A little more than 6 months ago, Starbucks experimented with what was being coined as an “unbranding” experiment. Faced with a high level of saturation in its Seattle, Washington market area, Starbucks dropped its brand name at an existing location, and replaced it with a descriptive “15th Ave E Coffee & Tea.” Starbucks was concerned that its growing monopolization of the market was creating resentment among its loyal flock. Was it in Starbucks best interest to be perceived as the giant now, beating the smaller, local, unique coffee houses out of business? Is this the double edged sword of huge success?

Well, the answer, it seems is both yes and no. Yes, there is a bit of a double edged sword effect going on. But not one that can’t be quickly overcome by expanding the brand ‘s depth a bit to address it’s bigness. That’s exactly what Starbucks found. “Unbranding” didn’t work. Reinforcing the brand and deepening its commitment to the highest quality anywhere did. Trying to deceive customers is never a good idea. Bringing them into the solution and asking them what they want is a much better approach. So what did they find out when they asked customer what they wanted? Customers wanted growth, change, variety. But only a little bit. They certainly didnt want to give up their favorite latte exactly the way they like to have it.

– Chris


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January 2010
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