the evolution of species

eskimon's coffee cups

The Consumerist reports that Starbucks is

“…testing several new stores in which there will be no
Starbucks branding at all. Instead, the coffee shops will
be branded with ‘community names,’ like ’15th Avenue
Coffee and Tea'”

The article goes on to report that these new-concept cafés may serve alcoholic drinks and feature live music.

They may even adopt different names for different locations.

A far cry indeed from the cookie-cutter approach that made Starbucks famous (infamous?) the world over.

So why the radical shift in strategy?

An article in the Seattle Times suggests that the changes are designed to reintroduce an absent “community personality” that characterises traditional, local coffeehouses.

Critically, the article discusses the need for a “compelling consumer experience” that “tells a story“.

It is in these three critical words – ‘tell a story’ – that Starbucks may have lost its way.

As the chain expanded around the world, a considerable element of its appeal lay in the fact that it offered something new: a fresh take on the coffee experience.

Indeed, it wasn’t just a café; it was ‘The Third Place‘.

To many, Starbucks told a new kind of story.

But as time went on, and the brand stuck rigidly to its formulaic approach wherever it went, those same people came to know that story a little too well.

And while few would question the consistency of the Starbucks product and experience, that consistency might cause its very downfall.

Because while Starbucks almost always meets its customers’ expectations, there is precious little opportunity for the brand to exceed them.

And that means that Starbucks is still telling us exactly the same story it was telling us 10 years ago.

But, as Darwin stressed, even the strongest of species must evolve in order to survive.

And if brands are all about the stories they tell, they must evolve their stories if they are to survive.

So, while this new approach from Starbucks may sound like a brave move, in reality, it may be the only strategy that can save the brand from extinction.

Read more in these Consumerist and Seattle Times articles.

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2 Responses to “the evolution of species”


  1. 1 Brendan July 17, 2009 at 23:45

    Really interesting information and observations.

    Starbucks already has an un-branded store of sorts in Manhattan, just off Washington Square Park. There is no signage and the only way you know you are getting Starbucks is the logo imprinted on the cups.

    This approach may be the prototype for what Starbucks plans to do: Toning down the signage on their store and making the coffee ordering/preparing area basically just a kiosk inside the larger “third space.”

    People want to know that their coffee will always be good and up to Starbuck’s standards, but it would be nice if the space in the stores was a little less standard and felt curated by local interests and tastes.

    • 2 eskimon July 18, 2009 at 12:44

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brendan.

      It’s interesting to see how that balance of consistency and individuality across the stores will play out – as you say, the Starbucks brand is well respected for its coffee and the reassurance that its consistency brings, but at the same time, visiting a coffee shop is a form of escape for many people, and the ubiquitous standardisation of the existing Starbucks brand can dilute the intimacy that makes local cafés so appealing.

      Certainly something to keep an eye on – please do let me know if you spot any other variations on the Starbucks theme!


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