A few weeks ago, I was stranded in the airport in Atlanta, and found myself in search of one thing: a Starbucks.
It was a little surprising: I used to hate Starbucks, or at least what I thought it stood for. I grew up on Dunkin Donuts (I'm still a fan), and the thought the idea of saying 'venti' instead of 'large' was annoying on many levels. The idea of paying more than $2 for a cup of coffee to go was also outrageous.
So why am I addicted to Starbucks now?
Because of Starbucks' convenient locations, I've found myself using them more and more as I travel--and I have come to realize that the company sells much more than coffee. It also sells cleanliness, comfort, and consistency--a welcoming atmosphere and a standard list of drinks unique to Starbucks.
Ten years ago, when I started Situation Interactive out of my apartment, Starbucks was my unofficial conference room. As the agency has grown--we've now had a total of seven different offices--Starbucks has remained an integral part of our company. I've hired people, conducted reviews, held conference calls, met vendors, closed major business deals, submitted my taxes and constructed the company business plan at Starbucks.
In the hundreds of Starbucks locations I've visited, not once can I name an experience where I didn't feel welcome--no matter how long I was working there. In fact, I walk into the location at Broadway and 38th Street, downstairs from our New York office, and the manager, Tara, always says, "Hey Damian, how's your son doing?"--regardless of how busy the store is.
This success does not happen by accident; it's not simply great marketing. It's a collective mindset throughout their organization that truly captures the brand greatness (and ultimately the differentiation) in everything Starbucks does. The company puts actions to words and is a brand model I aspire to.
Takeaways for My Business
As a business owner, I take three very specific tips away from the Starbucks experience.
Context of its offering: Starbucks understands how its products fit into the everyday lives of its customers. For example, the company recognizes that the quality of the experience--where and how you drink your coffee--is often as important as the quality of the coffee itself.
Lifetime value of customers: Starbucks appreciates that in order for its business to be successful, it must do everything in its power to create strong lifetime value with every customer that walks in the door. Among the techniques: welcoming customers by name and implementing the newest technologies in mobile payments, to make your trip faster. Starbucks knows how to make repeat purchasing both welcome and easy.
Sustainable culture: Starbucks has defined its culture and is consistent across all touchpoints, resulting in sustaining strong lifetime value with customers. If you closed your eyes and were transported to a coffee shop somewhere in the world, you would know within seconds of opening your eyes whether you were sitting in a Starbucks. That's powerful marketing.
It's no surprise Starbucks is listed among best companies to work for year after year on every major list.
So with that kind of customer care and commitment to a greater vision--not to mention the free business lessons--paying $2 or more for a coffee is OK by me.
In fact, I'm up to the $4 latte.