In an article I wrote recently about place branding, I proposed that the future of branding is unbranded. You can read that here.
What I was arguing against was homogenisation. Standardisation being used as a byword for branding, that decreases rather than increases consumer choice.
And it would appear that Starbucks, in the US at least would agree with this sentiment. In a great article by Tim Haywards in the UK’s Guardian newspaper he savages them for drifting from Happy hippiedom to the same tired old corporate suit as everyone else on the homogenised high street.
For any brand to be able to survive, it has to evolve or it will die. Like dinosaurs did when they failed to build protection against meteorite strikes. Today’s meteorite strikes are coming from the upstart brands and from locally differentiated, welcoming outlets.
In Seattle, there is already a company calling themselves Seattle’s Best and who’s to say it isn’t? (my cup I had in a plane on the way to Seattle was absolutely horrid – see here) But that doesn’t mean its the most loved, by any stretch of the imagination.
With any brand the product is critical, but so is the tribe in which consuming it puts you. You have to feel good about it. You have to bask in its reflected glorious ‘brandness’ and you have to want to tell your cool friends about it.
I think this is a great move for Starbucks.
I hope they have the nerve to debrand their estate, to give their customers the chance to fall in love with them all over again.
I hope they have the nerve to allow their local people to interpret their offer locally and create cool places for their customers to hang out. If that means they want to appeal to corporate wannabe’s then that’s fine, but design your offer accordingly. If that means they want their hippies back, then that’s just as fine – again, design accordingly.
The future of branding maybe isn’t unbranded, but it has to listen to its customers needs and be flexible as hell in delivering what they want or it will go the way of the dinosaurs.
Thanks to Jayne Wilson for the use of the picture of CJ on a Laptop in Starbucks. You can see more of her fine work here.