Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Brand Loyalty: Starbucks' Die-Hard Customers

Some more on branding here, with the coffee that made many of us feel a bit out of our league the first time we stepped foot inside a store and the aficionado in front of us ordered his "tall, nonfat, iced caramel machiatto, upside down - oh and no whip." When I entered my first Starbucks, my palms were sweating as I looked the sizes up and down. That guy just ordered a tall, but it looks kiddie-sized.

"Can I take your order, miss?" I'm interrupted by the service rep, oops, I mean the tan, preppy yet punk, barista with the green apron, stylish glasses and nose ring behind the counter.

"Umm," I stutter. I fumble. I fear exile if I order wrong. "A medium coffee?" She doesn't blink, she just gets her cup and writes my order on it. Did I order correctly? What about cream and sugar?

Okay, I eventually figured it out. And now I can order my fancy drinks with the best of 'em. But what kept me coming back for more after that initial culture shock? I think it's got a little something to do with the focus on the experience more than the actual product. The brand experience creates loyal, committed customers.

As committed customers, these die-hards don't just view Starbucks favorably, but they tend to actually undervalue competitors. If you ask a Starbucks customer if they’d like a coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, you're likely to receive a dirty look, and possibly a small amount of judgment as they quickly answer “No.” Starbucks doesn’t just make coffee, they’ve created a brand with steadfast enthusiasts. Customers like this are valuable in times of crisis. It's probably why Toyota came up with the ads about "Asking someone you know who drives one." This was conveniently right after the recall crisis last spring. They relied on their committed customers to defend their experience with Toyota.

When you walking into a Starbucks, there's a certain mood and ambience. There's a sense of reciprocity that if you're loyal to your cup of Joe in the morning, it won't let you down. It's also about the human connections that Starbucks has created in the store. Unlike some coffee shops that are more about getting in and getting out, Starbucks has a more inviting atmosphere with their friendly baristas. And after you leave, the interaciton continues through its many social media channels. They have committed Tweeters who answer questions, plenty of engaged Facebook fansand they were one of the first retailers to offer rewards through Foursquare. Starbucks does this because they tend to know their audience, the ones who are likely to interact and crave that extra attention through a shout-out in a Tweet. They're the trend-savvy early adopters who like change and innovation. Sitting in a Starbucks today, I even looked around to notice that out of the five of us on our laptops, four of us had Macbooks. (Maybe there's a potential partnership opportunity in the future for Starbucks and Apple?)

Brand loyalty isn't brand popularity. It's long-term dedication from a large number of customers. It's what separates Starbucks from Dunks, and all of their other competitors. That's my PR thought for the day.

*Image found through Google image search.
*Disclaimer: I'm impartial to Starbucks or Dunks - I drink both.

1 comment:

  1. So, I live in Seattle now, and as someone who I guess falls into that 20-something hipster demographic (meh), I'm a total anomaly in that I actually still like Starbucks, whereas it's totally uncool to be in my demographic and get coffee there instead of some indie Seattle coffeeshop. But I've also worked at SBux in the past and it was awesome. I earned so much respect for how they've crafted their brand. And it's true, now that I'm just a consumer and not a barista: I expect certain treatment when I go to a restaurant or coffee shop, and 99% of the time, I get exactly what I expect when I'm at a Starbucks. I love that consistency. The exception to this is NYC Starbucks locations, where I never really enjoyed my experiences.

    Also, I kind of disagree -- I think it's less stressful ordering there than another shop, and even before I worked there, I felt that way. Because it's super important that the baristas are nice and welcoming to customers, they are really chill to people asking questions. For example, they'll give you recommendations and if you don't like it, they'll make you a new drink for free--and they're not dicks about it. I find that they usually don't correct people with sizes and stuff like that ("You mean grande, not medium...") in a rude manner, also. But I've been to other coffee shops where I've accidentally called something by a Starbucks name and they were totally rude to me (I ordered a "Caramel Macchiato" at one place and the barista snapped, "Um. You mean a caramel LATTE, FYI").

    This was super long and rambly, but yes -- I definitely have lots of respect for SBux!