• Summer Swinson

Case Study - Starbucks

Starbucks is has no doubt set the standard in creating an appealing, evolving and successful brand personality. Many coffee shops have attempted to make their mark over the years (hundreds of years, believe it or not) but when you think of a coffee shop, or even coffee for that matter, who do you think of? Starbucks found a way to resonate with people. From that first shop in Seattle at Pike’s Place in 1971, they drew inspiration from a fish market nearby.

After watching the men throwing the fish orders to each other, yelling out directions in the most organized way, Starbucks adapted this into their hustle and bustle routine as homage to that famous fish market. The energy of this routine ignited an entire set of workflow that continues to refine to this day, which delights customers and creates an efficient and fun work environment for the baristas.

Starbucks progressed throughout the years, adding products into their menus, educating their customers about coffee, and customizing beverages, but what really set them apart was the personality and connection in every facet of the company - from baristas to regulars. Learning the names of the customers became a routine, as did writing these names on the cups. Howard Shultz’ dream was to "third place, where people can come for things that are too formal for the home and too informal for work (Horrowitz).” This became the butterfly effect, not only for Starbucks, but for the influence it would soon have on the surrounding coffee shops that were dying to compete.

As you well know, Starbucks has grown into quite a monster in the coffee industry, a real powerhouse, but it is not without its own struggles. The current issue that Starbucks is wrestling with is yet another side effect of trying to adapt to the wants and needs of their customers, from adding Frappuccinos in 1995 (Starbucks Company Timeline), to allowing the Mystery Menu to make its way from the internet users’ imaginations to the actual menu. Starbucks’ desire to be liked and popular was not unlike Cady Heron’s in Mean Girls. Starbucks came to a point where it would do anything to impress, and one of the most recent fads has come back to cause them grief.

Business Inside published an article in 2016 announcing the newest debacle associated with the ever growing popularity of Pumpkin Spice Latte. Among all the popular holiday beverages that Starbucks began selling over the years, Pumpkin Spice took off in a way that no other holiday drink had. In recent years, it became especially popular with young adults, highschool to early twenties. With the introduction of the term, “Basic”, Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latte was crowned the Queen. This association was not perceived as a compliment to Starbucks by means, as it insinuates that their brand is not exclusive enough and rather overused.

Starbucks began battling the “Basic” term, resulting in an ongoing battle and millions of dollars. Business Insider recently published a follow up article in September of 2017 that noted Starbucks is still fighting to regain their brand’s exclusivity, afraid that they have lost their unique appeal. So this begs a question, is there such a thing as “too popular”? If Starbucks is getting is facing the threat of getting kicked out of the “cool club”, who could be next? Is this something that marketing and brand specialists should be wary of when developing strategies?

Starbucks still has at its core, some very redeeming qualities that could help their brand to stand strong through all this “Basic” turmoil; their dedication to humanity. Starbucks has been a trailblazer in their involvement in local communities. Many stores participate in Community outreach and awareness events. They donate 100’s of pounds of coffee to organizations such as; churches, community centers, homeless communities, and soldiers, to name a few. They practice ethical sourcing, that contributes to the wellbeing of small coffee farms and their communities, across the globe. At their very heart, Starbucks cares about people, which is evident through their emphasis on the importance of connection, whether it is for the farmers 1000’s of miles away, or to their customers a few feet away. For this reason, this established reputation for goodness, I believe that Starbucks will weather any storm and remain the beacon of light to all other coffee shops striving to make a difference, and all coffee consumers looking for a place to call their third place.


Horrowitz, S. Lessons from Ritz-Carlton, Starbucks, and Pike Place Fish Market. [Digital Market]. Retrieved on October 25th from .

Inside Starbucks’ $35 Million Mission To Make Brand Evangelists Of Its Front-Line Workers. [Digital Article]. Retrieved on October 25th, 2017 from .

Starbucks Company Timeline. [Digital Article]. Retrieved on October 25th, 2017 from

Taylor, K. Starbucks is Spending Millions of Dollars to Fix Its ‘Basic’ Image Problem. [Digital Article]. Published on September 11, 2016. Retrieved on October 25th, 2017 from .

Taylor, K. Starbucks still has a 'basic' image problem — and one factor could make it even worse this PSL season. [Digital Article]. Published on September 9th, 2017. Retrieved on October 25th, 2017 from .

The World’s Most Historic Coffee Houses. [Digital Article]. Retrieved on October 25th, 2017 from .


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