Embedding in the corporate world: Starbucks case study
An interesting article from The Wire, August 2014 by Liz Stinson, beautifully demonstrating corporate embedding.
To summarise, Starbucks has realised that they have to make a concerted effort to make their stores look and feel less like a franchise and back to their original ethos of the local coffee shop down the road. Although the idea the anywhere you go in the world you will be served the same coffee idea, the brand have identified regional and location differences and the horror of all horrors that their costumers where equating them with fast food!
The company polled customers to find out what they thought of their not-so-little local coffee shop. It turned out that for a lot of people Starbucks was becoming synonymous with fast food. “The customers were saying, ‘Everywhere I go, there you are,’ and not in a good way,” Sleeth says. “We were pretty ubiquitous.” Ubiquity isn’t a bad thing; it meant people wanted what they were selling.
But what’s good for the bottom line (mass production makes things cheaper) isn’t necessarily good for the brand. Starbucks execs wanted to transition from the singular brand they’d been working to establish worldwide, to focusing on more locally relevant design for each store. “There are lot of reasons people come to us; we know people come to us because of consistency quality, speed,” says Sleeth. “But we need to do something that felt authentic.” But how?
So on a small scale Starbucks used local designers in some of their coffee shops to create a more authentic, local feel and thus making the stores feel less samey and brandy.
To Design Local, You Have to Be Local
..“We couldn’t design locally relevant stores, stores that would resonate with our customers from Seattle,” Sleeth explains. So they began relocating their design team, pushing them out from the headquarters into the actual communities where they would be designing stores. Today, Starbucks’ more than 200 designers are working out of 18 design studios around the world, with 14 of them stationed in the Americas…
With more people on the ground, they began noticing things that might make a difference in not just the aesthetics, but how a particular customer might want to experience the shop. In metropolitan U.S. cities, for example, people tend to come in pairs or alone. They’ll saddle up to a long community table next to a stranger without giving it a second thought. In more urban settings, people will just sit right next to each other, alone but collectively together,”
As Stinson concludes in her article that this was only rolled out in a very small number of Starbucks (11 in total) it is by no means a global strategy, but it does show that there is a conscious counter-reaction to the franchise backlash and general discontent with the brand.
I think it is safe to say that the general reaction to the arrival of a new Starbucks on a local high street is dismay rather than joy, it would be more bearable if their was a consciousness effort to use local designers so that the stores, if they have to be there, are more pleasant to be in. And why just stop at the design? Could a global brand like Starbucks be persuaded to source local produce, embrace the particular quirks of a community, or should it be left as a neutral but heavily branded space, with the assumption that the 1980’s Seattle style coffee shop is the only way to drink a your latte?