I have a number of addictions. One is coffee. Specifically Starbucks.
I am told there are “better” coffee shops. I am aware that a Grande Latte costs the same as a gallon of gas (though, relatively my coffee is looking cheaper and cheaper). But now I cannot even order a coffee at the end of a meal in a restaurant, such is my need for the Green Siren. I will leave, even a very nice expensive establishment, and go get my latte in a paper cup from Starbucks.
Because of what it represents. It’s my morning treat. My luxury. My ten minutes of solace. A pick-me up. A quite cogitate. I also buy the Starbucks “third space” idea. Not home. Not work. But the modern American equivalent of a British “pub” where you can wander in, alone or with others, chat, read the newspaper, check email and sip your beverage along with the like-minded.
Starbucks by all accounts has been riotously successful. And it has a deal with iTunes so you can sample new music with your nutmeg mocha. And it links with Foursquare, so you can tell people you’re there and who you’re with. And I think you can get to be Mayor of that store. Or something.
So this morning, I’m talking to a couple of the folks who work there. They’re great, smart, energetic, polite young guys, none of them older than maybe 22/23. And they’re talking about the web and how Starbucks plays on it. One of them said: “I haven’t tweeted since September. I left Facebook and I’m considering giving my laptop away. I am really trying to re-enter the real world and kick my virtual existence.”
I found that rather strange as one imagines youngsters to be hard-wired into their computers and nothing, but nothing will wean them off. Then this guy said something that really caught my attention – and that had been the catalyst for his anti-web crusade.
He said he’d been on Facebook and downloaded the Starbucks app and had “had paid to have coffee” with someone who lived 3,000 miles away in Oregon. He said: “Starbucks are now selling me a virtual coffee experience!! That’s frikkin insane. This digital thing has just gone too far!”
I think he has a point. Brands have real estate. They have places where they’re ‘core’ and they have elasticity to go other places. But when you’re an ambitious marketing director eager to try everything new and cool and some guy from Brooklyn working for a company called Deviant Web Underground, or something – and probably wearing a pork pie hat – opines: “Hey”, snorting to himself, “I mean, like, wouldn’t it be totally awesome, like, if like, well, you could have a cawfee, y’know with someone, like, y’know thousands of miles away, dude?”
No. No it wouldn’t. I’m sure the marketing director thought it an interesting idea, but they just solved a problem no one had. They are contributing to the mania that is occurring in certain parts of the web. Everyone trying everything. Why? Because they’ve forgotten who they are. And, maybe their own egos and sense of potential fame and glory were allowed to be put in front of the real needs of their employer.
Why is it not enough to have a great coffee business, add new products, grow new stores, explore new things which are about the core; coffee and sociability?
Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe it’s not the worst idea in the world. I do believe, of course, it’s smart to try to keep up with new technologies and to be prepared to try them. But there’s often a cost. And in Starbucks’ case, it’s service. It’s suffering.
Focus on what you’re GREAT at, I believe, may be the moral of the story. And don’t get seduced by the people wearing Emperor’s new clothes. And silly pork pie hats.