How Starbucks have ruined their brand

21 Jul
July 21, 2014

I am what people politely refer to as a “prosumer” when it comes to coffee. Suffice to say, Google Now tells me about driving time to two locations on a Saturday morning – the St John Ambulance operations center and the Starbucks Dunleavy Drive Thru and I will invariably have gone to at least one if not both before the day is out.

So you’d think that given that I drive past a Starbucks twice a day that I’d be in there at least 3 times a week…but I’m not. I simply don’t go there – possibly once or twice a year if I’m desperate. In fact, if I want a coffee, I will go out of my way to avoid this store and head down to the Dunleavey Drive Through instead. So what’s so bad about this one Starbucks store?

The secret is, it’s not Starbucks. I’ve been in a few of these and they almost invariably suffer the same problem – although they’re branded identically to a normal Starbucks store, have the same menu and offer the same basic drinks, this isn’t a Starbucks store. This is  Starbucks branded store inside a Welcome Break motorway service station. They don’t take Starbucks cards and worst of all, they don’t seem to have the same training or care that you get in a true Starbucks store. Starbucks is all about the customer experience, they chat with you; they name your coffee; if your coffee isn’t how you want it, tell them and they’ll make it again just the way you want. Almost entirely across the Welcome Break chain, every Starbucks branded store I’ve been to has sullen, uninterested employees more reminiscent of a McDonalds. And the coffee? I like Starbucks, especially their drive to bring better quality beans as part of their Origins beans. I like that the Starbucks card gives me discounts as a loyal customer. I like that I can use the Starbucks card in any Starbucks over the world – in the USA, in Holland or even in Hong Kong…but I can’t use it in Welcome Break.

Starbucks have truly done themselves a disservice in the UK with this tactic. These aren’t branded as “Proudly serving Starbucks coffee” stores who buy the raw materials but aren’t Starbucks, they’re branded exactly like a regular store. Without going inside and going to buy something, I can’t tell whether this is a regular store or a watery facsimile of a real store. And that, is the problem – the brand doesn’t distinguish them. Starbucks UK have allowed their brand to be diluted – this great customer service that has drawn people into their stores builds a huge brand following and loyalty, but this business strategy means that my experience in their stores is hit and miss.

This really hit home recently when the key staff in Siphon sat down and reviewed our strategy and values as a company. After the acquisition of VCOMM in 2012, we’ve been busy integrating the systems, processes and services of the two companies. We realised earlier this year that as part of that process we hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about the culture and values that were coming out of this period and decided it was time to take stock. Part of what we did was to think about our brand as a company and how we want to be perceived and I’m really proud of the value statements we put together. We’re justifiably proud of our brand – over the last 5 years we’ve delivered really high quality work to our customers that have improved their service and by association, improved the service that thousands of their customers receive. Much of our work is on word of mouth which goes a long way to showing what our customers think of us. it’s been 5 years of hard, diligent work for us, so it’s even more perplexing to me that Starbucks is diluting this good will.

What are you doing that devalues your brand?

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