The Starbucks Brand is a Promise [Open thread]

The Starbucks brand is a promise.  Of course every great brand is a promise.  I am having some trouble producing a lot of content right now (I'm working from a very slow netbook, which is slowing me down and makes it slower to work with images) and I thought we could have some fun just talking about what Starbucks means to us. Please tell me what Starbucks means to you, and what your Starbucks experience is.

A brand means that you have predictability to what you get.  So if you hear the word "Crest" you might think of toothpaste, and definitely if you hear the word "Sharpie" probably a pen comes to mind.

One of the dangerous things a brand can do is just slap their logo willy-nilly everywhere and then people start to get confused about what the logo really stands for.  Is Starbucks a place for coffee? I previously wrote about Starbucks Popcorn: A brand can get away with throwing their logo on other items to some degree but if it isn't done with great caution it leads to brand dilution.  That's okay if the brand is okay with that transformation:  People will  forget what the brand was built on. When people hear "Nordstrom" they don't think of a place that just sells shoes (that's how it started) and even when you hear "Eddie Bauer" many people don't make any association to a goose down jacket, but that one product was the start of the Eddie Bauer brand.

For Starbucks, the brand promises great coffee (and I am including espresso beverages in the word "coffee" here though usually when I say coffee I just mean brewed coffee.) and a great experience.  Starbucks tells you what they promise: Your drink should be perfect every time.

More than that, there are numerous implicit promises:

Your experience will be uplifting.  You can come here and take a break from your job or rest from your busy day.

Your experience may have some surprise and delight in it.  This is critical. Baristas who are forced to follow a scripted routine can't surprise and delight a customer.  I thought about this last Thursday, as I definitely had a 'first' in all my years as a customer.  A young barista gave me an "Involved" card.  I nearly cried. I walked in and the barista said, "you know what Green Apron Cards" are? - He said it more as a statement than a question. I said yes.  He gave me the "inspire" card. That was a great surprise.  In all honesty, that means a lot more to me than a coupon for a free drink.  I'm very touched.  True, all baristas have to be working together as a team to make great things happen, and there must be protocols to create some predictability to the experience, but they're not robots and can't act like that. Each and every baristas must be vested with the discretion to find a way to make a customer's day bright.  I realize that many customers just want to hurry in and out and get their coffee, but a fixed script or the inability to act freely is what would instantly turn the experience into, 'would you like fries with that latte?'

Your baristas should be knowledgeable.  This is critical, and unfortunately in my experience, an area that needs great improvement.  I hate to say not nice things about Starbucks, but these days there seems to be little emphasis on being knowledgeable.  I have witnessed countless episodes where barists could not explain the registered card benefits to the customer standing in line ahead of me.  I have met tons of baristas who are unaware that ANY registered card may be at the "Gold" level of MyStarbucksRewards and receiving gold level perks.  During brew on demand phase, I encountered many baristas who didn't understand why an Americano is not the same thing as brewed coffee. The concept that brew method and kind of bean affects the flavor of the drink seemed to be not well-known. In Clover stores, I've watched baristas struggle with which growing regions are associated with which coffees, though this is important to properly program the Clover machine.  Fundamentally, Starbucks needs to pour a lot more effort, money, and labor into training.

Actually, being not being knowledgeable can be overcome by being genuine and honest.  Last week I was at a Starbucks late in the evening at 7th and Pike in downtown Seattle, and ordering a beverage with vanilla syrup.  I handed him my old black card to pay (my 10 percent discount has long since expired, but it is registered and has Uncle Howard's autograph on it, so I continue to use it) and the barista gave me a total.  I think I said something like, "well that's not the real total because it will take off the Vanilla charge."  The barista was confused.  It was clearly the first time he had seen the black gold card and he didn't understand that it too would have all the perks of My Starbucks Rewards. Rather than trying to bluff his way through the situation, he just looked at me with very genuine eyes and said that he was new, and then he listened with open ears as I explained that any card may be used to receive the benefits of My Starbucks Rewards.  Now that is a great partner.  In all honesty, I don't care usually if a partner isn't very knowledgeable if they're nice about it: If they have sort of a curiosity to know more. Unfortunately, it's human nature to feel defensive when one feels like he or she doesn't know enough for the demanding moment, and that interferes with being geniune and a good learning process.

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Just as a reminder, I am still looking for partner pics to feature in an upcoming blog post.  I realize this is difficult and probably overly ambitious for me.  Most people don't like to show off pics of themselves! Here's the blog post - Please read it!

Looking for the faces of Starbucks partners: Real people, real partners

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If you are new to the blog, I recommend reading some of the following previous blog entries:

Starbucks chalk art - winners - Seriously, everyone loves this blog post.  It's a celebration of creativity and shows off the talents found inside of Starbucks.

Collecting Starbucks Cards and Howard Schultz's autograph - This is another fun blog post. Lots of people collect these cards and so I show off my small collection of cards, which includes Howard's autograph on a few of them.  I keep a sharpie with me at all times ready to ask Howard for his autograph yet again!

First and Battery Starbucks Card (Twilight Card) - This was never one of my most popular blog entries when I look over my analytics but I love it.  This Starbucks Card sits inside thousands and thousands of Starbucks stores, and it has a story to be told.  It's a real and beautiful Starbucks store.

Starbucks Cafe Verona coffee - This also never was a hugely popular blog post in relative comparison to others, but I love this one.  For me, Verona has often been a "go to" coffee for me, and this blog post gives an interesting little history of the coffee.

The Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place - According to my google analytics, this was a pretty wildly popular blog post which came as a surprise to me.  It just goes show you that sometimes we take for granted what is right in our backyard.  Since I'm in Seattle, going to visit 1912 Pike Place isn't a big deal, but I underestimate that this is an important pilgrimage for many people.

Starbucks Espresso Excellence - Two Years Later - Remember when Starbucks closed all their stores for a 'hard reset' of espresso training? This blog post revisits that experience.

Actually, not to sound too egotistical, but if you browse the "archive" tab, you'll find tons of amazing blog entries. Wow. This blog really kicks ass! Okay, I know I shouldn't say that and sorry for the vulgarity!

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I need to apologize for the MANY typos and spelling errors in this blog entry. I know it's very bad.  This stupid, slow, little net book doesn't even have Word installed on it. I give up. I'll fix the typos later. Normally, I'm much more careful than this sloppy blog post.

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And now it's your turn ... What promises do you see and hear in the word "Starbucks"?  What does Starbucks promise YOU? This is an open thread: talk about anything Starbucks-related.  I know that over on other blogs people are talking about the return of Salted Hot Chocolate, and the new Toffee Nut Sauce which will be a thick sauce like a mocha sauce.  Right now there is a toffee nut syrup, but not a toffee sauce.

I suppose I could have renamed this blog post, "The power of the Green Apron Cards" because that's what it is.

(I got the "involved" card from a partner, and had the others laying around but didn't come as special gifts with a note on the back. The only card I'd been missing (I think), was, in fact, "involved".)

Thank you Molly of Seattle  Custom Framing for help with the photos.

Reminder: Looking for candid real Starbucks partner photos

Cliff Burrows teaches the correct way to say "Pike Place Roast"