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Starbucks’ Via, Strikes a Cord with Marketers

Posted on | October 21, 2009 | No Comments

By Kate Newlin

Here’s my take:

1. There’s a PowerPoint someplace in Starbucks headquarters which outlines what percentage of the US population relies on instant coffee. Some sub-section of that instant-using universe does it for convenience and portability, but isn’t happy with it.

2. Someone noticed that very few of the instant coffee drinking folk come into Starbucks World. BUT, some people that were coming into Starbucks were coming in less often, so a product they could take with them that was significantly cheaper would be a good thing.

3. Poof! Bright idea: Attract new users to the brand and provide out-of-store usage opportunities for aficionados.

4. Poof! Brighter idea: What if we could make an instant coffee that was as good as our brewed coffee? That’s the gold standard! Yeah, Yeah! That’s what we’ll do: Instant coffee drinkers would come in! Aficionados could have a second or third cuppa throughout the day …

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5. Poof! Brighter idea even yet: What if the new product could be made with hot OR cold water OR milk? And, we could offer a new kind of cup for on-the-go occasions in which to make it? Once people bought it, they’d be moving towards a committed behavior. Gotta restock in order to use the mug!

Now then, up to this point I’m tracking with them and think it’s a swell idea. I would quibble with the execution, however. The ads that say “it’s as good as…” are a misstep, I think. people would try it without that promise — but it is either a) a lie, or b) means the brewed version is a waste of money. Not a good idea, I think.

Then, there’s the chant that every Starbucks’ Barrista had to say for a couple of weeks, offering free trials or asking if people would like to buy some packages…Eeck. The Barristas are supposed to be really coffee-involved pros. Not hucksters. Back off, guys. Back way off.

The real benefit of VIA will probably come when it rolls out to Starbucks’ grocery store distribution system….and hey! Why didn’t you also come up with a Starbucks’ version of Nespresso? For home and office? Way cooler. And, as the corporate boardrooms filled with steam from heated discussions, could produce an instant latte, putting an end to all those strategy disagreements.
A senior business strategy consultant and author, Kate Newlin works with executives at crossroads in the development of their brands. Kate’s latest book, Passion Brands (Prometheus, 2009) deconstructs how asmall band of brands become consumer obsessions. Her first book, Shopportunity! How to Be A Retail Revolutionary (2006), was selected as a Harvard Business Review ‘book to read.


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