Sunday, December 20, 2009

Starbucks Needs a Redesign (or How Project Runway Can Save America's Favorite Coffee House from Boring Brand Syndrome)

So, similar to all of you reading this, I will be buying several Starbucks gift cards in the next few days to make up for being a lazy, last minute holiday shopper. I was just at Starbucks two days ago, before the Northeast was hit by BLIZZARD '09 (please read in loud booming local TV anchor voice), and did not pick-up said gift cards. I do not know why. It's that lazy, last minute gene. And now I can't get out of my house because the snow is literally blocking the exit and mocking me and my last-minuteness.
What I did notice on my last jaunt into my favorite coffee brewing franchise, however, was a beautiful citron green (or is it citron yellow?) mini, key chain gift card holder designed by Christian Siriano, the last Project Runway winner before the show went all Kelly Rowland and Mizrahi freaky.

Oh my God, it's f*cking snowing again. I can't believe it's snowing. Again. As I write this the snow began to fall. Really fall. Damn, last minute shopping gene.

Sorry, back to Christian Siriano's beautiful Starbucks gift card holder. The gift card holder color was such a breath of fresh design air. I picked it up and fondled it. I didn't buy it, of course, because December 18th is way too early to be buying Christmas gifts. But it was so strikingly different than everything else in the store. I wished I could tap it on the counter and the store would immediately transform into a magical, citron wonderland of modern design beauty. Then I thought to myself why Christian Siriano? Why citron? Why do the Starbucks kings not see that the brand has become...well, boring? And then I thought again...why Christian Siriano? I mean, they could have picked anyone. They have Bono singing on their promotional Christmas album for chrissakes. Jonathan Adler. Dolce & Gabbana. Anyone. Not that I'm knocking Siriano, clearly the boy has done more than anyone else on the show with his brand. But, what is going on Starbucks? Who is driving the brand development?

And I write this with all love and sincerity. I adore Starbucks. Probably more than the average Joe. I clearly spend more money at Starbucks than anyone else in the vicinity. I walk in and they light up, because they know I am responsible for the dramatic quarter-to-quarter increases in sales. They know I am why their manager gives them raises. They know I will be putting their kids through college, even if they are just kids in college themselves. I love the brand. Well, maybe not the entry into cooking breakfast sandwiches -- I did not love that. It was very smelly. Starbucks has dramatically changed the way brands think about their interaction with the consumer, with the community. She's done an amazing job. Yes, Starbucks is a she. I'm merely saying it's time for a refresh.

I know this because, yesterday, December 19th, before the unexpected BLIZZARD '09 kicked into full gear, I went into the local drugstore and saw they have a gift card wall. (Perfect.) So I dashed on over and perused the selections. There was not much to choose from unless I wanted to gift Applebee's and pre-paid telephone cards to my children. What I did find, however, was an entire section devoted to Starbucks gift cards. In the drugstore. I didn't buy any, because there are still a few days left until the "it's-Christmas-tomorrow-sweats" start to kick in and I was surprised to see how old-fashioned they looked. You know what I'm talking about -- the maroon velvet chair, brown, beige and Starbucks green. I couldn't shake the vision of my Siriano Starbucks. I wanted that beautiful, little citron key chain trinket of Starbucks joy. The feeling was intense. And as sad as it made me, I realized my Starbucks needs a redesign.

Brands age. Just like us. The trick is to keep the brand interesting. You know those old people you meet that have stories upon stories to tell, that just took up oil painting at 72, that just fell in love again; we love talking to those people. A brand works in a similar way. Years do not have to make a brand less interesting. Quite the opposite, actually. Legacy is a powerful tool in marketing. What an aging brand needs, however, is evolution and new stories. Let Siriano go crazy with technicolor. Surprise and delight loyal customers. Boring is not the same as reliable. Boring makes a brand irrelevant in a consumer's life -- a life that is always shifting and engaging and creating new stories. Brands must follow consumers and treat them to a bit of mystery and surprising turns along the way. This is how a brand remains fresh.

Be loyal to your loyal following by giving them some new stories. They'll pull up their citron velvet chair and listen for hours, no matter the weather. I'll have a tall, nonfat, no-whip mocha and sixteen giftcards. Thank you, Starbucks.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Power: The Magical Mystery Machine

One of the most powerful tools available to us as marketers is mystery.

My five-year-old son won the wishbone pull at Thanksgiving this year and was overjoyed to learn that because he won, his wish would come true. The day after Thanksgiving he woke up with pure joy and excitement to see his turkey bone wish come true. All day he lurked around the house looking for his wish.


10:30 a.m. "Mom, where's my wish?" 12:00 p.m. "Mom, where's my stupid wish?" 2:45 p.m. "Do you think I need to wish again? Maybe I should change my wish" 6:15 p.m. "That turkey was an idiot."


Finally, by bedtime I realized his increasing sense of annoyance with the fowl magic demanded my intervention. "What did you wish for?" I asked. His little baby face replied with sincerity and concern, "Everyone says I can't tell or it won't come true!" "Oh, but mothers have special powers when it comes to wishes -- we are the only ones you can tell and the wish will still come true," I encouraged. "Really?" "Yes, really. It's true." I had him. "A rubber band shooter!" he whispered in excitement, his eyes growing wider with each detail. "A big, AK-47, shooter that launches rubber bands at the bad guys!" My mind was reeling, half out of concern for his violent tendencies and half for my ability to find such a toy. Do they even make guns that shoot rubberbands?!? Turns out they do. A lot. And all shapes and sizes from western style to military, to accessories packs and scopes. A lot of companies are out there manufacturing rubber band guns. But not our turkey. Of course I had to find one -- and quick -- the last thing I wanted was for him to not believe in the power of the wish.


After comparing prices online for a ridiculously unecessary amount of time (I'm talking days) and weighing the shipping wait vs. my son's innocence, I opted for the old-fashioned round of calls to local toy stores. And, hallelujiah, I found one at a local toy store in Princeton. "Hold it, I'm coming!" Home I raced with my child's dream of the magical world in my bag. I swerved into the driveway and tip-toed to the front porch, placing it gently and slightly askew, as if a magical turkey elf had heaved it off his feathered back onto the cement stair.

Days had passed since he shared his wish with me. Many days. And when I tell you he is a persistent believer, I mean each morning he reminded me that our turkey was broken and he will never trust another turkey again. He was...well... he was pissed. But on this special morning, I knew the turkey elf had visited and left his little (real little, it was actually a pocket rubber band shooter that doubled as a pen--I know, I suck) wish gift on our porch.

As he woke that morning, I called out to him to put his scooter away that was leaning on the front stair -- convenient right? Luckily, my children are horribly messy and I was able to use the motherly "clean up your toys" nagging to get him to open the door and find the magic. As he rounded the corner of the house to put away his scooter he sighted the strange little package gleaming in the morning light. "What's this? Mom, what's this?!?" It wasn't entirely recongnizable as a rubber band shooter at first (remember it doubles as a pen), but once I explained, his face filled with glee. "The turkey did it!" he said. "My wish came true!" "Yeah! Yeah! Awesome!" Oh joyful turkey, he bought it. And as I watched him jump around with childhood excitement, I thought, damn, mystery is a powerful, powerful tool. He didn't even care that it wasn't exactly the right wish, just that the wish came true.



We have this same power as marketers. Mystery is completely underutilized by brands. And as I sit around wrapping toy, after toy, after toy in the name of mystery this holiday, I wonder where are our marketers of mystery? Certainly, DumDum lollipops has it right with the mystery flavor and McDonald's with the secret sauce, but who are our current mystery providers? The closest we have are the insider sales and scavenger hunts happening on Twitter and in other social media spaces. And consumers are loving this play on possibility. Just look at the lines at the stores. More mystery equals more revenue. If I were a brand this Christmas, I would wish for more mystery. Grab hold and pull!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rock On: Five Rocker Tricks to Social Stardom

If all brands embraced their inner rock star the economy would readjust. I was watching the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden the other night and realized all we need is Jeff Beck and Bono to solve the cash crunch. Here are tips rockers inherently exude that could radically shift a brand's presence if embraced:


  1. Get them on their feet. A good social program is inspiring. The most amazing piece of the social sphere is the interconnected sharing evolving a collective creativity. People want to share and help create and grow the brands they love. Get the people who love you on their feet, cheering for the next song, the next Tweet, the next offering from the brand.

  2. Thank the fans. "Thank you, L.A.!" So simple. So simple, yet it gets the most rousing cheer from the crowd. People want to be loved. Love your fans. Thank them. @ reply them. Give them special treats, secret sales, scavenger hunts. Please. Thank you.
  3. Don't tuck your shirt. There is a certain rocker aura that says "I'm one of you." Don't try so hard to "fit" the mold. Maybe, just maybe, if bankers took off the fancy ties, they could have fared better in the eyes of the public. The idea is to be a part of the culture in language and look and feel. Be real. Be comfortable. Be conversational.

  4. Dedicate the song. "This one's for you New York!" Set goals for the social program. Tell your followers what you plan to do. If they love you, they will help you achieve your goals. Challenge your followers to help grow a new market, then reward them when you hit a certain number of customers or followers.

  5. Have a set list. Social conversations require commitment, a beat that carries the melody. Know what you will be talking about. Calendar your social program and stick to it.

While each musician has a unique approach and style, they all follow a similar approach to performing. This, too, is the case for social media. It's not a medium to fear -- just embrace it and the songs will flow. Rock on!


Photo credit: Stephen Lovekin








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