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Brand Consistency and Musings of a Starbucks Addict

  • Danny InyDanny Iny

Note: For more decaffeinated goodness on this topic, check out our Starbucks case study!

They say that the first step is admitting that you have a problem, so here goes.

My name is Danny, and I’m a Starbucks addict.

I wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I would roll my eyes at people who would patiently stand in line multiple times a day to order drinks with names like “Grande No-Whip Java Chip Frappuccino” (that’s basically coffee, some ice and a bag of cookies thrown into a blender).

I’m not that bad; my standing order is a Decaf Grande Latte (note the order – it’s never a Grande Decaf Latte – I’ll tell you why a bit later).

But still, the numbers don’t lie. I’m averaging 3 drinks per day. Multiply that by the $4.41 tax-in cost of my order, times the days in the year, and you’ll see that I’m spending about $4,828.95 per year at Starbucks. Ouch!

So… how did this happen?

Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I take complete responsibility for my problem. Nobody is forcing me to shell out that kind of cash on Starbucks – and after doing the math of how much I’m actually spending there, I’m definitely planning on cutting back!

That being said, though, I can say with confidence that my addiction is the result of a brilliantly executed marketing strategy on the part of Starbucks. Seriously… they’ve done everything right.

Actually, no, that’s not true – they’ve done almost everything right. There’s one thing that they haven’t done right, that annoys me every time I march back to them for another Decaf Grande Latte.

This is a great case study, so go through it – everything they’ve done right, and the one thing they’ve done wrong.

Almost everything right…

Let’s start with the coffee itself – it’s good coffee. This isn’t what makes their business work, but it’s a prerequisite, because nobody is going to pay almost $5 for a bad cup of coffee.

But it’s not just that the coffee is good – they make sure that your whole experience with the coffee is good. If something isn’t to your taste, they will redo it or change it, no questions asked. And they don’t force you to drink somebody else’s favorite kind of coffee – the long and complicated names are there so that everyone can get exactly the cup that they want.

That’s why it’s always a Decaf Grande Latte, and not ever a Grande Decaf Latte. Starbucks baristas are trained that your order follows this pattern: SIZE then DRINK then MODIFIERS, so for example Venti (size) Cappuccino (drink) with whipped cream (modifier). But there are exceptions to the pattern: if you order a decaf or soy milk, then that will come first, to make absolutely sure that they don’t give you something that you don’t want.

(Yes, I noticed them reversing the way I was saying it, and I asked. What can I say, I’m a curious guy.)

Speaking of the baristas – they’re pretty impressive, trained to tag-team long lines by having someone run ahead and take orders, so that your drink is close to being ready by the time you get to the cash. It’s probably fair to say that they’re the best customer service that minimum wage can buy – which makes me think that Starbucks is a great place to poach customer service reps, if you’re looking to hire…

That’s not all. The ambiance is nice and pleasant, and the WiFi is free (very important for an entrepreneur like me!). And it’s always crowded, but almost never so crowded that I can’t find a place to sit. My hunch is that this is the idea behind having a Starbucks on every corner – always make sure that there’s room for the customer to sit down and relax!

This Was Going To Be a Different Kind of Post…

Honestly, this post wasn’t going to be an Ode to Starbucks – the reason I wanted to write the post was to showcase the one thing they’re doing that annoys the hell out of me (and I promise I will, in just a moment).

But as I sat down to write the post, I felt like I had to be fair, and point out everything that they’re doing right, too – and that turned into a post that sounds a little bit like a love letter. Sigh.

Okay, let’s talk about the thing that bugs me…

Here’s the situation. I order my Decaf Grande Latte, pay for it, and collect my drink at the other side of the bar. Then I head over to the “drink maintenance counter”, and there are invariably 2-3 people trying to fix up their drinks, all getting in each other’s way.

The reason for this is that the counter is terribly laid out; you’ve got the drink caps and stir sticks on one side, the milk and cream on the other, and the sugar, sweetener, and garbage hole in the middle. The only thing you can get to from both sides is napkins.

The end result of this is that as long as there is more than one person at the counter (which there usually is), they’re almost guaranteed to get in each other’s way.

And it’s annoying!

Am I being a little uptight over one little thing? Well, honestly the answer is yes and no.

Yes, I’m being uptight in that it’s just one little thing, stacked up against everything that they do properly – and it annoyed me enough to write a blog post about it.

But no, I’m not being uptight because I spend almost $5,000 there every year, and they do everything that they possibly can for me to feel that this crazy amount is justified.

If this was a problem at a little family coffee shop, then I wouldn’t complain. It’s really Starbucks’ positioning and strategy that have raised my expectations to the point that this drives me nuts.

Brand Consistency: The Moral of the Story

The lesson here underlines the importance of authenticity and consistency in business. Whatever brand you are creating about yourself, it has to be reflected in every single experience that your customers have with you. If one or two little things are off, they will complain. Even worse, if more is off, then they just won’t believe you – and that’s the beginning of the end for a business.

13 thoughts on Brand Consistency and Musings of a Starbucks Addict

Dan Dolan

Enjoyed the post. RIngs true in the coaching world, too! By the way, I am much more active (at this point) on Linked In than Twitter. Have you considered it as one of the options for sharing?


Hey Dan, thanks for sharing! I’d love for you to be able to share on LinkedIn through the ShareThis plugin, but it doesn’t seem to want to cooperate… 🙁


Was your last Starbucks experience ‘Legendary’? It was supposed to be.

As a former insider (we hate you when you order Frappuccino’s. Sorry) I can tell you that a requirement of employment is that you drink the kool-aid (er – coffee) about the “Legend of Service. “Was your service Legendary today?” is actually a question Baristas are asked. All the time. Sometimes it rankled – and minimum wage truly sucks – but %90 percent of the time I enjoyed it. It was a challenge every day to be Legendary, and it actually fostered a really, really good team spirit. If you have staff, get them behind “Legendary” service. At first they’re going to think you’re a complete gomer (especially if you’re paying them in coffee beans) but when it’s busy – everyone is going to appreciate that everyone else is actually working really, really hard. Your staff will probably complain about how stupid all this “Legendary” or equivalent stuff if – but they’re going to bond over it too, become friends and enjoy being at work – they’ll start trying to out-do eachother in the name of Customer Service to your benefit. (For the love of all that’s good in the world, though, please don’t make them wear green hats)

My favorite thing to do to make Starbucks “Legendary” was to, when someone came in with a drink from the forces of darkness (Second Cup) was to go over and ask them what they’re drinking. Then, to ask them if they would like to have a brand new, larger size, extra whip cream version of what they were drinking absolutely free. We couldn’t do it all the time – but the response was always fantastic.

Do any other workplaces even do things like this?


“My favorite thing to do to make Starbucks “Legendary” was to, when someone came in with a drink from the forces of darkness (Second Cup) was to go over and ask them what they’re drinking. Then, to ask them if they would like to have a brand new, larger size, extra whip cream version of what they were drinking absolutely free.”

Love it! 😀


Very well written :))
And following Megan’s comment – send it to Starbucks too – sort of the “brand new, larger size, extra whip cream version”.
Actually – I think they would want to know…

Peter Vogopoulos

*sigh* Ever since I’ve started working with Danny on Firepole Marketing, my own Starbucks expenditures have skyrocketed. Unlike Danny, I have yet to muster up the courage to go back to my credit card statements to assess the damage.


What made you form the opinion that the cheaply sourced, bulk-roasted, charred product that Starbucks produces constitutes “good” coffee? It simply isn’t. It is, however, a prime example of the triumph of marketing over quality for most consumers.


Very true for the the “drink maintenance counter”.

Very good post: I enjoyed it

I am a Starbucks addict. I love the coffee but also the service and the warmth of people. In a way, it is a pleasant experience to spend money where people deserve it. Way more pleasant than buy something where the service is horrible and people don’t know what they are doing.


The cart should be circular.

Lids should be stocked in racks of 1000, spring loaded from the bottom, in the centre of the cart. 3 sizes 60 degrees apart gives equal access regardless of approach to cart.

The last lid should be a special colour. Customers have 30 seconds to present the lid to staff for a free snack, signaling a reload is needed.

Napkins should be round to double as coasters. They get dispensed from the center of the lid circle, similarly loaded.

Dairy products should be distributed from ceiling mounted gold pneumatic actuators.

Good cheer should be dispensed in liberal portions from all patrons.


Haha, I like it, Johnn. You should forward this note to Starbucks! 🙂

Odette Barea

Thanks Danny,

I like the idea of making things better…

Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

Hi Danny. I loved this because I could imagine you at Starbucks…good job with self-disclosure! :). Well…I am about to confess something. I splurged this Christmas and bought myself a Nespresso Cappuccino Machine! I got $100 in free coffee for buying it, plus they threw in a milk frother that usually sells for $100, so after doing the math, I decided that it would pay for itself pretty quickly. I have to say I LOVE the cappuccinos it makes. They are amazing. I would also have to admit that I miss the camaraderie of Starbucks. So when someone asks me if I want to go for coffee, I don’t say, “Sure, why don’t you just come over to my house?”

Lindsey Rainwater

I’ve never been a big fan of Starbucks, simply because while their coffee is good, it isn’t THAT good (we have a lot of little cafes here that serve much tastier coffee) and it is expensive as all get out.

BUT one thing that I have always been fascinated by is how the brand literally exploded and kind of took over the coffee-for-all market. Love them or not, they certainly did something right, and I try to study businesses like that. And for the most part, the customer service seems to be what did it, along with the layout of their stores.

Most cafes really lose out because they do not strategically place their merchandise right in the customer’s view – basically wherever said customer looks. Starbucks lets no spot go to waste in their stores, and I’m sure they make a lot of money selling mugs, grounds, and other products.

So while I don’t think they have the best coffee ever, they certainly nailed their marketing and customer service, and when someone wants to go to coffee it’s like pulling teeth to get them to go anywhere BUT Starbucks – so they have also nailed brand loyalty, and in my opinion, that’s worthy of a whole lot of respect.

(And I make my coffee at home, but this post is making me crave something frothy . . . thanks, Danny.)

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