Mom & Pop shop and gives specific ideas on how Starbucks store design should stop being all things to all people at all its stores. I offer up thoughts on how Starbucks should give more control to its stores to run store-specific marketing programs and post store-specific marketing signage.
We touched upon the LOSS OF MERCHANDISE focus:
I explain how Bearista Bears and Finger Puppets sell very well, but it a great cost to the brand. As a solution, I propose Starbucks ask itself two questions to ensure its merchandise focus: (#1) Does the product link directly to coffee? If yes, sell it. If no, don’t. (#2) Does the quality of this product match the high-quality of Starbucks coffee. If yes, sell it. If no, don’t. Paul adds-on and modifies my two questions by asking if the merchandise links directly to either the preparation, consumption, and/or enjoyment of coffee. He closes his thoughts by expressing just because Starbucks can sell music, DVDs, and plush toys doesn’t mean they should.
We close by addressing the LOSS OF IDENTITY issue:
Paul likens Starbucks returning to its core to restoring antique furniture to its core, original finish. He also brilliantly points out Starbucks needs LESS INNOVATION and MORE EXPLORATION. Starbucks didn’t invent coffee, it explored the world of coffee and brought interesting flavors to its customers. Paul says Starbucks should concern itself with digging deeper into the world of coffee and uncover exotic coffee concoctions and share them. I take the IDENTITY conversation in a different direction and explain how Starbucks needs to standup to the bullies working on Wall Street by pruning all of its unhealthy growth in order to rejuvenate its soul and refertilize its reason for existing.


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Starbucks partners make the experience.

You can tell when you walk into a good Starbucks. It feels comfortable, you trust the barista. The barista is pleasant, attentive, and doesn't give you a dairy beverage when you say your lactose intolerant and order soy. A poorly managed Starbucks on the other hand will have baristas on their cellphones behind the bar, ignoring customers, taking shortcuts to close early, and conduct themselves like a waiter/waitress who hates their job.

Running a good Starbucks takes real managerial skills that get passed down to respected and trustworthy shift supervisors. They need to have the mentality that they are running a family. When everyone contributes, the result is a pleasant experience. Starbucks is striving to be apart of their location. They are trying to build ties with the community become a comfort zone, or like a previous positioning: "a second home."

Every store should have the corporate standards, but leeway with interior design and internal events. How about hosting local events, why not local artists and musicians, tupperware parties, whatever. Let it be up to the manager and the team members. Open up the book for stories to be told. Romance and personal experience are bubbling within every Starbucks.

The challenge with today's work field is not in the paycheck or the benefits. It's more. We need to find jobs that fulfill us, challenge and inspire us.

What do the partners do? What could the partners do to feel more connected with each other? Each store is different in their own ways. How do we showcase that? Should this be internal or external?

I think a social networking website for partners only, if not already out there would be great. Something that would connect partners outside of their nuclear family. There, they could post available shifts, pick up shifts if traveling in another state/area (similar to how flight attendants pick up extra shifts over the internet- just-like-that), or attend a local meet up group (craft night, book club, hockey game, barista challenge / fear factor, whatever.) Baristas are different in many ways, but they all share a couple of things in common or have shared a few similar experiences. (The I Work for Starbucks phenomenon- Me Too!) Its about connecting and building the brand internally.

Michele ... thanks for sharing your well-reasoned ideas for improving Starbucks.

Starbucks has a few partner-only social networking sites online ranging from a community service website to, I think, a partner-only version of

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