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Starbucks and Invisible Branding

Starbucks is going to stop selling heated breakfast sandwiches because the smell of the food competes with the scent of the coffee.

That’s a gutsy move. After all, it has taken Starbucks years and investment to figure out a strategy and product to help provide protein foods versus just sweets and pastries during the morning daypart.

Parity & Convenience
Starbucks was smart enough to know that as coffee quality increases at their competitors, at some point customers begin to perceive parity and think, “eh, what’s the difference?” Instead of making a trip to Starbucks (for coffee) AND the competitor (for their McMuffin or other breakfast item), why not just get them both at the competitor’s place?

So they developed and offered a warm breakfast item.

Yet, all along Starbucks knew the benefit of convenience was at the cost of losing what was left of any coffee aroma in the stores.

The scent of brewing and ground coffee used to be part of the experience of walking into a Starbucks. Nowadays with the coffee being pre-ground and pre-packaged not much of that aroma exists.

As part of Howard Schultz return as CEO of Starbucks he’s adamant about getting the company focused (inwardly and outwardly) on the core of the brand. Some of it is philosophy, much of it has to do with the stuff you can’t see… but the experience.

Coincidently, in my inbox this morning was a fresh issue of Steal This Idea from Marty Neumeier’s company Neutron. (Marty is the author of Brand Gap and Zag!)

Invisible Branding
Here’s a bit of what is in the Steal This Idea installment titled “Invisible Branding”…

These days when CEOs and corporate marketers talk about investing in brand, they’re probably referring to traditionally visible touchpoints such as product design, advertising, or web experience. That’s great, but what they, and most people, don’t realize is that branding is much more than just the stuff you can see. Invisible branding refers to those stakeholder touchpoints that have little or no visual presence in the market, but can have a huge impact on your company’s reputation. …Each of these items are an essential part of a company’s brand, but because they’re not visible, business leaders often overlook them.


The Starbucks team is following what I call the “Aroma First” Rule. You can read about it in tomorrow’s post here.

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