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August, 2012

Captains of Industry's Ted Page - Who Needs Advertising When You're Starbucks?



By Ted Page, Captains of Industry

After ten hours helping my art student son schlep all this stuff to East Williamsburg, up three flights of stairs, again and again, arriving home at 1:30 am, sleeping a few hours then “waking up” to a new day, I stumbled downtown for a cup of coffee only to discover that Starbucks was closed for renovations. No problem. I walked half a block to a Peet’s coffee. A gourmet coffee shop, right? I go in and there’s four people standing awkwardly by the counter, waiting for the coffee they’ve ordered; there appears to be some confusion as to which coffee placed on the counter is theirs. I wait through a long line and then order my medium half-caf coffee. I’m informed that the decaf is brewing and will take another 90 seconds. I wait. About two minutes later three coffees are placed on the counter. I ask the cashier if one of them is my half-caf. He doesn’t know. He asks the barista. She says, “Oh, you wanted a half caf?” He says, “Yes.” I wait. A few more coffees are put out, none of them marked half-caf. The cashier is busy ringing stuff up. More coffees are put out. I ask if one of the new coffees just put on the counter is the half-caf. The barista says it was set on the counter several minutes ago, which is news to me and the cashier. At this stage, caffeine withdrawal is starting to kick in, everything’s hazy and strange, my eyelids don’t know which way to go. Finally, I get my half-caf, but the coffee is so strong it must have been burnt in the 9th circle of hell.

This, in short, was a bad coffee experience. It’s not at all what I’m used to at Starbucks, which by contrast is positively Germanic in its efficiency. If there’s a line at Starbucks, one of the barista’s is asking people at the back of the line for their order and preparing them in advance. When I get to the counter, my drink is ready and marked half-caf. That’s because the Starbucks employees are trained to listen - they repeat back the order for each other’s benefit to avoid mistakes. At the counter, there’s an invitation from Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ CEO, to join him in creating jobs in the USA. And to top it off, the coffee tastes good, every day. What Starbucks has done right is their great store experience, consistently good coffee, plus a unique ingredient not easily copied by competitors - their overarching drive to make America better. I’m sold. It’s not that Starbuck’s doesn’t advertise; they do. It’s just that they focus on the right things first: their values. What drives them. How they want the world to change. Making really good coffee. Then and only then do they invite us consumers into their world. Their store experience is, in effect, their content - quite literally. It’s what you go inside for. This is exactly what great web content should be at its best - a multidimensional reflection of a great brand, created in a way that pulls you in so you can experience it every day.

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