Exploring the world of Starbucks

As part of my world building experimentation, I want to start thinking about brands and how they might build worlds for their customers (and non-customers) to explore.  I chose to illustrate my thinking using, Starbucks, where there is rich digital activity and where the business is relatively easy to understand.

The way most of us see “the world of Starbucks” is as a place to drink coffee (or buy coffee to take home or to work).  It is a world in which some aspects of the brand are highly visible while others are hidden behind the scenes. 

I’ve included both the visible and the invisible aspects of the business in my world because increasingly choices we make behind the scenes have a direct impact on the consumer experience. 

A lot of the visible touch points are marketing, and today, that means digital marketing; from websites to apps and from YouTube videos to Tripadvisor reviews.  I’ve grouped these into the well known owned, earned and paid media categories to keep the diagram reasonably simple. 

Owned media are the channels a brand controls such as its websites or apps. Earned media refers to the contributions that the brand does not control such as reviews, comments, fan posts and questions. Social networks such as Facebook, TikTok and Instagram are not earned media but a (borrowed) location where earned media can take place. Paid media takes place in the same borrowed locations and may range from a targeted search ad to a paid for Instagram post from an influencer. 

The world of the brand is not just marketing however, and many behind the scenes activities from across the whole supply chain are becoming part of what the consumer experiences: for Starbucks this includes visitable coffee farms, roasteries, packaging and payment

The Starbucks story needs to be consistent wherever a consumer interacts with the brand whether than is on an airline, on an employment site, at a drive through, in the fridge at a supermarket, following directions on a Apple map or in a discussion between friends.  This story will be powered by expectations, relationships and connections across the whole supply chain: authentic, efficient, sustainable and with clear roles and signposting for the consumer.

The purpose of world building around a brand is to spot opportunities to enrich the overall consumer perceptions of the brand and to guide consumers around the world. 

The first step is to explore and understand what already exists and to start to map the world (as I have done in the image above).  Think through the whole supply chain as well as the market,

Brands need to recognise that they cannot control every part of the experience and become agile in responding to earned marketing and supply chain disturbances alike. They need to recognise that journeys through this world are far from linear. They can and should design their presence but see it as multiple complex invitations to engage rather than “a path to purchase”.

From all the sites and social posts I’ve visited, videos I’ve watched, technical reports I’ve read and coffee I have drunk I think that Starbucks get’s this better than many brands.  They are actively building connected stories as well as consistent stores and other brands could learn a lot from what they are doing.

Here is a video to help you explore their world. 

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