How Brand Values Energize Starbucks

Starbucks cup - How Brand Values Energize Starbucks - The fundamental group

The last couple of weeks we’ve focused on the importance of brand values, and what we call the Five Fundamental Human Values that provide a foundation for a successful organization.  So what does it look like to really build your company around a brand value?  How does that play out in the way a business interacts with customers, employees and other entities?  How does that make for success?  Look no further than the coffee shop down the street.

Starbucks makes its fundamental value clear on their About Us page:

“It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique.  It’s just a moment in time – just one hand reaching over the counter to present a cup to another outstretched hand.  But it’s a connection. We make sure everything we do honors that connection – from our commitment to the highest quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly.”

Sure, Starbucks sells coffee, but Howard Schultz recognized early on that coffee – even great coffee – was not the emotional need his company would meet.  He would instead focus on creating “a place for conversation and a sense of community.  A third place between work and home.” 

And that connection and community has been the bedrock of the company, helping it grow to over 22,000 locations worldwide.  It’s reflected in nearly every aspect of the company:

  • Design – Starbucks stores are “designed to reflect the unique character of each neighborhood.”  Starbucks has established design studios around the world so the design team can understand the communities where stores are located.  This helps customers feel comfortable and welcome and familiar – in effect connected to their surroundings.
  • Onboarding and Training – The company spends an enormous amount of time training Baristas – not just in making lattes and Frappuccinos – but the company’s history, and culture.  They’re trained to connect with customers, getting to know the regular customers’ names and favorite drinks and what’s happening in their lives.  When 2 African-American men were wrongly arrested at a Starbucks, the company took the extraordinary step of closing all of their corporate stores for racial bias training.  The lost sales were huge, but it shows their commitment to creating connection with their community in every location.
  • Commitment to Sustainability.  Starbucks focuses on sourcing ethically and sustainably, in everything from coffee beans to the furniture in their stores.  The goal is to strengthen economic and social development in local communities around the world.  Notice how this reinforces connection – within communities and with the global community as a whole.
  • Community Service – There’s that community word again.  Each year, Starbucks has a Global Month of Service, encouraging employees to participate in activities that create positive change in their neighborhoods.  The key areas of focus include youth, veterans, environmental impact, and alleviating hunger.

This post is starting to sound like a Starbucks PR effort, so I’ll stop with the examples of connection and community – I think you get the idea.

And you might step back and ask, “But don’t lots of companies have a commitment to sustainability?  Or to training, design or community service? What’s the big deal?  The big deal is that these activities are not done in a vacuum at Starbucks.  There is a philosophical, emotional underpinning for all of them related to their brand value of connection.  They aren’t doing corporate social responsibility because it’s fashionable, or it helps with recruitment.  They’re not doing design because it looks pretty.  They are doing these things because they further the sense of connection and community Starbucks creates with its customers, employees and communities worldwide.

Instead of starting with the commitment to sustainability, then trying to justify it, Starbucks starts with the brand value, and then chooses to focus on and nurture programs, policies and activities that foster and support it.  Now this isn’t to say Starbucks is perfect.  Far from it.  But in terms of how they commit to a brand value, they provide one of the best examples out there.

We find very few companies have such a strong commitment to brand values.  It’s usually something that gets paid lip service in a mission statement, and is otherwise invisible.  Companies are too busy making products, selling, and running the business to consider something as wishy-washy as values.  It’s hard enough to do your job without having to make it conform to another set of requirements.

Unfortunately, that short-sightedness shows up in their performance.  Jim Stengel’s book Grow details a study he conducted about the impact of brand values on company profitability.  Stengel reveals that over a 10 year period of the study, companies with strong, clear human values outperformed the S&P 500 by almost 400%.

If your organization hasn’t committed to a Fundamental Human Value, maybe it should.  You may find that doing something important also results in doing it well.

What’s your company’s Fundamental Human Value?  Tell us more in the comments.

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