Saturday, 19 September 2009

Starbucks ruffles the cushions

Starbucks UK, it seems, has finally woken up to the fact that 'globalisation' might be something detrimental to its future success. It seems as if stores that look exactly the same whether they are in Aberdeen or Barnstaple is kind of grating with the coffee-drinking public. In short, people don't like uniformity these days and they don't want to enjoy a coffee or tea or millionaire's shortbread in an environment that screams 'corporate identity'. And why should they?

McDonald's sort of wised up to this a few years ago and started toning down the fact that it was McDonald's, the biggest hamburger chain in the world – only a small, golden arches logo lets you in on the secret. Now, Starbuck's has realised that uniformity and sameyness is not the way ahead, thanks to Mr Darcy. "Ooh! Mr Darcy!" Well, Mr Darcy Willson-Rymer to be precise, Starbucks' UK and Ireland managing director. He probably leaves his riding boots and breeches at home.

Willson-Rymer has admitted that the company had put too much 'process' in its stores and has now set about changing things, toning down that Starbucks logo and, I guess, trying to give customers the impression that they are sitting in an independent coffee shop. There, of course, is the big paradox of branding. Sometimes brand reassurance gets a bit too much. How many times have you travelled to the other side of the world only to find the same high street brands. How many times have you heard somebody say, "Ooh, they've got a Claire's Accessories!" As if having a Claire's Accessories in, say, North Western Canada is a cause to be proud. Familiarity breeds contempt.

The quality of the products sold in Starbucks will not change, which means that the whole 'brand reassurance' thing – the backbone of branding as a philosophy – remains intact. What will change is the interior: mis-matched and possibly secondhand furniture, perhaps, and local artefacts to make the stores more 'local'.

Teashopandcaff welcomes the idea of less homogenous Starbucks. As Willson-Rymer points out, the homogenisation thing was merely 'setting a standard'. Fairplay, but now we all get the picture, ruffle the cushions a bit, Darcy.

For the full story, click here.

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