Brewing a Digital Presence – Starbucks

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



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  1. s_courtney18 · ·

    Great article Taylor! I’ve always wondered how brands such as Starbucks fully utilize all social platforms at their disposal. One would think that Youtube would be a better spot for visibly branded product offerings, but in this case Youtube allows Starbucks to show their somewhat progressive brand values by showcasing “Upstanders” in communities nationally. Social media is a great place to show consumers everything they’re involved with instead of just a boring corporate website! I hate to admit it, but Dunkin’ definitely has a strong social following because of their humor–don’t worry, though, I still like Starbucks better too.

  2. As a Seattle native myself, I definitely share some similar sentiments on Dunkin–I just haven’t been able to get myself to like it. The quality and experience of Starbucks is so much better in my opinion, even if it is more expensive. One point in particular that you made really got me thinking: Starbucks makes its customers into content creators for the brand. Like you mentioned, the company does this through a variety of hashtag campaigns on Twitter and Instagram. I think Starbucks in unique in that it leaves its marketing to its customers. How many pictures do we see a week of misspelled names on a Starbucks cup? Or when the Unicorn Frappachino came out, did we learn about it from social media feed or from some kind of Starbucks ad? Your blog just got me thinking!

  3. Catherine · ·

    I, like you, would also say I am a bit of a coffee snob, loyal to local cafes and of course, Starbucks. You bring up interesting points of how Starbucks has been successful, giving you the quaint cafe feel in each of its over 25,000 locations across the world. A huge part of this is how the brand stays so dedicated to its image, whether that be in the store, online, on social media, or on its app. I see customers post all the time, organically and without incentives from Starbucks, expressing their love for the brand, which is the ultimate goal in terms of marketing strategy and maximizing ROI.

  4. britt_hopkins4 · ·

    In contrast to you, I hate coffee, but only drink it when I absolutely have to. That being said, I really don’t care which brand I drink because I don’t like any of it. However, when faced with a Starbucks next to a Dunkin Donuts, I pick Starbucks and I feel like this has a lot to do with the brand. Once in a while I will find myself scrolling through Starbucks’ Instagram, but never with Dunkin, despite being from the east coast. One of the most interesting things, and smartest, that I’ve heard about Starbucks is how they purposely spell customers’ names wrong so people will take a picture of it and send it to their friends. More free marketing!!! Burger King, as you said, is also pulling ahead in this way. Who will be next?

  5. I really enjoyed this post! I really like how you structured and addressed the multiple social platforms Starbucks use. My younger sister is a huge Starbucks girl and would never be caught dead with the watered-down-coffee that is Dunkin’ Doughnuts. Due to her passion for the finer things she finds herself following Starbucks on instagram and twitter. These follows allow her to truly never leave the store. I am sure that this is the goal and intent behind Starbuck’s digital presence. I think your passion and experience with coffee (Starbucks in particular) really makes this a strong post.

  6. It’s so interesting to me how Howard Schultz and co. created the third place in a way it hadn’t existed before. Prior to Starbucks, there really wasn’t the same culture around the space beyond home and work where people would hang out. I worked in a coffee shop in high school, and people didn’t really post up and work there. WiFi has definitely made it easier, but the culture was built by Starbucks – and it increases demand for their products! Nice job, Starbucks.

  7. I think at the end of the day coffee is coffee. A portion of coffee drinkers will be a “snob” and only drink certain kinds of coffee. But Starbucks has made there success from coast to coast creating a culture of their brand.

    I wouldn’t say Dunkin’ is failing at social media, I think that there target market is different from what Starbucks is trying to capture. And because of this they find other ways to attract their customers. Dunkin’ target market is probably more of a price sensitive customer, that wants coffee because its a part of their daily routine and don’t want to have to go through all of the bells and whistles that Starbucks embraces.

  8. juliabrodigan · ·

    Great blog post! My favorite Starbuck’s platform is its app. It creates games to incentivize people to go to Starbucks and make a purchase by rewarding people. I get a Starbuck’s coffee almost everyday, but I just recently downloaded the app. I wish I did it earlier! I think this app along with the upscale experience allows Starbucks to beat its competitors and it allows it to sell its product at a higher cost.

  9. paulandresonbc · ·

    As a fellow coffee snob who detests Dunkin and everything about cheap coffee, I wholeheartedly feel your sentiment about Starbucks and its superiority. It only makes sense that they would have a dominant social media presence and personality, as you nicely pointed out. Love the culture and brand that they have created, making them so much more than just a great cup of coffee.

  10. kaitlinardiff · ·

    Great post, Taylor! Like Brittany, I’m not a huge coffee drinker and only drink it when it’s absolutely necessary. However, I’ve never been particularly inclined to drink Dunkin just because I think of a difference in atmospheres between the two companies. Starbucks definitely has more of a relaxation-like storefront with the dim lighting and darkly colored decor. The Starbucks memorabilia and free Wi-Fi have always attracted it to be more of a meeting place and feels more welcoming. Dunkin, however, has always been more of a grab-and-go place to me. I think that Dunkin will need to leverage more of a social media presence in terms of getting customers excited for new releases like how Starbucks previews holiday cups, etc.

  11. m_thompson19 · ·

    I really liked this post – Especially after the presentation on the Starbucks mobile app. I have a newfound appreciation for Starbuck’s digital maturity. When it comes to Starbucks and how it has positioned itself as a brand, I remember reading a few articles a while ago about the purposeful butchering of name spelling on Starbucks drinks to promote its observability. Not sure how truthful the article was, but it was basically justifying Starbuck’s otherworldly propensity to drastically misspell even common names and how it promotes consistent posts of their product on social media. If it is true, Starbucks is a genius. Here is one article touching on the subject – not sure how much I believe it, but it’s fun to think about. Overall, I’ve been consistently impressed with how Starbucks promotes its brand through digital platforms and I thought your post really did it justice – thanks!

  12. Nice post. I even know that the MBA Tech Trek trip visits Starbucks, because they have so many interesting digital things going on.

  13. Hilary_Gould · ·

    Another interesting thing about Starbucks and their digital presence that I read about is the spelling on their cups! I know their was a theory a little while back that sometimes they would purposely spell names wrong so that individuals would post their own picture of their cup and thus advertise their drinking Starbucks. Not sure if it’s true, but some of them are pretty funny. It is amazing how often someones snap story includes a Starbucks cup– much more so than any other coffee brand. And their branding has done such a good job so that you immediately know it’s them based on the cup. I know people always can’t wait to see what their holiday design is– I had a friend try to get every variation last season! They definitely have a strong digital presence on their own, but also rely on their customers promoting their brand through their own social media channels!

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