I usually pride myself in not falling blindly for a brand’s marketing, and being objective in decision-making. Maybe it’s the classic case where everyone believes that advertising works, but not on them. But I’ve always claimed that I bought the iPhone not because of the mad rush for it, but because I was convinced by objective reviews about its superb user experience.
But I make an exception for one brand: Starbucks. The coffee brand you can love or hate but can’t ignore. What does this brand stand for? It stands for a third space between home and office, a coffee experience that goes beyond the actual drink, a feeling of belonging to a welcoming place, an exciting coffee that makes other coffees duller. And I’ve swallowed this entire brand essence, hook, line and sinker.
What makes a big difference is the approach followed by a few baristas. I used to work at the Concourse building, Beach Road, Singapore, which has a convenient Starbucks downstairs. A bunch of friendly baristas by the names of Hansel, Rafi and Johari had a great way of putting people at ease. They remembered not only the names of most customers, but also their favourite drinks. They remembered 3 or 4 of my favourite drinks and asked me which of these I wanted to have each time. On one occasion when I was about to go to Bali on holiday, I happened to mention it to Hansel in passing. 10 days later he asked me how my trip to Bali was. I was amazed that in the midst of hundreds of customes, he remembered that I had made a trip to Bali. This is on-the-ground CRM! Low-tech CRM it may be, but it works! If only every brand remembered so much about every consumer!
And the Starbucks culture ensures that other baristas show a similar attitude. After Hansel and Johari moved to other outlets, I still kept on going to the one at Concourse, because others fulfilled their roles equally well. It remained the place that excited me whenever I wanted an early morning cuppa or a break in the afternoon. Many times I considered going to the small drinks stall across the road, but it was just not exciting enough.
Then, something terrible happened. We shifted office to Scotts Road! One of the first things I found out was if there was a Starbucks nearby. And no, there wasn’t! I thought a lot about what I was going to do. There were mom-and-pop coffeeshops nearby, but they were not Starbucks. And astonishingly, I went a whole month without a Starbucks coffee!
I was naturally cribbing about it. A friend in the office who noticed it said that there’s a Starbucks next to Orchard MRT, which was quite far from my office. It’s not walkable unless we have half an hour to spare, and that acted as a deterrent. But one morning, that same friend bought me a tall nonfat latte (my favourite drink) from the Orchard MRT Starbucks! Having my first Starbucks in a month was orgasmic! For a few seconds I considered marrying this friend of mine (disclaimer: exaggeration).
I had the taste of it again. I was not going to wait another month for my next Starbucks. Since then, once every week I get down at Orchard MRT instead of my usual Newton MRT, get my tall nonfat latte at the Orchard MRT Starbucks, and then take a bus to my office. Sometimes even at 10am or 11am in the office, I feel like a Starbucks and make a bus journey to get one. Soon I realized, I’m not the only one in the office who’s doing it! Sometimes a group of us make the same half-hour trip for a Starbucks. That’s the bonding we have with Starbucks.
It’s often said that a truly successful brand is something you would drive a whole night for. In my case, it’s a brand I would make a half-hour journey for, once a week!