Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coffee Filter

I've talked a lot on this blog about the concept of a "filter." That is, as we continue to be bombarded by information filters will arise to help others separate the wheat from the chaff. The filters will take different forms for different people, or even different types of information. Maybe it's Amazon for filtering through products, or an individual whose taste you admire. Maybe it's TiVo and its recommendations, or Google and its algorithms for choosing what appears on Google News.

Or maybe it's Starbucks.


A few years ago I looked at the shelves at my local Starbucks and wondered why it suddenly looked a lot like Pottery Barn. My initial instinct was that the coffee company was veering far from its roots in an attempt to leverage its demographic. I figured that kind of venture would fail. I was only half right.

The company failed at selling dishes, but it succeeded at selling entertainment. An article in Sunday's New York Times lays this out nicely (reg. req.). Keep in mind, Starbucks' original concept was to become the "third place." Work, home and another place to be. Of course, when you have a number of people gathering, you have a community. In this case it's a community with an average age of 42 and income in the range of $90,000.

Perhaps my favorite quote in the piece comes at the end:

Thomas Hay, a 48-year-old contractor from Hartsdale, N.Y., said Starbucks helped him by editing down his cultural choices. Looking over the selections the company makes, he said, he has the impression that “some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world.”
It's not just that this guy trusts the brand, it's that he's overwhelmed by what's in the market and needs some way to find the "good stuff."

So, in the future, PR people are going to have to figure out what filters they need to target and how to best reach the decision makers. It's not going to be easy.


John Cass said...

howard Schultz found starbucks because he was selling coffee making machines and the coffee shop was selling more of his machines than any other wholesaler. Selling stuff other than coffee has been in their playbook for a long time.

Chuck Tanowitz said...

That's true, but all that is coffee-related. That idea wasn't much different than the Coffee Connection or other similar retailers (Peets comes to mind).

Also, Schultz didn't found Starbucks, he bought it from the founders. Schultz had been selling cups.