Howard Schultz, Starbucks Chairman and chief visionary, recently sent a battle cry email to key executives warning them of how decisions the company has made in the past 10 years is resulting in the commoditization of the Starbucks experience. (Read the entire email here.)
Howard is concerned Starbucks is not the same company it once was. He fears key decisions have led to “the watering down of the Starbucks experience.” And he challenged his executive team to guide Starbucks back to its core roots of being a coffee company.
As a former Starbucks marketer who worked at Starbucks from Oct. ’94 until Jan. ’03, nothing Howard says is new. Every decision Howard singles out in the memo as being damaging to the brand has sparked countless heated debates between old school Starbucks partners and new school Starbucks partners. I know. As one of the old school-minded Starbucks partners, I passionately objected to the introduction of automated espresso machines. I also was involved in intense discussions over the loss of coffee aroma in Starbucks locations.
These warning signs Howard mentions in the email of succumbing to the fast food mentality, the lost focus on coffee, and the commoditization of the Starbucks experience have been present for a long time.
In fact, there’s a vintage internal presentation from Starbucks which details the branding conundrum Howard highlights. That presentation is from February 4, 1999 and it’s just as relevant to the Starbucks brand today as it ways eight-years ago. One telling slide says: