Are they tossing authenticity right out the window just like Coca Cola tried to do to its much loved ‘classic’ version?
I may be all wrong. After all, the folks at Starbucks have undoubtedly spent a bazillion dollars in research to show that there is a need for a new kind of instant coffee. I simply have a gut reaction that their new Via Ready Brew, misses on three counts:
- Starbucks is all about freshly brewed, freshly ground coffee served up in an authentic Starbucks environment. Instant coffee, by any other name, is a throwback to a time when we needed a very low-cost solution to having a single cup at home or in the office.
- Starbucks has a hard won image as an environmentally sensitive company that understands issues of sustainability and conservation. How do individually plastic wrapped portions of instant coffee square with that company image? How many of those plastic wrappers will wind up in landfills around the US?
- Starbucks is already bucking a new cost-conscious trend among American consumers. Now are they are asking us to shell out 80 cents for a cup of instant coffee(if you buy the 12 pack). Of course, that’s cheaper than what we would pay for a small cup in a Starbucks retail store. But it’s 10 times more expensive than if we brew Starbucks coffee at home from a bag we can buy at the supermarket.
Possible lessons for Starbucks from the 1985 new Coke debacle
Lots of marketing gurus have suggested that Starbucks got way ahead of itself by overexpanding beyond any conceivable level of demand. That may be true, but there are still millions of Starbucks fanatics for whom a day without Starbucks is like a day without sunshine.
However, the Starbucks brand promise contains many elements none of which involve expensive and environmentally incorrect individual packets of instant coffee. Oops, sorry, Via Ready Brew.
Senior management and top-level marketers at Coca-Cola similarly messed with the brand promise: that Coca-Cola had tasted a certain way ever since its invention in the late 1800s–and that you could count on that same memorable flavor forever. After all, you certainly wouldn’t mess with the flavor of Château Lafitte Rothschild based on expensive marketing research. And there are plenty of us beverage connoisseurs who prefer Coke to Chateau Lafitte.
Wikipedia quotes their 1985 CEO about what went wrong:
“The simple fact is that all the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola felt by so many people.”
–Coca Cola CEO, Donald Keough at a press conference, reintroducing ‘Coke Classic.’
Mess with your brand promise at your own peril
Starbucks is a great company with great products and a great consumer experience. But I think they are about to make a great, big mistake. One thing for sure: Whatever the outcome, a fabulous Harvard Business School case study will ensue.