As we know, Howard Schultz has returned as CEO at Starbucks. He’s committed to fixing the “unintended consequences” caused by growing its store footprint at a rapid pace. Such unintended consequences have included losing the company’s identity and the dilution of the unique customer experience Starbucks once delivered. Howard has also pledged to refocus the company on growing its relationships with customers.
Writing in the Huffington Post, Jesse Kornbluth raises a valid point,
“It's interesting that Schultz professes to love Starbucks customers but has no apparent interest in hearing from us. How's that, Howard? You're going to thrill us without getting our input? Do you really think focus groups, consumer research and executive offsites will tell you what you need to know? What, exactly, do you think the Starbucks website is for?”
Jesse is onto something when he writes, “Schultz professes to love Starbucks customers but has no apparent interest in hearing from us.”
As evidence by their lack of participation, we know Starbucks, as a company, has refused to blog and refuses to participate in online conversations. The Starbucks Gossip blog is all the proof the company needs to know that people want Starbucks to join the online conversation. Yet, the company refuses to have a conversation with its customers (and employees) online.
Clearly, Starbucks was ahead of the curve with tapping into satisfying the consumer need of a Third Place—a place besides home and work where people could form community. But consumers have evolved from needing a Third Place to needing a Third Space. This Third Space includes social media spaces like blogs, vlogs, podcasts, Twitter, and many more. These are spaces where meaningful online communities are forming.
Now that the company recognizes it needs to improve its relationships with customers to improve the health of its business, maybe Starbucks will consider blogging.
Better yet, given Howard Schultz’s pledge to growing the company's relationships with customers, he should blog. He should give us, the 50+ million Starbucks customers who visit his stores weekly, updates on how his company is making the necessarily changes to follow his vision for reclaiming the Starbucks luster.
Howard recently told Wall Street analysts that, since returning as CEO, he has received thousands of emails from customers and employees who share his enthusiasm for reigniting the emotional attachment people have with the Starbucks brand. With a blog, just imagine how many more messages Howard would receive from adoring customers and employees who want to see the company succeed.
Howard has always talked about growing his company to get bigger by acting smaller. And a blog, or some other social media avenue, is the perfect tool to help big companies get smaller in customer’s eyes. Other CEO blogs like Jonathan Schwartz’s blog and Bob Lutz’s blog have helped to make Sun Microsystems and General Motors, both goliath companies, get smaller in the eyes of customers. And thanks to encouraging its employees to blog, companies like Microsoft look less pervasive and less evil in the eyes of customers.
Can you imagine the conversations that would occur if Howard Schultz used the Starbucks website to regularly share updates on how his company is bringing back the old Starbucks juju? I’m sure many of the Starbucks faithful would be thrilled to read impassioned updates from Howard. I'm also sure Howard would receive pointed feedback (and yes, un-pointed feedback too) on activities the company should stop doing, start doing, and/or continue doing.
Unfortunately, the Starbucks corporate culture doesn’t sync with social media. My experience of working deep inside the company tells me Starbucks is extremely careful in how they are portrayed in the traditional media. They want to be in control of the conversation in the media as much as possible. Since Starbucks is cautious about how traditional media portrays the company, then no way will Starbucks be comfortable playing in the non-traditional untamed waters of social media. Do I think this is right? Absolutely not!
Starbucks helped to popularize the “New Marketing” ethos of spending marketing dollars on making better customer experiences and not on making extravagant advertising campaigns. In essence, Starbucks baked marketing inside its business. It didn’t have to advertise because everything about the in-store Starbucks experience was the advertising.
Starbucks still operates under this “New Marketing” ethos but the game has evolved dramatically. A “NOW MARKETING” movement has emerged and Starbucks hasn’t kept up. This “NOW MARKETING” ethos is the realization of the prophetic Cluetrain Manifesto where the Internet has changed how customers expect to interact with businesses. As the Cluetrain writers explain:
"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."
In growing its business, Starbucks has always operated under the guidance of “Be everywhere its customers expect them to be.” This is the rationale for why the company began serving its coffee on United Airlines, expanding Internationally, operating licensed concept locations in airports, selling cold bottled coffee in convenience stores, selling whole bean coffee in grocery stores, etc.
Customers today have a new expectation.
Customers now expect Starbucks, and other businesses, to engage in conversations with them wherever and whenever. Be it in the Third Place or the Third Space, customers want to interact with businesses they love. By being active in the Third Space online, companies show their love for customers by being open to having a conversation with them.
If Howard Schultz really loves his 50+million weekly customers, he would show it by evolving his company’s culture to adopt the “NOW MARKETING” movement. If Howard Schultz really loves Starbucks customers, he must blog. He must carry on a conversation with us.
UPDATE: This blog post has been simmering within me for a few weeks. After hitting the publish button, I ventured over to the Starbucks.com site and hidden in the bottom right-hand corner is a "Howard Schultz Partner Update" link. This particular update is titled. "What I Know to Be True." Interesting. Seems like Howard is using the company website to share his impassioned updates with customers and employees.
Also posted are are transcripts of voicemails to stores regarding the work ahead of the company.
Of course, it would be better if Starbucks were to open up the conversation, allow comments from readers, and commit to making this an on-going feature. That way, Starbucks would be embracing the "NOW MARKETING" movement we have come to expect from businesses we adore.