Every Wednesday I leave work at 4:30pm to go to school (I’m going for my MBA at Rutgers). When I get there, the first thing I do is get my $4 latte. Sometimes I stop by a different Starbucks on a major highway on my way to work. When I look around, people are hosting job interviews and business meetings in the seating area of the store. For years, my wife and I have frequented the Starbucks counters that are inside Barnes & Noble stores for a coffee after a dinner out (which was the case this evening). When I look around, people are reading, working on their laptops, or just enjoying conversations together while sipping their lattes.
The point is that Starbucks has found a way to make itself part of people’s lives, and has done so successfully for years. These days however, Starbucks is facing a recession, new competition, and the loss of customers. But not to worry, I have an idea: Starbucks should focus on making themselves part of the online lives of their customers, particularly in a social way.
Starbucks could build applications that enable users to publicize their favorite Starbucks drinks to their friends, to rate drinks (existing and new), or even to send their friends a latte, virtual or real. They could tie their social application to a Starbucks loyalty card…I can foresee a ‘buy five, give one’ type of program that could potentially bring new customers into the store, or into Starbucks’ social network. And these applications are just the tip of the iceberg. Regardless, Starbucks could increase customer engagement with the brand, tap into the viral nature of social networking to attract new customers, and increase brand loyalty by providing a high quality, fun online experience to its customers and their friends. Oh, and let’s not forget, such a solution would be yet another valuable channel for market research.
Starbucks is a very, very strong brand. Everyone knows Starbucks, and they know what they stand for. Therefore, Starbucks shouldn’t settle for a social networking solution that lives behind someone else’s branded look and feel, such as Facebook or MySpace. Nor should they have to invest millions of dollars for a consulting company to build a custom social networking solution on their behalf. Ringside Networks has already provided a starting point, and better yet, the software is free. For little expense (maybe 1-3 consultants) and in a short period of time, they can stand up their own Starbucks branded social network that immediately taps into the Facebook community, and within months the Myspace and Orkut communities as well (pending Ringside’s implementation of OpenSocial support to be delivered in June).
In my opinion, such a move by Starbucks is a no brainer. Customer acquisition is currently expensive, and a social solution, particularly one that requires minimal investment, is likely to have a return on investment that is off the charts.