Search This Blog

Remembering the Starbucks That Was

The logo decision, the idea of going global and corporate and bland, is done. I'm not going to waste any more time on this...Let them do what they want.

Before I let this go, though, I'd like to share some things that come to mind when I reflect on what is so sad about this transition. If I had to sum it up, mainly what I see is that Starbucks to me represents the ultimate human brand, and now they just seem completely cold and greedy.

So here goes.

Here's a bunch of memories, of watching people interact:

* A group of elderly men sitting on the barstools, huddled together, talking. Something about how Starbucks is more fun than religious services. Which their wives prefer.

* A couple dressed in outrageously amazing Greenwich Village nightclub wear--in the suburbs among the hockey moms at 9 o'clock on a weekend morning.

* A little boy sipping his Kids' Hot Chocolate, a total "I'm-in-heaven" look on his face.

I've been well-treated by Starbucks' baristas:

* Advised that the new Frappuccino was susceptible to tasting bad if it was mixed wrong. Took back a half-drunk drink and made a new one.

* Not advised, despite all caloric logic to the contrary, to refrain from ordering whipped cream and chocolate syrup with my Java Chip Lite Frappuccino.

* Requested breakfast sandwich not on the menu (bagel/egg/cheese), received same, didn't have to pay extra even though the barista threw away an English muffin. All handled on a busy Sunday morning AND was only charged for one sandwich.

It hasn't always been THAT nice:

* Had a coffee slammed down on the counter in front of me after waiting 10 minutes...and told I shouldn't be reading the house copy of the New York Times unless I bought it!

Oh well.

Assorted good memories:

* Vacation days sitting there doing nothing but reading

* Charging up the laptop and blogging

* Studying the menu board and picking out interesting new coffees

* Standing in line for a nice hot cup before work

* Delighting my mom with a case of Frappes. Seeing the huge smile pour across her face.

I have to say, I will miss this brand when it goes so fully corporate, global, and bland in the name of global expansion. It represented something to me that was very real and down-home. It was one of those brands I identified with and took to heart. Their entire philosophy of how to treat employees and customers alike resonated with me in every way. And they turned me into a coffee fanatic.

Nothing is permanent, all good things must come to an end, and so it goes.

Target's decision to do exactly the same thing - get rid of the name, keep the icon - is just fine with me. In fact I know it's a good thing. But Starbucks I will miss.

Idea: A brand of exercise clothes meant for work

Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable it is to gear up for work in the morning? And then to keep up the appearance?

I forget about this during the weekend but then get a rude reminder every Monday at about 6 a.m.

Having conducted a brief observational study on this I have discovered the following:

1. I still can't tell if my suit separates, which are unfortunately separated completely from the original suit in the closet, are navy or black. Thus it is statistically likely, on any given day, that I do not match. And I know it.

If we all could wear exercise clothes all day, how freeing that could be! Not only is exercise wear more comfortable, but it is also mainly anchored by the color black, as opposed to a very similar looking navy.

2. White collar shirt = begging the Devil of coffee not to punish you with a spill. Never works.

3. The pointy-toed shoes that are so stylish nowadays are so narrow and so high that I get vertigo just looking at them. I often wonder if the shoes pinching ever gets in the way of the blood flow to the brain.

Sneakers to work, all day, would be so grand!

4. Is it me or does most costume jewelry look cheap and feel uncomfortable, if it's at all heavy? On Star Trek they wore unitards to work and no jewelry except for their Communicators. And look how much work they got done!

Let's wear pedometer watches that double as Blackberrys, and Bluetooth earpieces to keep the cellphone radiation away from our heads, and call it a day.

5. In the world of exercise, i.e. the gym, it is OK for your actual face to be seen. As opposed to the office, where a truly remarkable level of cosmetic sophistication is required. You are supposed to wear makeup, but not look like it, and yet look like it, etc. Totally confusing and it doesn't last past a sandwich anyway.

6. Ties are just plain cruel. They look like nooses. Whose idea was it that men have to wear nooses around their neck to be taken seriously?

I'm not saying we should look sloppy or anything. But dressing for work in stylish, modest gymwear could bring us a myriad of benefits.

1. We would be more comfortable and relaxed, so we would be more productive individually.

2. We would look more natural, which would promote less artificial, status-driven interactions generally. This matters because people who are comfortable will feel freer to speak up honestly about issues, ideas or processes that don't make logical sense. Which can save a lot of time and money.

3. We would be more likely to get up and walk during the day, or go to the gym, because there wouldn't be an issue of messing up the perfect uniform with physical activity. Meaning better health, so fewer sick days and less chance of long-term illness.

Has anyone created this kind of office-wear and I don't know it? If not, here's hoping that they do - hopefully before next Monday.

Gabrielle Giffords and the Limits of Image-Building

When I heard that Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and maybe even assassinated, I froze. Same as what happened on September 11.


On the morning of 9/11, I was drinking coffee and watching the Today show on NBC. It was around 9 a.m. Nine-oh-four to be exact. Sunny day, beautiful actually. Clear and super-blue skies. Even if a little cold.


Then a plane…flying…World Trade Center. New York. I knew that building. I had been in that building a million times. It was a shiny building but it had a terrible, ghostly aura. Haunted.


The attack didn't happen slow motion, in real life. But in my memory it was that way on TV. Trying to accept that such a thing could have happened is like trying to walk through sand, impossibly slow.


The frantic dash – is everyone OK? – to account for everyone. Not knowing the scope of the terrorist attack.


Fast forward to a year later and the "Beltway sniper." Again, when I learned, my reaction was – well, to process things unbearably slowly. The shooter, and his accomplice, gunning innocent people down outside Michael's. At a gas station. At a grocery store. I couldn't believe it. I still think to myself, "What the hell?"


When the guy was running around shooting people we wanted to just stay home all the time. But we needed food. So it became routine to run to and from the car, ducking.


All the time in disbelief.  This can't be happening, right? Yet it was. It was a very bad dream that was not imaginary.


What does this have to do with branding? You would not be the first to wonder, if you are. To me it's pretty natural that brands are mixed up with life. As I reflect on one, I get to the other. And vice versa.


(Does this tendency cheapen serious things? Yes, and I apologize if it seems that way. But I don't mean to be insensitive. It's just how my mind works. Maybe it's easier to handle the really unanswerable questions when you frame them as a brand problem, I don't know.)


Anyway. There is a point here. Getting to it.


I was really upset when I learned the news about Congresswoman Giffords. It was like being on a plane when the plane is landing badly. My stomach lurched before I even knew why. I just knew that the shooting meant more than what it seemed to. And that what it meant, wasn't good.


Like everyone else, I began to follow the repetitive moment-by-moment that is typical of breaking news.  I still don't know enough, and this is not a political opinion, but I began to see what kind of true substance and worth she exemplifies. A principled individual, not perfect of course but genuinely working to help the public. Who makes friends and enemies. Who keeps going regardless.


I have come to a conclusion about why G-d made it that the Congresswoman's life was not taken, or spared, but is hanging in the balance. I think G-d, the creative spiritual force that powers our world, is trying to tell us something as we collectively wait and hope that she will pull through. For had the outcome of the shooting been one extreme or another, we might have either gotten lost in grief or too quickly sighed and said, "Whew." But no, this is a time to really think.


And it seems to me that the shooter's motives, whatever they were, don't matter. What it's coming down to, as far as I can tell, is a consciousness about the impact of our words. We are thinking about whether we want to be a nation of reason, of thinking words, or a nation of rhetoric, where we say empty and artificial things just to pump people up. Just to market our message. Just to build a brand, if you will.


Unfortunately, as sick as that sounds, we are actually caught in a system where the individual is pushed to do exactly that. No matter how good their intentions, everyone, including public servants, is virtually coerced, if they want to be successful, into marketing themselves just like products are marketed – as brands. Because brands are the language of public discourse, and brands are what the public understands.


The result, sadly, is that serious and complex issues are reduced to simple slogans. Every word is shaped to convey a "key message," a personal brand, an agency brand, a corporate-sounding concept, to build a "brand personality," around "core values," on and on ad nauseam.


This is a system that we have built. Nobody forced it on us. But maybe it's time to consider the limits. For it's one thing to be conscious of our image. It's one thing to learn how to communicate effectively and compete in the marketplace of ideas and power. It's another to let branding take the place of actual thinking, to let it destroy our civility, to let it undermine the values that we as a big community really believe in. Like diversity, tolerance, spirited debate, and simple ordinary human decency. Treating other people the way we would want to be treated ourselves.


I don't know much about Gabrielle Giffords. But I am thinking of her right now, and I pray that she recovers fully and that G-d infuses in her the strength to continue her public service as before. But more importantly I pray that we use this opportunity to begin our own healing process. From baseless hatred and extremism. But also, more importantly, from the imbalanced extent to which our real selves are intertwined with our public images. From a world where there is no privacy left, no life except where it's recorded on Facebook, no room to really reflect unless you decide to go "off the grid."


Of course we'll all continue to do what we do. I'm drinking Starbucks right now even as I say (I'm sick of saying) how much I dislike their new logo and what I think it represents. I'm not going to stop being aware that nobody lives in a vacuum, that "you have a brand whether you like it or not" (as they say at The Brand Consultancy). I'll still read about branding and write about it too. But somewhere in my mind, at the end of the day, I'm going to reserve a space that hasn't been inhabited by the world of images. Where I am surrounded by trees, and wildflowers and grass. Where I look up at the clear blue sky. And where I can't even imagine a coffee shop for miles around.

Personal branding tip: Use mistakes to your advantage

A common misconception about branding is that total perfection is required. The equivalent of fresh white snow. You can't have a single dirty footprint on your lawn.


Some really cool personal brands have made a career of messing up:

* Comedian Jerry Seinfeld made a mint from his neurotic obsessions and inability to keep a girlfriend - by turning these problems into a show of the same name. Result: He doesn't have to work for the rest of his life.

* Career blogger Penelope Trunk regularly writes about her personal problems, most recently smashing a lamp over her head during a fight with her husband. Comments - read "sticky site traffic," folks - are through the roof.

* Decades ago, Albert Einstein made famous the saying, "If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?" Today, his visage is instantly recognizable anywhere.

Numerous others who have admitted their flaws or recovered from serious mistakes have found forgiveness by the public. Don't want to embarrass anyone by listing their name here. But the publishing industry lives and dies by these folks' recoveries.

I'm not saying to go out there and make a fool of yourself all the time. That's not strategic. But I am saying that nobody is perfect. No one. So you don't have to try and pretend to be. 

More, perfection doesn't even exist. We are all SUPPOSED to be different. We are supposed to fall before we walk, get teenage acne, choose the wrong major because we think we're supposed to, and in general take wrong turns on the path of life.

So. Your unique personality is actually just fine the way it is. Whatever mistakes you've made, or life circumstances that have been foisted upon you, they're just a part of your special story. That's fine too. All of it adds up to your real, authentic personal brand.

Nobody is going to be successful at everything they do. Nobody is going to fit into every organization they seek acceptance by. But if you accept yourself, you will find that you are more relaxed, and able to shift from formality to "being yourself" appropriately as per the situation.

Being yourself makes you honest. Being honest makes you trustworthy. Being trustworthy makes you a valuable personal brand.

Mess up a little more. You'll be glad you did.

Some useful brand resources for 2011

It's important to stay on top of things. I enjoy reading these blogs and I'm pretty busy. I consistently read these 2 and find them worth the time.

I do subscribe to a lot of other stuff in Google Reader and click through it pretty quickly - alerts on branding, major brand blogs, etc. - to make sure I know what is happening. I also read what's happening on Twitter.

See what you think --

1. Dan Schawbel's personal branding blog

This blog regularly features articles by guest columnists and news about new brand-related developments. All useful to your personal brand and to understanding branding in general.

2. Penelope Trunk

Penelope Trunk is simply the best writer out there, period. She goes to the edge. From a branding and marketing perspective she has an uncanny ability to let you into her world while still keeping you at the necessary distance. Brilliant strategy and brilliant writing. Scary at times, but brilliant.

Another great resource is LinkedIn, which has a variety of brand-related discussion groups.

I keep a list of bookmarks at my blog too:

If you have a resource to suggest, please comment.

Have a great day!