How Starbucks Lost its Brand

I’ve been thinking about the demise of Starbucks for months, not just the fall in stock prices, nor the recent store closings, nor the ubiquitous shop on both sides of the street. I mean the loss of the brand relationship.

Starbucks is no longer the “third place.” The cachet is long gone, lost–maybe even killed–by erosion of the relationship and the quality of the experience of the brand.

The nail in the coffin for me came at a brand new suburban Atlanta Starbucks about a year and a half ago.

It was the first store I’d seen with a drive-through. A drive-through, I thought to myself. Doesn’t seem like a Starbucks. The whole brand is about a comfortable third place, not a drive-through fast food “experience.”

So I chose to go inside. Loud music played on the stereo. Outside and inside. So loud the cashier couldn’t hear my order, nor the person behind me. It wasn’t a place I’d want to sit and relax. I wanted to get out, but not outside to one of the metal chairs on the sidewalk. The music was intrusive even there.

And the fact the staff didn’t seem to care only added to the sense that the relationship was no longer important. They were dispensing coffee, nothing else. I could have as easily been at a fast food place.

This is not how Starbucks made its name and it’s not what the brand was about at an earlier time. Inattention to the brand relationship is how Starbucks lost its brand.

But the few examples I’ve mentioned are only a part of the whole picture. There’s more to the story. A good overview of all the factors that lead to this conclusion appear in a post by Doug Karr at the Marketing Technology Blog.

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