Monday, September 28, 2009

Starbucks Heading Further Away From Home VIA New Ready Brew

According to, the word "via" in preposition form is defined as "by a route that touches or passes through." VIA is also the brand name of the new instant coffee from Starbucks. I was introduced to it last week by a young Barista. She made sure I understood that it's good for when you're at sporting events or camping out.

Or, as I retorted, "any place other than here."

Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Starbucks built as a destination brand? Many referred to it as the "third place," with home and office being the other two. It seems Starbucks is moving closer to a new address: Your nearby Piggly Wiggly. Perhaps, it can persuade the grocery manager to put out a few bistro tables, pipe in some artsy music and install wireless Internet on Aisle 5.

If you feel compelled anymore to step inside a bricks and mortar version of Starbucks, take note of what's happening. It's redesigning, including installing new espresso machines, to make them more inviting and feel like your neighborhood, yet is launching products like VIA to send you away. In fact, the little trial sample of VIA I was handed has three boxes on the front that are X'd, with the first one denoting it's extra bold, the second to remind us (thank you) that it's coffee and the third to let us know we can take these little suckers "anywhere."


Guts Branding principle and reminder to Starbucks: Mass availability does not always equal mass consumption. In fact, making something less convenient, even in this era of instant access and on "our terms," still works if you have a powerful, desired brand. I once again cite CBS, the only network to grow in households and key selling demos in the 2008-2009 season. Unlike it's direct competitors, it made none of it's programming available via Hulu. You wanted CSI Miami, Two and Half Men or 48 Hours, you had to watch them on CBS's terms. What a novel concept.

Starbucks is again chasing "convenience," becoming more and more of a commodity and starting to blend (and not in the good coffee sense). That's physical and mental territory long-held by the likes of McDonald's and convenience stores. As much as I believe McDonald's could benefit from a good cup of focus, you don't see it packaging and selling its coffee in stores. At least not yet.

If you think about it, the Starbucks brand was originally built around the notion of "inconvenience." Loitering encouraged could have been their mantra. After all, that was a big piece of the original vision.

But then it was like the signs were switched overnight to no loitering when it added drivethroughs (at least you have to drive around the building rather than bypass it all together) to its grocery store line of prepackaged coffees, right there next to Folgers and Nescafe', which already dominates the instant coffee market. I'm sure VIA, which officially launches in two days, will have plenty of skews as well. One more reason to avoid your nearby Starbucks.

I'm really not anti-Starbucks. In fact, I wouldn't have a problem with VIA and other similar product offerings if Starbucks had started out as a store brand. Where I have a problem with it, or any other brand for that matter, is when after it tastes success, it travels in a direction opposite of what people want or expect from it. What if Subaru began making front-wheel drive vehicles or YouTube allowed people to post text-only stories?

My advice to Starbucks: Hit the brakes. Make a U-Turn. And find your way back home.

These are my Guts Feelings.

1 comment:

  1. It's funny - I thought of you as soon as I first read about VIA. I also thought of you when they started rolling out drive-throughs a few years back. Apparently, you're first in my mind when it comes to branding!