March 19, 2007

Watered Down Starbucks?

I've been following the intriguing exchanges between Starbucks' partners and fans following the release through Starbucks Gossip of an internal memo reportedly issued by the brand's founder Howard Schultz.

Schultz argues that many of the decisions he and his colleagues took in order to drive the ferocious growth of the brand have resulted in "the commoditization of the Starbucks experience". This confirms my own rather uncompromising take on how brands work. I don't believe that great brands necessarily make things easier for us as brand-owners. Instead, they insist that we take difficult decisions that support our relationship with our customers.

You could argue that as a brand-owner, Schultz can do what he likes with his brand (although many of his partners seem to disagree) but it's even more refreshing than the finest Mocha Frappuccino to hear him admit that some of those short-term decisions may have hurt the brand over the long haul. Too often, brand-owners hope that, like Dorian Gray, they can make choices that damage the brand and somehow live happily ever after.

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