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By Dick Maggiore and Mark Vandegrift

Starbucks Unique Brands

Starbucks: Get Back To Being Unique

An article in the Columbus Dispatch touted that Starbucks was taking cues from its cheaper rivals. That they were seeking part of the 'value' pie.

What a ghastly mistake. The first rule of positioning, in fact a commandment, is that a product, service, a company, even an individual can only stand for one thing in the mind of the prospect. Positioning is about brand differentiation. In Starbucks' case, its uniqueness is its position.

Starbucks, the world's largest coffee retailer, made its brand unique by de-commoditizing the mature coffee space. It fashioned a unique brew and a unique image that appealed to luxury-craving aficionados who relished the prestige, the ritual, and the uniqueness of coffee savoring.

The brand is a religion, not a beverage. It can't have it both ways. You can't be both a unique brand and an everyday man's product.  And you can't be all things to all people. The more the brand adds, the more it will lose. The brand must stay unique to its wanna-be unique audience.

What are they? Is it high price? Low price? "Value" coffee? Expensive coffee?

Is it a hot chocolate, tea, biscuits, breakfast place?  I don't know.  Do you?

With self-inflicted wounds like the value cup and yikes, "instant coffee," they do not need competitors.

Those of us who buy Starbucks don't buy it because it tastes better. (No matter what we say.)

Reality is, people taste images not ingredients. People who buy their coffee buy it for the sheer, inexorable, ineluctable, emotional uniqueness, or Starbuckiness, of the brand. Its ritual, history, logo, aromas, color, design, and our own memories of it and its unique brand identity.

Irrational logic is the way our brains encode things of value. And, a brand that engages the irrational (or emotional) centers of our brain, will win every time — think Apple and "Think different."

So they're forfeiting all of its emotional collateral and its unique brand in favor of an unemotional, cool-handed, and functional proposition. "Buy us for less."

To the loyalist, this is nothing less than betrayal. To the price-buyer, the new customer the company seeks, it is seen for what it is. Nothing more than a transparent marketing ploy.

Worse, it educates the consumer that they aren't a brand, but merely the name the company can use for its own purposes.

What should they do? Dump the value cup. Get back to the coffee ritual and add life to it. Close stores and become unique again (ubiquity is the enemy of uniqueness). In other words, get back to what it was that first got you there.

Lorraine Kessler is Innis Maggiore's Principal Client Services & Positioning Strategist.