In my forthcoming book, Everything but the Coffee, I talk about the Starbucks value proposition – what it sells and what customers buy. Obviously this turns on more than just the beans or the roast technique. Brands like Starbucks sell values and ways for us to present ourselves to the rest of the world.
Starbucks has long sold something I would call innocence by association. The company knows that its customers are concerned with knotty social issues – issues like diversity, the environment, and globalization. What Starbucks promises is to fix these problems. But even more, it promises to alleviate customers’ guilt. Buy from a company that does good things – or claims to do good things – and you are no longer part of the problem; you are part of the solution.
As Starbucks has struggled to regain its financial footing and cultural position in recent months, it has started to push harder on the innocence by association angle. This has especially been the case on the global front. Check it out and you will notice that lots of in-store signage these days is dedicated to telling customers what Starbucks is doing around the world, and what YOU – note below how they often capitalize this -- are doing by buying its products.
In the middle of June, I was at Starbucks in the Dublin Airport – thanks to Benjamin and Eli for dragging me there -- and read a sign that said:
“YOU made a difference for Melia.
Her greatest wish was to be able to read and write. Your choice of Starbucks allows CARE International to set up literacy schemes in Melia’s village.
From Melia – I learnt my numbers and alphabet and can now read and write. I have joined a local singing group and want to start my own business.”
You, Starbucks, and CARE International [are] helping to create sustainable communities in Ethiopia’s Harrar region.
TOGETHER we’re improving access to water, education, and better farming methods for over 6,000 people.”