Rebranding the wheel: Marketing lessons from Starbucks

Managers of the brand are adept at understanding their customers. Even if consumers don’t realize they want a new spin on coffee, a little macchiato makeover is often in the offering.

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It has become nearly impossible to avoid Starbucks—on the street or online.

The branding tactic is simple: Consumers continually see the green logo with the white, floating mermaid, and in Pavlovian fashion they long for a jolt of caffeine (or a tasty decaf version).

When most of the products are more or less the same beverage, how do you keep customers coming back specifically to your coffeehouses?

Let’s call the answer the “Starbucks experience,” or what the consumer might think Starbucks is offering in addition to coffee, sweeteners and dairy products.

It’s a marketing mind meld, and here’s how it works:

The message

The people at Starbucks take pride in its unique brand image, which reflects the relationship between the company and its customers.

From visit to visit, one can assume the coffee is more or less the same, but what keeps people coming back is a spiral: The direct experience affirms their relationship with the brand, so they return for another such experience, and on it goes.

Then, when Starbucks rolls out a “new” beverage, as it did this week with the “Latte Macchiato,” these loyal customers try it.

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