The Starbucks Experience: 3 Ways to Apply It at Your Business


Edition #1 of 6

By Andris Pone

Andris presented on the topic of branding at Sun Life’s Practice Development and Thought Leadership Summits this past summer.  In this series of six bi-weekly blogposts written exclusively for insurance advisors (both independent brokers & IIROC insurance specialists), he provides branding insights that advisors can apply to their businesses today.

The world’s largest coffee chain doesn’t have the best coffee.  Yet they will remain the largest for the foreseeable future.

How can they pull off this apparent contradiction – and what does it mean for insurance advisors?

I speak of course of Starbucks, which doesn’t have the best espresso, the base ingredient for highly profitable customized drinks like lattes and cappuccinos.  What they do have, however, is the best customer experience – the best brand experience.  While it’s not perfect, it is head and shoulders above that of any would-be contender among the small independent chains – Aroma for example – whose espresso is far superior.

Assuming that Starbucks is unwilling to change the espresso that’s been the basis of its rise from single-store obscurity to global colossus, brand experience will become more and more important as the company’s key differentiator from the pack.

It’s something that advisors in the insurance and estate planning fields can very easily identify with.  Insurance is a commodity that has little differentiation between companies and advisors.  So for you, success depends largely upon building strong client relationships:  for IIROC insurance specialists, with the investment advisors in your bank-owned firm; for brokers, directly with end clients.

What can advisors learn from Starbucks about brand experience, and how can they apply it to their business?  Here are three ideas to consider:

#1:  Have an inspiring mission.
In the course of my work, I’ve reviewed the web presence of almost everyone receiving this blogpost.  Only a small handful have a mission at all – a major lost opportunity to attract the kind of customers you seek.  In contrast, Starbucks has an inspirational mission that attracts customers and employees alike.  That mission is:  To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.  

Think mission statements don’t matter?  Recall that Starbucks’ coffee isn’t poured by people with little education, but instead by young college and university students and grads.  Who get paid about $12/hour.

Customers, for their part, are sufficiently inspired to part with $5 for a latte.  Although Starbucks’ doesn’t publicize its mission and hence very few customers have ever seen it, 100% of audiences I show it to immediately guess whose it is.  In other words, Starbucks is “living” its inspirational mission with such success that people feel a connection to it on a subconscious level.

#2:  Hire people who buy-in.
Post-secondary students and grads also apply because they identify with another pillar of the Starbucks brand – its heightened sense of corporate, social and environmental responsibility.  The company’s Shared Planet program, for example, enacts the company’s “commitment to do business in ways that are good for people and the planet.”

What are the commitments and beliefs that drive the way you do business?  Write them down and show them to potential strategic partners and co-workers.  If they respond enthusiastically, you’ll know you’ve got a good fit.  If they don’t, you’ll easily bypass people who aren’t willing to sing from the same songsheet.

#3:  Personalize the experience.
At the most fundamental level, human beings want to matter.  They want to feel valued and important, and they want their uniqueness to be recognized.  So they patronize the companies – the brands – that make them feel best.

Starbucks validates its customers’ uniqueness by making them a personalized beverage: one tailored precisely to their desires.  As an advisor, your best opportunity to validate potential and actual customers is to give them absolutely exceptional customer service.

Yet, for example, I am regularly surprised by the disinterested attitudes of receptionists and executive assistants on email, the phone and in person.  Often the first point of contact that clients have with your brand, these individuals are truly brand ambassadors who can give a very positive – or negative – first impression of you.

The ultimate truth
And ultimately, the client’s impression is all that matters.  Because a brand is not a logo.  Neither is it a website, brochure or business card:  these media simply convey what you want people to think of you.

Which leads to the fundamental truth that Starbucks deeply understands, and which you should consider as you build your business:  that a brand is what people think of you.

Coin Branding is offering a branding package created exclusively for insurance advisors.  For more information on how branding can make a big difference to your business, contact Wayne Miller at 1-416-408-7542 or

QUIZ:  Does Your Brand Mean Business?

BOOK:  Buy the #1 Globe and Mail bestselling Brand: It Ain’t the Logo at Books for Business
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RADIO:  interview on CBC Radio One about unhappiness with Microsoft Windows 8
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TV:  BNN interview re. Lance Armstrong’s brand (starts at the 3:30 mark, after the ad).

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