Here people called "coffee masters" talk about finding romance and passion in a cup like they were cream and sugar. Schultz has brewed up a coffee culture that's, sometimes, a little hard to swallow.
"One of our colleagues coined a phrase a long time ago and said, 'We're not in the business of filling bellies. We're in the business of filling souls,'" says Schultz.
"Oh now, come on," says Pelley. "No wait a minute. That's too … this is a company. This is a corporation. Come on."
"OK, it is a corporation," Schultz acknowledges.
"You're blowing smoke now," Pelley replies.
Shultz won't let it go:
"No, I mean this is how we feel. You might say, 'OK, they're full of crap.' And you know, this is how we feel," says Schultz. "We're in the business of human connection and humanity, creating communities in a third place between home and work."
Not surprisingly, the "filling souls" bit is the opening quote in the pro-union "Stop Starbucks" video. A big, windy, over-the-top claim like that is a hanging curveball - you can't help but swing at it and chances are you're going to connect.
Why bring this up? Because, as inflated as the "filling souls" claim is, it's not far different from a lot of corporate slogans and strategies and messages. I've lost count of the number of clients I've had who wanted their companies to be religious cults. No, they didn't say that in so many words. And some of them weren't even aware of it (some were). But at the end of the day, branding exercises are often about an appeal to intangibles and longings. "[Product] will lead you to fulfillment." "We're not a [product] company, we're an [intangible longing, soul-fulfilling] company." Nike isn't a sneaker company, it's a win-at-all-costs company - a sort of Calvinist salvation through supreme effort. McDonald's isn't a hamburger company - it's a warm-embrace-of-family company - salvation through love.
More some other time about the cultural impoverishment that's turned consumer products into religious vessels. What's interesting here from a communications perspective is how quickly the inflated claim blows up.
Peter at AlfadogPR is interested in the dynamics of the medium - that the social media channels that helped build Starbucks can be turned against them so quickly. That's worth talking about. What jumps out at me is the content problem. A big juicy over-reach - "we fill souls" - would have done fine in the old broadcast world. Sure, it's over the top, and it might have provoked some blowback - maybe Leno would have done a riff on it - but that would have been fine. It would have helped extend the brand message. But now, in a post-broadcast world, you can't afford a big gap between claim and reality - because reality is too accessible (cf. Wikipedia) and quick-forming communities have the motive and opportunity to challenge you and take you down. Especially if those people have a vested interest - like union organizers, for example. But an ordinary mob of consumers can do it to you, too.
In other words, branding as you knew it is dead. So is messaging. So are buzzwords and catchphrases. So are all the one-sided devices that companies used to manipulate audiences - excite them, motivate them, "activate" them, as marketers like to say (as though they were passive automata just waiting to be plugged in).
A few additional thoughts here about the death of conventional messaging in the political arena.
If old-style branding and messaging doesn't work, what will? That's a topic for a future discussion, but in a nutshell: reasonable, non-hyperbolic, fact-based claims and viewpoints that you develop in collaboration with your audience. Your audience is going to collaborate with you whether you like it or not. Might as well meet them halfway.
Maybe what I'm talking about seems deadly but it doesn't need to be. Entertainment works, fun works, and irony works really, really well. Solemnity doesn't, and obvious attempts to manipulate don't either. Dialogue is best. To have one, all you have to do is get out of your corporate seat, embrace sheer terror, and give up all hope of control. Then you'll be fine.
It's a big subject - and I'll be back to it soon.