Thursday, July 30, 2009

Starbucks: Debranding

In an effort to go back to their original company manifesto of being a funky indie coffeeshop, Starbucks is set to open one of three unbranded stores in the chain's birthplace of Seattle. The first - to be called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea - will serve alcohol, stock unbranded coffee and have space for running poetry evenings and open mic nights.

All is an experiment by head office to debrand and deglobalize... the question is why.

Pedestrian traffic has been down for Starbucks since the recession hit, and consumer tastes are changing to be more receptive to something that supports both the local community and the environment instead of a tie in with Chapters Indigo.

Head office's turn back to the funk is proving to be a hilarious Office Space esque quest for "flare". An excerpt from the Seattle Times:

'Sebastian Simsch, co-owner of Seattle Coffee Works near Pike Place Market, became frustrated last year after large groups of Starbucks employees kept crowding into his 300-square-foot store to look around. "I thought it was funny," he said. "We're this little store, and I thought Starbucks didn't need to learn from me."

During the third group's visit, Simsch let them know what he thought.
"I said, 'If you want to buy something that's great, but just to look, that's not cool,' " he recounted. "I called the PR department and said, 'Never again.' " They did not come back, even after he moved into a much larger store next door.

Victrola Coffee Roasters saw the Starbucks people a lot more often.
"They spent the last 12 months in our store up on 15th [Avenue] with these obnoxious folders that said, 'Observation,' " said Victrola owner Dan Ollis.

He thinks it's interesting that they spent all that time in his shop, which serves wine and beer, then applied for a liquor license to sell wine and beer at 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea.

How's about leaving the local business to the local businesses and spending the debranding money and research on improving the existing brand instead? Consumers are well aware of being marketed to. If you want to appear more environmentally friendly, Starbucks, then let's try and do it properly. Have you heard of these?

Let's get them in your stores. I assure you that the public will be much more receptive to this than a weekly poetry reading.

And on the poetry reading rant, why don't we lift up our sleeves and move some chairs and use those funky chalkboards in your existing spaces to do so? Did we really need to print up "Observation binders" to think of this?

I am fully supportive of the debranding if it leads to more environmentally friendly rebranding of all Starbucks. For that, I say debrand away. Unfortunately, I don't believe the heart in this scenerio. Debranding in order to rebrand as being quirky and independent is only a scheme to be making more money and paving the way to exactly the same corporate trap they found themselves fall into in the first place. It's the Britney Spears syndrome. They won't be able to help themselves.

To see the Seattle Times article, click here.
Also, a great article from Marketing Mag here.

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