Starbucks: Their Coffee Is Hot, but Their Content Marketing Is Ice Cold!

starbucks boston cafe You have certainly heard about Starbucks’ recent challenges.  This former cultural darling and Wall Street highflyer has been selling a lot less latte of late. 

I do frequent Starbucks, although less frequently than before.  This probably has more to do with the price of almost two dollars for a medium coffee than it does with the quality of the Starbucks’ experience.

Apart from the occasional distracting tattoo or disconcerting metal piercing, our local Starbucks’ stores provide excellent coffee and excellent service.  None of that has changed over the past 10 years.  Nonetheless, founder, Howard Schultz became very concerned that this high-end coffee icon was not living up to its original ideals.

As smart as Howard Shultz is,you should pay attention to what they’re doing–and then vow never to do the same.  Here’s why:

He’s trying desperately to get his baby back on track.  Most famously, he closed every Starbucks in the country for three hours to retrain the baristas.  The only obvious outcome from that expensive exercise was the hand written chalkboard pledge to provide a perfect cup of coffee every time-that is signed by every barista in the store.  My guess is most employees found it both exhausting and insulting to endure three hours of retraining at the end of a long day .

In the spirit of Starbucks as a complete coffee community experience, the chain recently launched a surprisingly awful attempt at social media marketing.  It’s called

mystarbucksidea site

The big idea is that Starbucks customers share their great ideas on how to make Starbucks better.  Somehow, this is supposed to create a sense of community as indicated by their website subhead: Share.  Vote.  Discuss.  See. 

Putting aside the notion that there is an actual meaningful community of Starbucks customers, this goofy website simply enables thousands of users to tell Starbucks what to do.  For some reason, Starbucks execs decided that this would spawn a high energy community that would gather at the site to spend meaningful time and share big ideas while sipping an actual or virtual coffee concoction.

Unfortunately, the site is not set up for any kind of real discussion–even if there were likely to be a real reason for coffee fanatics to hang out online together.

The biggest of the big ideas illustrates what a dumb idea is.  Are you ready?  Here it is:

Offer customers a free drink, after purchasing a set number of drinks. Similar to a punch card system or by tracking it thru their Starbucks Card.


Call me crazy but even a micro-retail establishment with a love and appreciation of its customers will have created exactly this kind of loyalty program.  If it takes a Starbucks’ customer to generate this wildly creative idea, Starbucks really is in trouble.

But, I think it gets even worse.  They note that this idea is now “under review.” In other words, they’re probably having a series of endless committee meetings to determine whether rewarding frequent customers is a good idea.  Yikes! Couldn’t somebody just say, “Just do it?”

This attempt at community is a content marketing failure.  Why?  Because it is absolutely inauthentic. The company obviously spent zillions of dollars to create a pretend community website which will tell them nothing more than they could’ve learned from a few one-on-one conversations with frequent customers and with their own staff.

Yes, Starbucks still brews good coffee.  But they could learn some important content marketing lessons from much smaller but smarter retailers…with a lot fewer marketing committee meetings. 

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One Comment

  1. Posted March 27, 2008 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a coffee drinker so I have rarely set foot in a Starbucks. But I agree that an inauthentic attempt to solicit feedback via that website could feel really condescending and annoying.