Premium POV

Starbucks Apologizes for Great Branding

In the last few months, there has been much ado about Starbucks’ rebranding some of its stores to strip away their corporate identity and revamp the locations with local character. According to an article in The Seattle Times, some stores—including the one featured in the article—will include alcohol, live music, and many other elements that gave many local coffee shops throughout the US their individuality. These unique coffee shops are the ones that Starbucks put out of business, and now the Big Brand is adapting—apologizing?—to become what the independent shops were.

Why would a premium brand like Starbucks go to all this trouble? They claim that slow foot traffic and declining sales inspired the transformation, but I think there are better ways to be a good community citizen than apologetically relinquishing the brand identity that has become a household name. Perhaps they’ve oversaturated the market with too many locations. Perhaps they’re too accessible, and now not as special as they used to seem. But they’re still a great brand, and I think they make a great cup of coffee.

I don’t mean to sound like I’m picking on Starbucks, but I think they’re making a big mistake. They’re abandoning the premium brand they’ve worked for decades to build. I’m actually a big fan of the brand, and of their coffee. When I travel, that backlit green circle in the distance is a beacon of comfort and familiarity; I can know what to expect when I order my grande no-whip mocha and cranberry orange muffin. Isn’t that what a premium brand is supposed to do? Create expectation, leverage familiarity, and inspire loyal purchase behavior?

Don’t apologize, Starbucks. You’ve built a great brand, but don’t try to appease consumers by saying you’re someone you’re not. Let your brand adapt and stay relevant, but don’t abandon it. What you’ll find you’re creating in these “unique,” unbranded locations is something that’ll be hard to take ownership of from a branding perspective. Not to mention the fact that you’re leaving yourself wide open for consumers to accuse you of lacking authenticity.

I’ll stick with Starbucks. And my grande mocha. And when I’m feeling like an extra treat, that iced lemon poundcake.


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