Focus on providing a richer experience

June 1, 2010 by

Recently, I was surprised to see an actual commercial for Starbucks. Starbucks has historically shied away from large and expensive ad campaigns. Most business-to-consumer companies the size of Starbucks do frequently run commercials or launch promotional campaigns to build awareness. This strategy seems counter to Starbucks usual approach.

Starbucks focuses on the product and customer experience rather than using promotional activities to build the business. When a new Starbucks opened in my neighborhood there was no big splash; there was no coupon offer or postcard addressed to “the resident” at < city, state, zip> arriving in my mailbox. Suddenly, the location was just “open”. A simple banner that said “Now Open” was the only form of advertising. Even the Greek joint down the street made a bigger promotional splash than that.

Starbucks brought the allure of an Italian style coffeehouse to America. It serves as a satellite office for some salespeople. For consultants and freelancers, the local Starbucks has become a de facto conference room for meeting clients or prospects. On the weekends, it’s the place where friends come to linger over coffee or tea. Or, it’s the place to hang out for a few hours to enjoy a good book.

How did this happen? How did Starbucks become the “go-to” location for meeting friends, clients or for relaxing in a casual environment? It certainly wasn’t their marketing campaigns.

Starbucks replicated an environment where adults (or “near adults”) could meet, relax and socialize in their own community. Coffeehouses were already in existence and were usually found near the local college campus or in ‘hip and trendy’ neighborhoods. Starbucks brought coffeehouses into the mainstream, reaching new and different customer segments. Starbucks identified and exploited a latent need without a media blitz to spur growth.

Have other companies built a strong business with minimal commercials and campaigns?

When is the last time you saw a Barnes and Noble campaign? Or….a commercial for Whole Foods? Even Google became the most popular search engine without a heavy promotional spend. Barnes and Noble, Whole Foods and Google are Fortune 500 companies. Conceivably, they’ve got promotional budgets larger than most small and medium sized companies. Yet, their growth was not tied to traditional promotional efforts to raise awareness and convert customers.

For each of these companies, the focus has been on providing a richer experience and fulfilling an unmet need.

Has your company created a product, service or customer experience that sets you apart from your competitors?