Until the 90s, no one in America knew about Starbuck coffee brand. Nearly 20 years later Starbuck appears in the Top 100 world most valuable brands ranked by both Interbrand and Millward Brown, 2 global prestigious organizations of annual brand rankings.
A magical leap? If you’ve ever read “Pouring your heart into it” written by Starbuck chairman Howard Schult, you will have no doubt of Starbuck’s today position.
I am extraordinarily impressed by many values and emotion from this book. This is the memoir of a talent strategist, but you will feel like reading a novel which is truly attractive from the first to the final page. There are many things to talk about this inspiring book indeed. In terms of the brand positioning and Brand Differentiation Management alone, this book is worth being the bedside book for many marketers.
The power of a leading brand pioneer
Founded in 1971, Starbuck still remained unknown in the US. until 1984 with merely 5 coffee shops in Seattle city. After Howard Schult joined Starbuck, Starbuck presented in almost every big city of the U.S in 1990s. Inspired by the Italian espresso coffee, he created a coffee brand of great quality and more importantly, a style of coffee enjoyment that American have never ever known before (At that time, American only think coffee as something to “drink”, not to “enjoy”). Being tempted by Starbuck’s impressive success, many competitors enter the market but all fail. Simply, Starbuck is the first that created a new coffee category with a new style of coffee enjoyment (in branding, it is called Frame of Reference). Starbuck succeeds to be the first in mind of customers and it’s really hard for any followers to acquire that position.
A great quality is not enough to be differentiated in the long run
In the initial years, Starbuck appealed to customers by providing an espresso of outstanding quality (they only buy the best high-quality coffee beans and uniquely roast coffee beans and and initiate a milk steaming in making coffee). American have never enjoyed such an incredible coffee.
One of the secrets to differentiate a brand is to be the first to own a product attribute. Starbuck had it. But if they had simply stopped there, they would have not been in such today’s position. Talking to Starbuck, customers think of not only a coffee of outstanding quality but also “the third place” (“house” and “office” is the first and second place). That is the most valuable thing. In the long run, competitors may catch Starbuck in terms of quality but they can never have a chance to own three words “the third place”. You will get no doubt about this if you ever know “the Law of Mind” in branding supposed by brand strategists Al Ries & Jack Trout.
And above all, Starbuck – a brand that “pour its heart” for customers
Brands are like people around us. We can communicate with many people but only “like” a group of people and “love” a few people. Similarly, we buy many brands but only like several ones and especially love only one or two. Many people come to Starbuck not because of its excellent espresso. They come to the “Mermaid” because you see her as a friend with a lifestyle they feel familiar with though Starbuck almost doesn’t spend much money on advertising. It is simply because the founder Howard Schult and his nearly 24,000 workmates through out the world always consider Starbuck as their daughter of mind – a Mermaid that is not only beautiful and lovely (musical notes) but also “pour her heart” into customers. Let’s say, even when the price of coffee beans increased by 200% in 1994, Starbuck insisted on keeping their price unchanged and the quality of every Starbuck coffee cup from the very first days has been as wonderful as possible (Starbuck is a rare retailer brand of beverage that does not apply franchise policy due to this reason).
And my heart is totally conquered by the branding philosophy of the Starbuck founder: what comes from heart will fall into hearts.
It’s really incredible, isn’t it?
Nguyễn Đức Sơn
Brand Strategy Director of Richard Moore Associates