Don't let branding burn your customers.

This last May I wrote about my experiences with Starbucks' "Get more of what you love with a Starbucks Card" campaign (my post). I believe they have gotten this straightened out now. When I order a soy mocha, I don't need to remind the barista that my card is registered and they don't have to figure out how to process the card. Order, converse with barista, pay, done.

However, there is one part of this campaign that does still irks me ... This campaign is not accepted at all Starbucks. Huh? What do you mean not all Starbucks? Aren't all Starbucks alike? No and here's the rub.

There are Starbucks that are what I call "company" stores. They are Startbucks stores owned and operated by Starbucks. These stores are in the vast majority that people see. Then there are those that are "fake" Starbucks. They look, taste, and smell like any other Starbucks. Except they don't have to accept all the same promotional campaigns that Starbucks as a corporation is running. For example, the Starbucks in the Indianapolis Airport or the Starbucks in the Las Vegas Convention Center are not "real" Starbucks.

True, the employees dress and act like Starbucks employees. They have the same products and marketing material. They both even take the Starbucks store card! But that airport or convention center Starbucks do not participate in the "Get more of what you love with a Starbucks Card" campaign. I don't know why and I really do not care. What irks me is that Starbucks has me so trained on their brand that when that brand fails me I feel miffed, let down, abandoned.

Abandoned? Ok, this may sound a bit harsh. But those "fake" Starbucks are ruining the Starbucks brand: I have come to expect a certain level of service, consistency, process, and taste with what I order (tall decafe soy mocha, extra hot). I am a regular. That regularity is reinforced with my Starbucks card and my actions to register it (registering it gets me free soy milk, knocking off $0.40 each drink). When that regularity is disrupted then that causes me to feel like I have been cut off, shown to the door, not part of the culture. When I order a tall decafe soy mocha, I expect to have the price of the soy removed. And when that does not happen I will, on the next order, now have to monitor the drink making process. This requires my time and attention that I really would prefer to spend elsewhere.

So if you are thinking about brands and how to allow those brands to be licensed out / franchised, insure the plan includes education of the impact of drifting from that brand and what could happen to the revenue. Don't make licensing / franchising your brand result in a flesh burn for your customers.

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