Can Starbucks Touch Your Soul?

by cv harquail on October 8, 2009

When an organization is being authentic, you can feel it. Even when its character is being expressed in a very small way, or through a very small action, an organization’s expression of its authentic self can touch your soul.

I was reminded of the power of small, authentic acts to touch your soul while I was reading Ryan Jones’ recent post “Pearl Jam, Seattle Movements & Lack of Purpose“. (Ryan blogs at M Cause, about marketing & brands, causes, and purpose.) Describing a gap he saw there between ‘creating a movement’ and ‘having a purpose’, Ryan writes:

Starbucks, for example, is a Seattle brand that doesn’t just want to be a brand…it wants to be a movement. Starbucks wants to “align with one of the greatest movements towards finding a connection with your soul.”

I’m a big fan of Starbucks coffee and I enjoy hanging out there with a great cup of joe and my laptop in tow, but I’m not sure that I would say that it has touched my soul lately.

Ryan’s comment made me chuckle–

Who ever thinks of big corporate coffee giant Starbucks as touching your soul?

In the big picture, I reckon that Starbucks is trying to touch my soul and the souls of its other customers. They certainly seem to be trying hard with all their social media efforts. They know that their business is not ‘all about the coffee’ anymore.

Still, I’m not “feeling the love” from any of their corporate initatives. Sure, I’m happy that the Anniversary Blend is back, and that my husband can get his pumpkin spice latte. And, in theory, I’m happy that Via is now available nationwide so that I will never be completely without a safety net.

But touching my soul? I don’t think so.

Except that recently, a Starbucks DID touch my soul.

In fact, it touched my soul noticeably enough that I whipped out my trusty iPhone and took some shots. (espresso pun there)

Check out this display at my favorite “I’m here to work” Starbucks.starbucks siren.jpg

This is a party favor left over from a celebration for a departing store manager. (She got promoted.)

One of the baristas made this, and they all took turns getting their pictures takes as the Starbucks Siren. Then, they left it up in the store (for about 2 weeks) and invited customers to get their pictures taken as the Siren.

I was having a bad hair day so I declined to get my photo taken, but I did take one for the woman behind me in line. She and I – and the barista behind the counter — had one of those “moments” where we were laughing about our mutual espresso addictions and just being together in this ‘third place’.

Why did this experience touch me?

Not too read too much into it, but I enjoyed how the Starbucks Siren let each barista and each customer “be” a part of Starbucks, even for a moment.

I’m not completely sure what that did for me, but I know that I enjoyed the idea that the baristas and the customers had fun with this. The experience surrounding the Siren felt “real” to me, because I knew that one of the baristas had made it, that it was intended for employees, that it was instead shared with customers, and that it was “about” the organization.

Can you think of anything else that would explain why this stuck with me, in a positive way?

I’d love your thoughts on this….


Ed Reid October 9, 2009 at 2:10 am

It likely stuck with you because of the novelty of the idea. It’s a creative reuse of a party prop. Also it’s homemade crafty appearance lends it to be more memorable than a slicker marketing piece.

cv October 9, 2009 at 10:27 am

Hi Ed- I think you’re right that the homemade nature of the prop, plus the idea that it was reused, make it feel more unique. Both of these features take away that sense that the prop might have been cooked up back at HQ to be rolled out impersonally. Thanks so much for commenting!

Dick Richards October 9, 2009 at 10:45 am

Starbucks, along with McDonalds, pays a lot of attention to “managing the customer’s experience.” And while I appreciate the predictability of my experience in both company’s venues, having my experience “managed” and “predictable” does lend a soulless quality to it. I suspect that the soul is better touched through spontaneous surprises that communicate warmth, community, and care for one another rather than a predictable experience.

I hope the people at Starbucks don’t read this and decide to manage my surprises.
.-= Dick Richards´s last blog ..Favorite Blog Posts For September ‘09 =-.

cv October 9, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Hi Dick-
What a treat to have you comment… and to know that you’re there…. You know, I actually was “surprised” by the Siren– that unexpectedness made it (literally) remarkable. But I think you catch another important quality– that the prop was about community and also helped to create it. hmmm. cv

Melody October 10, 2009 at 12:02 am

I think it touched you because it was real and genuine. The cut out creative prop goes to the heart of what the Starbucks experience is supposed to be about. Thanks for posting this!
.-= Melody´s last blog ..If Beans Could Speak … The Clover Coffee Experience & the tale of the Starbucks Black and Tan (Episode #1, very late 2007 to August 26, 2008) =-.

Mike February 25, 2010 at 11:59 am

It stuck with you because it was not corporate, it was not soulless. You have the barista that made it to thank. She takes down corporate artwork and hangs her own paintings in the store. She hand draws all the chalk board signs. It makes you feel like the store has individuality while still maintaining the comfort of sameness. Next time you go in, talk to Beth. You’ll understand why.

cv harquail February 25, 2010 at 8:22 pm

Mike, thanks so much for your comment! I’ve wondered whether the art was consistently by the same person (tho, a different person than the photographer).. and I will look specifically for Beth when I go in next…I bet she is one of the women who always greets me as though she knew me. Hmm.
That idea of the flourish of individuality inside the sameness is exactly right — it really captures what it takes to make a place feel real.
And there’s more to the story of this Starbucks, too…..

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