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Starbucks' Via Strikes A Chord With Marketers

Here's my take:

1. There's a PowerPoint someplace in Starbucks' headquarters that outlines what percentage of the U.S. population relies on instant coffee. Some sub-section of that instant-using universe does it for convenience and portability, but isn't happy with it.

2. Someone noticed that very few of the instant coffee-drinking folk come into Starbucks World. BUT, some people that were coming into Starbucks were coming in less often, so a product they could take with them that was significantly cheaper would be a good thing.

3. Poof! Bright idea: Attract new users to the brand and provide out-of- store usage opportunities for aficionados.

4. Poof! Brighter idea: What if we could make an instant coffee that was as good as our brewed coffee? That's the gold standard! Yeah, Yeah! That's what we'll do: Instant coffee drinkers would come in! Aficionados could have a second or third cuppa throughout the day ...

5. Poof! Brighter idea even yet: What if the new product could be made with hot OR cold water OR milk? And, we could offer a new kind of cup for on-the-go occasions in which to make it? Once people bought it, they'd be moving towards a committed behavior. Gotta restock in order to use the mug!

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Now then, up to this point I'm tracking with them and think it's a swell idea. I would quibble with the execution, however. The ads that say "it's as good as ..." are a misstep. People would try it without that promise -- but it is either a) a lie or b) means the brewed version is a waste of money. Not a good idea, I think.

Then, there's the chant that every Starbucks barrista had to say for a couple of weeks, offering free trials or asking if people would like to buy some packages ... eck. The barristas are supposed to be really coffee- involved pros. Not hucksters. Back off, guys. Back way off.

The real benefit of Via will probably come when it rolls out to Starbucks' grocery store distribution system ... and hey! Why didn't you also come up with a Starbucks version of Nespresso? For home and office? Way cooler.

And, as the corporate boardrooms filled with steam from heated discussions, they could produce an instant latte, putting an end to all those strategy disagreements.

5 comments about "Starbucks' Via Strikes A Chord With Marketers ".
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  1. Hart Weichselbaum from the planning practice, October 22, 2009 at 9:22 a.m.

    "It's as good as..." is a bit of hype. Even if it's not the same, Via fills a need for a lot of people (me!) who like Starbucks' flavor profile and are subjected to bad coffee in many venues. The little book they provide in-store is a great checklist for reminding customers of all the places that instant comes in handy. I predict success.

  2. Paul Long, October 22, 2009 at 10:32 a.m.

    A Starbuck's barrista told me that each store has a Via quota. When I told him I intended to try it later, he said, be sure to buy it from him.

    BTW, this is not a compound sentence, so there should be no comma: "Some sub-section of that instant-using universe does it for convenience and portability, but isn't happy with it."

  3. Kevin Horne from Lairig Marketing, October 22, 2009 at 11:03 p.m.

    A marketing person who actually understands Starbucks and its marketing strategy. I just fell out of my chair.

    Kudos.

  4. Mickey Lonchar from Quisenberry, October 23, 2009 at 5:06 p.m.

    Leverage brand equity. Tap into an all-new audience. Minimal product cannibalism. Sounds like a no-brainer. Except...

    Anybody remember when Starbuck's entered into the agreement with United to serve its coffee in-flight? Similar circumstances, and I would argue it hurt the brand more than helped it.

    The question for Starbuck's is: narrow and deeper?, or wider and shallower? The later may spur sales in the immediate future, but it is not a strategy for building loyalty and evangelism.

    I remember the early days when Starbuck's positioned itself against "the can." With moves like this, Starbuck's is quickly becoming "the can."

    http://www.quisenblog.com twitter.com/mickeylonchar

  5. Melissa Pollak from National Science Foundation, October 24, 2009 at 5:22 p.m.

    All I have to say is that the commercial Starbucks ran inviting customers to see if they could taste the difference (and including a coupon for a free cup of coffee) was the best, most clever, and smartest commercial I've seen in years. Kudos to the agency that's responsible.

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