28 May IMC Campaign of the Month: Starbucks, Well, Everything
Few brands have truly harnessed the power of integrated marketing communications as well as Starbucks. They embraced the concept of integrated and multi-channel marketing techniques well before most other brands, recognizing early on the value of, for example, a direct mail campaign that’s supported by e-mail and echoed in social media. When it comes to the holistic picture of integrated marketing communications, Starbucks continues to blaze a trail that other big brands – and small businesses alike – should carefully examine.
The foundation of Starbucks’ strength in IMC is twofold: consistent branding and consistent customer recognition. Visually, the Starbucks brand is undeniable. Travel to any major city around the world, and quite a few less major ones, and you’ll see the familiar Starbucks face peering at you from coffee cups held by passersby. You’ll identify a place to get the coffee you love in an airport, or wandering down some strange new street. There are other brands for which this phenomenon also occurs – like McDonald’s – but whereas the reaction fast food creates can be mixed (especially when the restaurants are very close to historic or religious landmarks, which seems tacky), the concept of a soothing cup of coffee or cooling Frappucino is almost universally well received.
Starbucks is also meticulous about getting to know their customers, and maintaining long-term relationships. They’ve always understood the value of perks like birthday gifts, delivered via postal mail to customers like an actual present. And they have a website dedicated entirely to customer feedback. My Starbucks Idea brings together a global community of Starbucks lovers. Customer ideas can be voted upon by others and the company provides feedback. Some ideas have even been implemented. At this time, 214,553 ideas are cataloged on the site. My Starbucks Idea is powered by Salesforce, so there is a huge CRM component behind it.
At the same time Starbucks finesses customer data and relationships, they’ve been on the leading edge of utilizing popular channels to promote and engage. Their social media presence across a multitude of accounts is exceptionally strong, and reinforces the branding not only of the business, but of each new product. They were one of the first brands to take advantage of Facebook shopping apps to integrate an online store with their Facebook page, literally becoming a one-stop-shop for fans who discovered the latest news from their page and then clicked on the shopping tab to buy the product of interest from their online catalog. While Facebook shopping has fallen out of favor (although Starbucks continues to operate a significant online catalog on their website), Starbucks still appreciates the usefulness of Facebook apps, with their considerable Pinterest boards, job openings and a location finder all situated neatly on the page. By marrying Facebook and Pinterest, Starbucks has targeted a more mature audience precisely where they spend the most time.
On Twitter, Starbucks has embraced the novelty account phenomenon with accounts for popular products like their Pumpkin Spice Latte. The Pumpkin Spice Latte Twitter account works in concert with an official novelty Tumblr account “The Real PSL.” Crossing the streams of Tumblr for content and Twitter for social, Starbucks proved they really understand how to get the attention of their significant millennial audience, just like they cater to older audiences on Facebook and Pinterest.
A major form of content on their website – so prominent it’s even placed before their catalog in the menu – is their section on corporate responsibility. In this section they discuss a number of environmental and ethical issues with transparency and promote their company values. While it may seem a bit cynical to say this, the responsibility section of the Starbucks site is great PR. It covers bases before tricky situations hit the headlines.
Speaking of PR, Starbucks has as robust a public relations plan as you’d imagine from a company of its size. Its newsroom is visually appealing and well organized. Press releases are distributed for every new product or announcement and archived on the site. There are facts-in-brief for ease of media reference, and their latest tweets, as well. They have linked more comprehensive company and product fact sheets for download. Leadership profiles, multimedia (including videos, photos and even logos) and media contact information round out the newsroom. A richly-featured newsroom like Starbucks’ makes the media’s life much easier. Their time is short, so the more you can anticipate the things they want or need to research and eliminate the need to “dig” for information, the more likely you are to get a hit.
Starbucks knows, though, that all the e-mails, postcards, websites and social media accounts in the world don’t count unless they support a good in-store experience. That’s where their amazing app comes into play. Starbucks’ “gold card” program, essentially a blend of pre-paid purchase method and loyalty program, has been largely replaced by an app that does the same thing. Now instead of swiping a physical card, baristas can scan a customer’s smartphone and instantly payment is made and loyalty points deposited. Customers of all ages can appreciate the convenience this provides. Older, busier customers love to save time, and younger audiences love an exciting technology. The app is a perfect blend of both.
The app also lets customers find their nearest Starbucks location, reload their pre-payment, keep track of all past transactions and even send electronic gift cards to family and friends. Customers can also show some love to their favorite baristas with digital tipping, something that revolutionizes the experience of tipping in general. Often tossing coins or a dollar into a tip jar at the register feels awkward, for a number of reasons. Firing off a more anonymous tip in a smartphone app to someone who made your day brighter is practically effortless.
Starbucks has also leveraged partnerships to enhance the customer experience through digital marketing. Customers can download free music through their “Pick of the Week” program, songs chosen by Starbucks and its partners in the spirit of inviting customers to try something new. This music an only be downloaded while on WiFi connections provided in-store, or through iTunes if you have visited the store and obtained a Pick of the Week download card. It’s further encouragement to visit a Starbucks in person, as well as another perk for being a loyal customer.
Overall, it’s hard to look at Starbucks’ integrated strategy and find much, if any fault. The company is willing to try something new as technology evolves, and also willing to abandon what doesn’t work in favor of something that does. Starbucks is clearly paying attention to their audience and their metrics and remaining flexible. Listening, measuring and experimenting are all cornerstones of IMC. So for recognizing this and creatively implementing tactics that enhance the customer experience and their overall brand, we give Starbucks an A+.