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Blog // Thoughts
January 9, 2006

It’s Not the Coffee Stupid!

Urban Onramps drew my attention to a discussion on Starbucks that had been picked up on by Jordan Cooper. The Slate writer claims that Starbucks is breeding dependency on it’s product through high caffeine levels and that this is the only reason is can get away with higher prices. It seems to me that such […]

Urban Onramps drew my attention to a discussion on Starbucks that had been picked up on by Jordan Cooper. The Slate writer claims that Starbucks is breeding dependency on it’s product through high caffeine levels and that this is the only reason is can get away with higher prices.

It seems to me that such a claim, whilst not totally based on fantasy and misdirection, is none the less a specious departure from the truth. Moreover, it is piffle to claim that the Starbucks coffee price can be justified because it makes sense in terms of caffeine hit. Combine a couple of double espressos from a local cafe and you will get a much stronger “hit for less money. On top of that, I think Rudy is right to highlight that there is much more to the Starbucks experience than caffeine levels, something which the Slate article aknowledges, but underplays. Whilst back in London recently, I was reminded of the main appeal of Starbucks for me, and it was not about the coffee.

Starbucks provides a smoke-free child-friendly environment that is not “kid-oriented.” It was easy to take C as a 4 year old (like it was when she was younger), and sit in a clean, smokeless space that lets you feel like an adult. Though I am more oriented towards places like Bar Italia or at a pinch, Neros, these are not easy places to take a child.

However, there is also another point that the Slate artice misses. Starbucks does well because it is a good business. It is well run and has managed to distill the essential elements of the “cafe-experience” very sucessfully. This is clear to anyone who has read Starbucks’ CEO Howard Shultz’ book ”
Pour Your Heart into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time.”

To the extent that Starbucks sucess is down to coffee (and it is wrong to ever claim this is a standalone reason) it is down to the rebanding of coffee and the repositioning of the coffee experience in people’s lives. This is a deeper and more philosphical question that caffene levels and to miss that, is to really miss the cultural relelance of the Starbucks revolution. The price of a Starbucks coffee is elastic because they are not really selling you coffee, they are selling you an experience. That is the genius of Starbucks.

[tags] Starbaucks, Coffee, Marketing, Theology and Culture [/tags]

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