A new local coffee-shop called "15th Avenue Coffee and Tea" is opening this week on Seattle's Capitol Hill, only it's not new, nor is it local. It's a test concept from Starbucks that, if successful, could appear in other markets.Interestingly, the names of subsequent outlets would be similarly customized to their locations. This would help give the stores what a Starbucks exec calls "a community personality," as the test shop in Seattle will serve alcohol, host live music and poetry readings, and otherwise do whatever it can to come across as a local indie experience.
Is this brilliant branding, or aggressively creative lying?
"Local" has cachet these days, I suspect because folks expect it to correlate with qualities like authenticity, community, and a broader definition of profit and loss (more direct connections between revenue and the success of the local marketplace, like Vox Pop's example; better green policies that'll preserve the local environment, etc.).
Some brilliantly conceived brands have gotten grilled for lacking these attributes, like the opposition Wal-Mart regularly gets to its store expansion, or the uproar a few years ago over the toys that Mattel manufactures faraway that don't look so safe close-up. Micro-breweries continue to steal customers from the big beer brands.
So I get the impetus to look local. I just wonder if being local is the same thing, or whether consumers are interested in the difference?
Beyond branding, there's nothing local whatsoever about Starbucks new store concept; like the craft beer labels coming from Anheuser-Busch/Michelob, we're talking labels. Look-and-feel. 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea hopes to repurpose a tired Starbucks location with marketing. It's an excruciatingly traditional strategy that's somewhat dishonest, however brilliantly it might be conceived.
It doesn't have to be this way. Imagine if Starbucks (or any galactically-large retail brand) came up with a model for its outlets that was truly local:
- Site: Physical space configured and designed to fit unique real estate
- Employment: Recruiting nearby, and training based on unique customs
- Benefits: Individualized by location, from healthcare to support services
- Sourcing: Purchasing nearby products and services
- Offering: Custom products/configurations based on tastes of clientele
- Community: Profit/loss closely tied to charities, schools, etc.
- Management: Future developments keyed to local feedback & needs
The problem, of course, is that operating as a truly local store would obviate all of the habits and economies of scale that make global brands possible, let alone profitable. But maybe there's a middle ground? If Starbucks could operationalize at least some of these qualities, it might be a helluva lot more marketable and sustainable than a new branding concept.
Right now, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea is nothing more than a Starbucks by another name.The Bulb Asks:
- Is consumer knowledge/awareness changing what they expect from brands?
- Is "conversation" what matters, or what subjects businesses put up for discussion?
- If the brand name isn't working, do you fix the name or the underlying business?