I was struck by this Wall Street Journal headline:
'Race Together' Campaign Doesn't Hurt Starbucks
The newspaper was referring to Starbuck's 'Race Together' initiative to encourage conversations about U.S. race relations. Starbucks employees were instructed to write words such as 'race together' on the Starbucks cups, which they handed to customers to promote dialogue about this touchy subject.
In the end, this Starbuck's initiative brought about a social media firestorm and a lot of criticism about the company overstepping their bounds on such a 'personal' issue.
Yet, during the promotional period - Starbuck's revenue grew about 18%. Sales at Starbucks stores open at least a year climbed 7% during the time of the 'race together' initiative.
Given the tone of the headline ("...doesn't hurt..."), it sounded like the Wall Street Journal was surprised to realize that sales would actually increase during this controversial promotion.
Doesn't surprise me.
People believe people.
Howard Shultz, Starbucks legendary CEO, gets it. And he has from the very beginning of this brand.
Here's the key - Starbucks is more like a personality than a chain. At every place possible, Howard tries to connect real “humanness" with Starbucks.
Interesting people take real positions on issues. Thus, why shouldn't your brand? And, whether we agree with the issue or not, people (customers) connect with brands that act more like people.
People connect with organizations that have the guts to put their 'values' out there - again, even if their values may not be specifically aligned.
My advice to anyone starting a business - do not act like a "chain" or a corporation. Act more like a person.
Ironically, that's what all the leading "chains" today - like Starbucks - are doing. The bigger they get, the more personal they strive to be. Smart.
Look at Chipotle.
Ever read the heartfelt stories on their cups (unless you're a brand nut like me, probably not)? While we're at it, ever note the strange, almost childlike handwritten graphics on the Chipotle cup? Weird, huh?
Here's the deal - even if you'd actually never read the cups or gazed at those drawings, everyone gets the sense that some person actually took the time to express their passions and Chipotle took the time to print them on the millions of cups that they produce. You get the sense that these individual forms of human expressions are important to Chipotle.
Chipotle does not see the cup as a 'sales piece’. Rather the cups are just part of the overall, more 'personal' experience that Chipotle is seeking to convey. They want the Chipotle brand - like Starbucks - to do more than just sell Mexican food - they want to the brand to enhance people's lives.
Thus, a deeper, more human connection leads to more enthusiastic, loyal customers and in the end generate legions of fans for your company. These fans, in turn, sell the brand for you.
These simple things - like personal cup stories and art – say that Chipotle has a real heart. And, Chipotle is bold and self-assured enough about who they are to put it out there even in all its quirkiness (or, some would say “humanness”).
So, in taking your brand to the next level -don't be afraid. Have courage. Look to make your brand more personal, more human. In doing so, you'll create a stronger and more relevant brand - even if people don't always agree with you.
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