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Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 2.41.28 PMA recent survey by the Hub Magazine notes that Starbucks’ “social responsibility” more favorably impacts their customer loyalty than other category leader brands: Amazon, Apple, Target, Proctor & Gamble and L.L. Bean. Only Patagonia, Whole Foods and Trader Joes matched Starbucks in having more favorable than combined “unfavorable and not a factor” votes.

How has Starbucks has turned social responsibility to a positive brand advantage when many other category leaders have not? A few intriguing conclusions:

One – their stance on social responsibility impacts the less frequent customers. Many responded they are occasional customers and are not necessarily a fan of Starbucks coffee.

Two – they have made their story very visible throughout their store.

Three – many customers admit that they feel better about paying a “premium” for a product that employs fair trade practices.

We know from countless research that consumers want to identify with a brand beyond the rational product benefits. A big part of brand value is what they do to be a good community “steward.” Starbucks clearly has the game plan down in this area.

Seen at an local indie coffee house – a blackboard wall that people write their favorite sayings/graffiti – quite interesting!  Contrast that … at a Starbuck’s – a similar blackboard wall with chalk writings – which upon further reflection are all about how great Starbuck’s product is.   In other words, it was a fake graffiti wall carefully written by Starbuck’s.   So much for “organic” … or authenticity.

What happened to the Starbuck’s that focused on experience and not constantly selling you?  Another big brand gone bad?

What do you think?

Being a Starbucks Zealot, I was excited to get an email the other day from the company to its Gold card holders.   The headline was “What’s behind our new Artisan pairings.”  The email continued.  “Because you are one of our best customers, we thought you might like to have a behind-the-scenes look at how they came to be.”  Well, yes and yes.   I was interested.

I proceeded to get not one inside tidbit.  Nothing to share, no story to regale, no insider juicy detail.  What I got was classic sales copy drivel: “Great-tasting, wholesome” and “delicious pairings you can look forward to” were among those behind-the-scenes tidbits.

Huh?  What happened? Remember me, your zealot?

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Guest Relations Marketing
Transforming Prospects to Guests, and Guests to Zealots.

A question we continue to toy with day in and day out. What creates zealotry? What makes people love brands, be passionately committed to companies, be loyal beyond belief?

Said another way, what are some core actions that cause consumers to be zealots for companies.  Feel free to use your clients and favorite brands to think through this.

One thing that stands out – unexpected rewards.    Earning points in a loyalty program doesn’t provoke much referral talk, but if Apple gives you a brand new computer because they are not solving the problems with your one-year old computer, you share that story. If your Starbucks barista gives you a coffee on the house for no rhyme or reason, surely you’ll be talking to others about your experience. And, if you were flying Southwest Airlines and as you checked in for your flight they casually upgraded you to first class because you looked a little frazzled today I’d aim to guess you’d be bragging to your coach-flying co-workers the next day back at the office.

That being said, two questions:

1. Is your company doing anything in terms of unexpected rewards to win over guests? Are your employees empowered to “do good in the brand?”

2. What other things do you think create Zealotry?

A recent survey from Cool News indicates Starbucks is slipping in its zealotry appeal.

“The encouraging news for Starbucks was that roughly the same percentage of respondents said that they “liked” Starbucks about as much as they did five years ago. However, the percentage saying they “loved” Starbucks dropped precipitously, from 33 percent who said they loved it five years ago to just 10 percent now.”
Interestingly, recent marketing efforts at adding food product, loyalty programs and other conventional marketing seems to have mis-fired, at least among zealots.  Cool News’ respondents indicated a drop in sense of “community” as a primary reason for the drop in appeal.  Starbucks acknowledges it is about experience, not product.   But, has the drive for short-term revenue gains started to impact the long-term potential?

All great brands have a cadre of zealots.  Whether you care to admit it or not, we are all crazy enthusiasts for certain brands. From big brands to small, practical to frivolous, embarrassing to important – certain brands hold a special place in each of our hearts for one reason or another.

For instance, I’m a sucker for Starbuck’s.  The purest rational reason I can offer is that they are ubiquitous – they are close by anytime I need a legal hit of caffeine.
The emotional hook is one Starbuck’s understands and plays to very well.   I, like many others, pay the premium price as a small “reward” or break in my day. Some smoke, some have a hidden flask, others eat.  Me?  I go to Starbucks to gain some equilibrium in my day.

As a result of being a zealot, I often overlook or excuse their shortcomings.   I’m not blind to their less than stellar performance at times, but they periodically do relatively small touches that reinforce why I’m a zealot of this brand.  For instance, credit card bills.   Did you ever relish opening one?  Well, Starbucks periodically puts in their monthly credit card bill a coupon good for a free drink or dessert.  This relatively small token causes one to look at their monthly bill a little more fondly.  I could go on.

You may not be a zealot of Starbucks, but you very likely have your own stories of brands that you love.  The value of zealots is that they are always ready and willing to tell anyone about their experiences.   It’s human nature to share remarkable experiences – good and bad.

We’d like to know … what are you a zealot for?   What are some remarkable examples of a brand, company or organization reinforcing the passion those share about their brand?

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