Starbucks: Corporate Lingo, Carefully Crafted Environment, & Content Marketing

According to my best estimate, I’ve spent about 1,350 hours in Starbucks… wearing a green apron.  I was able to start a nice little 401(k), learn valuable lessons in management, customer service, and sales, and I still have about 14 pounds of coffee in my kitchen cabinets.  Besides the fact that Starbucks pays McDonald’s money and expects Ritz service, it wasn’t a bad job.

As an insider and an outsider, there are a few things I see that make the Starbucks brand really tick.  Everything from their employee training to their content marketing work together in a unified vision that promotes the Starbucks Mission Statement: “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

Corporate Lingo

One of the things Starbucks does best is their use of corporate lingo.  If you’re serious about building your brand, Starbucks offers you this crucial lesson.  Everyone in the company from CEO Howard Schultz to café attendants (the lowest level of employee in Starbucks retail stores) is referred to as a “partner.”  This term isn’t just a word used on all documents with corporate letterhead, but it’s actually used by every single Starbucks employee.  It’s a term that has caught on with employees in all areas of the company, engendering a sense of teamwork and connection that reaches across managerial relationships.

This development of a corporate lingo has been a big factor in Starbucks’ success.  By creating a common language that backs their principles, Starbucks has been able to bring employees together for a greater purpose.

Starbucks also uses a number of other corporate terms, which have been more or less accepted by partners.  One of the most notable terms (not as frequently used in partners’ everyday speech) is “the third place,” which Starbucks uses to refer to its cafes, where customers can feel comfortable and relaxed, whether they’re in their own neighborhood or on the other side of the world.  And, really, it’s this notion that Starbucks uses to drive the brand…

Your Home Away From Home

Starbucks wants to be seen as your home away from home.  And, for many people, that’s exactly what they are.  Gold card carriers (the highest ranking members in Starbucks Rewards Program) are a testament to the success of this goal.  When I worked at Starbucks, there were many gold card-carrying (and “regular”) customers I would see three times a day – which, as any partner could tell you, is by no means unusual!  People didn’t just want their Starbucks… they wanted to be at Starbucks.

In addition to providing a desirable atmosphere in your neighborhood, Starbucks has diligently worked to ensure global uniformity.  For many people, the fact that you can order a “Triple Grande, non-fat, upside-down, Caramel Macchiato” in Fargo and in Shanghai without any difficulties is a huge plus.  Starbucks has created a universal language with the success that only a few other corporations have been able to match.

Creating an Environment

In order to achieve this “home away from home” position, Starbucks had to do a lot of work.  It took years, but Starbucks has finally created the ideal environment.  One of the biggest steps they took in order to create the feel of a home place was offering free, unlimited wi-fi that didn’t require any kind of registration or account.  This offering went into action during the summer of 2010 in nearly 7,000 locations.

It’s easy to scoff at today, two years later, but in 2010, this was a significant leap forward.  You have to remember that free internet with no registration required wasn’t nearly as common then as it is today.  By being one of the first major chains to step into this arena, Starbucks was – and continues to be – a leader in innovation.

Brilliant Content Marketing

While Starbucks was a great innovator in the actual retail stores, they also made a big splash in content marketing.  Their mission statement has really been brought to life through their various forays into content marketing.  Earlier this summer, I wrote about one specific content marketing campaign that Starbucks used to create their brand image, Cup Magic, a free phone app that uses your cell phone’s camera to generate interactive animations around an actual Starbuck’s cup.

Matt Wesson at the Content Marketing Institute has pulled together a few of Starbucks’ content marketing efforts in this article on content marketing and building your brand.  His mention of the My Starbucks Idea blog is especially worth checking out.  Through the Idea blog, Starbucks allows customers and fans to submit product, experience, and involvement ideas.  This blog, which is home to well over 100,000 user-submitted ideas, has been a hit with customers for years.

What Are You Doing?

My question for you, the small business owner, is: How will you work on building your brand with similar techniques?  Starbucks has achieved incredible success through their corporate language (which engenders a positive community), their attention to environment/customer experience, and their innovative content marketing efforts.

How will you apply the same approaches to your business?

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Ben Richardson is a writer based in Nashville, TN. While he loves writing on a variety of subjects, he's our go-to on all things related to branding and the creative aspects of content marketing. Follow him on Twitter!

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