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.

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