Saturday, March 29, 2008

Looking Cool Can Look Link Stupid

Have you seen the new social networking site Starbucks launched about two weeks ago called MyStarBucksIdea?

The media release Starbucks issued calls it an online community network but after going through it, it does seem like a glorified customer feedback form. Since I prefer Diet Coke as my caffeine poison of choice, I don't really care what Starbucks is calling their new venture but I was very interested to know how they were going to sell the concept to their customers.

I'm a big believer in cross promotion and incorporate offline advertising into all the custom linking services I offer. IMO, it's smart to advertise to your demographic offline because people assign credibility to what they read and transfer that trust to an online brand when they see it.

And we know trust helps to build links. So I figured I'd learn a thing or two from a company that managed to make paying $4 for a paper cup of coffee at any time of the day an unconscious part of our routine. I was curious to see how this retailer was going to promote a new online opinion venue to a customer base that's predominately offline. I headed over to our local StarBucks cafe to see if they were displaying any in-store collateral supporting the new networking site.

Surprise surprise - they weren't and the counter clerk didn't know anything about the site either. Which sincerely surprised me as I always had the impression StarBucks was marketing savvy.

I'm sure StarBucks spent a ton on money on creating this new Web2.0 platform so it's a surprise to see they're not taking advantage of in-store collateral annoucing it's creation. I know it's perceived to be cool to have a social media tool in your marketing arsenal and while I applaud StarBucks for making an attempt to build community, I'm shocked at their lack of basic Marketing 101.

I know that sounds a little harsh but I really feel that way. Everyone wants to use the latest toys and look cool because when you're cool, people talk about and admire you. But I have to wonder... here's a company with an almost 100% offline presence and they go and launch an online social networking site to build a -- community? They already have community in their stores everyday.

Which is why they should capitalize on it to market the new online venue. If they launch a new coffee, where do they promote it?

In the stores of course. So why wouldn't they promote a major new portion of their business in-store as well?

I know, I know, just because our local StarBucks aren't pimping the new site doesn't mean it's not happening elsewhere. It SHOULD be happening here, Williamsburg is a hot tourist destination and was visited by the Queen last spring so we're not total hicks. Starbucks owns thousands of offline stores -- thousands. Are they using them to promote a new marketing tool designed to listen to customers, the very people they want becoming part of their new community?

From what I can see -no. Too bad too. If the idea is to use the social networking site to empower customers, they're not doing it at the most effect level - the storefront.

Now I ask you, is that cool?

People turn from being customers to brand evangelists when they feel empowered and part of something. Think about your loyalties and why you have them, do you feel the way you do because someone listened and acted on your opinion? Probably. :)

If you have an offline store supporting an online presence, or even if you exist only online, it makes a world of sense to cross expose your URL/promotion at every opportunity.

If you're going to go through all the trouble of creating something as detailed as a social networking site or as a simple as a magnetic sign for the side of your car, be sure it's going to be seen by the people who can make a difference and in a format that reinforces credibility.

You want to look cool? Buy sunglasses. You want to grow your company and your link base? Advertise in on and offline publications and venues reinforcing your credibility.

Time for a fresh diet coke. :)


Diane Aull said...

So true. I think a lot of companies are trying to get in on this "Web 2.0 thingie" because they think it will make them look cool, not because they have any real idea of what to do with it. They just make themselves look silly, IMO.

Rachel Phillips said...

First of all, I love the title! Secondly, I couldn't agree more. I confess that I enjoy my fare share of Starbucks, but I also acknowledge the utter ridiculousness of it all. Having recently worked in a mall where we not only had a Starucks directly across the hall from our store but also four other Starbucks in the same mall!, I've seen the hordes of teens and preteens wandering around with their "oh so cool" cup of Starbucks. There is NO WAY these throngs of people ARE NOT online. If Starbucks isn't taking this launch seriously, then mores the loss for them.

Rachael823 said...

You're absolutely right - I'm pretty sure we learned this very early on in Marketing classes. Not only is it not smart from a marketing perspective, but it's pure common sense to utilize every resource available to you! Great post.

Allan said...

You had a good post going here, but one thing I need to clarify is that they are promoting this in their stores. I've gone to a couple of stores this week and they both have had a display with little cards you can take with you with the link to the site. I also asked the people behind the counter and they knew all about it and were at least coherent about what the site was. Granted they can't be totally up to date on everything going on with the site at that moment, but that can be excused because they don't have computers at work like most of us do. Anyway, good post, just wanted to clarify that point. They are supporting it through their offline stores.

Sarah Simmons said...

Very good commentary on Starbucks' mediocre approach to hopping on the social media train. I actually asked three baristas (at three different Starbucks within a block of one another) last week about it and no one had any details. I was shocked and disappointed.

It doesn't seem like a smart use of money and resources to build a platform for user generated content when you aren't promoting it to any of your everyday users.