Community starts on the inside

Starbucks practices a bottom up approach - employees are the driving force behind the company’s values. The baristas have a high level of autonomy and the management team often receive emails from individual coffee shops with suggestions for packaging improvements or recipe alterations that have often come directly from consumers.

The My Starbucks loyalty programme is a great example of how employees connect with consumers. It acts as a channel to participate in neighbourhood chat (not as the leader but as an equal participant – the assigned digital barista being the Starbucks representative).

Not only are employees close to consumers but they are also close to each other. Starbucks fosters social relationships between employees and encourages them to be friends outside of work. The closeness of employees was demonstrated during the Paris terror attacks – almost all Starbucks employees in the city were accounted for immediately after the attacks just through them contacting each other via mobile or social media.

Prioritising People Over Processes

Starbucks holds its employees in high regard. They are the cornerstones of the community it develops.

“All of the effort that goes into a cup of coffee is distilled in the barista who serves the customer. They are the ultimate touchpoint.”  IAN CRANNA, STARBUCKS

Therefore, they allow them great freedom. They encourage their employees to be friends, not just colleagues. They also rely upon their staff members to “bring society into the centre of Starbucks” -baristas in local stores will often write to the head office to tell them that a certain initiative is off brand.


Starbucks’ communication strategy is focused on digital rather than traditional media to reinforce moments of connection in a personal and intimate way. Only 2% of their marketing spend  is put into advertising. Communications aren’t seen as a huge priority, but instead activating against the purpose is. Starbucks are a brand that prefer to do rather than say.

The Starbucks online store brings the Starbucks experience into daily life via tumblers, travel mugs, coffee, and tea to have at home.

Starbucks are in a good position to maintain their cultural role in society. Added Value USA tracks the cultural traction of brands (in the US) via a measure called VIBE (how visionary, inspiring, bold & exciting they are). Starbucks came 13th out of 54 brands in 2014 – up 10 positions from 2013.

Starbucks Brand Purpose is “Serving one cup, to one neighbour at a time’. They made it their mission to redefine what ‘neighbourhood’ meant to people, understanding that for most city dwellers this is no longer geographical, but is made up of a small number of disparate places that feel genuinely welcoming. They set about creating a place and an attitude that felt like the heart of community.

Making Personal Gestures

When Starbucks launched their ‘names on cups’ initiative, it tapped into the knowledge that neighbourhoods for a great number of people are not about geography, they are about intimacy. Neighbours are where people know each other’s names. This small innovation was free, easy, and empowered the staff in each store to create an environment that felt truly welcoming.


Seasonal drinks offerings keep the consumer guessing e.g. smoked butterscotch latte, peppermint mocha, holiday spice flat white.

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Playing an Active Role in a Community

The employees in each Starbucks store are encouraged to talk to people about local initiatives that matter to them, from an individual carer of a sick child, to the building of a new children's playground. The stores take on the role of community hubs, with noticeboards that advertise everything from small businesses to local campaigns. Starbucks have worked with Neighbourly to connect with local causes, they use social media as a way to stay connected with key issues on scale, and each member of staff pledges hours of community service to their local area.


The Augmented Reality App lets consumers animate their coffee cup with seasonal characters that they can then share with friends.



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