I am not ashamed to say it – but I am for lack of a better term, a coffee snob. Now before you judge me, give me a chance to explain myself. I grew up in Seattle where people there take their coffee very seriously. So seriously in fact, that they even have a system for identifying specific types of “Seattleite Coffee Drinkers”. I myself fall on the spectrum of a true coffee connoisseur – visiting local and niche cafes as well as relying on the one and only big name in Seattle. My friend, Starbucks.
So you can imagine my dismay when I came to the east coast to start college – only to find an extremely loyal crowd of Dunkin Donut obsessed individuals. In my past three in years in Boston I can say I have still yet to become “Dunkin-ed” and am sticking to my Pacific Northwest roots.
Now I swear all of this has a point, and it got me thinking about what has made me so loyal to that S’mores Frappachino – and still have yet to feel that pull towards the Vanilla Bean Coolatta. What is Starbucks doing, and more specifically how are they differentiating themselves digitally, and capturing consumers?
Lets break down Starbucks at a brand level first:
The Starbucks brand is about selling a premium experience. At its core Starbucks offers a more extensive menu and product customization options – “extra hot, triple shot, 1-pump skinny vanilla latte – girl” ring a bell? It pairs this with an aesthetically pleasing, comfortable, and quiet in-store environment; encouraging customers to stay, socialize, and work while consuming their Starbucks product. And there’s no doubt that Starbucks maintains an accurate and consistent brand throughout all their digital platforms. No matter which outlet you visit, there’s that special “Starbucks touch” and comfortability that closely matches its stores – integrating into every aspect of their digital strategy.
With this in mind, I decided to do a deep dive into a few of the platforms I think Starbucks is pulling ahead in – consistently keeping their consumers engaged and on their toes.
Instagram: “Inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”. The Starbucks brand and aesthetic can be seen most clearly through its Instagram presence – filled with minimalist images that speak to the brand’s story. With over 15.5M followers, this platform serves as the primary visual branding for the company – continuing that personalized and familiar experience that is so crucial to Starbucks stores and essentially digitizing it in a 1080px by 1080px square. Its Instagram feed is filled with original Starbucks products – think artsy pictures of Maple Pecan Lattes and Iced Tea Refreshers. But in addition to this typical branded content, Starbucks’s feed is filled with consumer-curated content as well. This brilliant strategy creates excitement among users, keeping them engaged and thus transforming them into content creators for the brand. It does this through variety of hashtag campaigns – encouraging its followers to post their own #PSL moments with the hope of being featured on the official Starbucks page. It becomes both free advertising for Starbucks but also affirms that personalized relationship it strives for – individually tagging and re-graming its followers posts. Starbucks is increasing its brand awareness with no extra advertising cost while simultaneously making its consumers feel more engaged and relevant. Sneaky Starbucks, sneaky.
Youtube: Most recently this platform has transitioned from its traditional “how-to” videos, T.V. commercials, and behind the scenes content into something bigger. Starbucks has chosen to engage with its consumers in a more meaningful and less product-specific way. Starbucks is trying to signal to its consumers that they care about societal issues and are not afraid to make their opinion known. Last year they launched the “Upstanders” campaign – an original content series highlighting 10 individuals across the US working to make a difference in their communities. Each of these individuals’ stories were “tinged with progressive values”, as the campaign essentially grew out of the political turmoil of last years election. Due to its wild success – the second wave of this series debued two weeks ago – showing that this new active and vocal Starbucks is here to stay. They have chosen to take a different stand emphasizing that they care about issues relevant to society.
As you can see though “Upstanders” is notably free of any Starbucks specific branding and the “series is intended to inspire Americans, not drive Starbucks’ sales.”
But, as much as CEO Howard Schultz emphasizes that this video series was not born “through the lens of trying to sell more coffee” and instead “is about the human spirit and what we think is so important to the country” – one cannot deny that this message portrays Starbucsk positively. The mere fact that a highly influential brand chose to take a stand during a time of political confusion and unrest resonated with many consumers. This digital strategy of being vocal and fearless regarding social issues – even when it is not relevant to the actual business, is being seen more and more. Consumers are demanding more from the brands they love than just superior product quality, and in this case Starbucks was responding to this. By positioning this campaign and insisting its ground in values Starbucks affirmed to its consumers that they were are more “human – centric” brand essentially circling back to that original mission of nurturing the human spirit.
With that I hope I have been able to convince some of you Dunkin loyals that Starbucks is winning the game in a lot of their current digital strategy. From keeping up with the current trend of engaging users through Instagram – a staple for success in this day and age. As well as labeling itself as a “values-driven organization”, Starbucks is appealing to its consumers’ desires and in turn retaining a loyal following that is keeping them at the top spot in the coffee industry.
Comment below with other brands you think are ahead of the game – anyone see Burger King’s new anti-bullying commercial? @britthopkins4