Starbucks Admits Sensory Mistake

Starbucks understands sensory branding, and in particular olfactory marketing. The wonderful aroma of a good coffee shop is a great selling and branding tool – this is particularly important since research shows that the majority of the experience of drinking espresso comes from the coffee shop experience itself. Now, Starbucks has announced that they will quit serving breakfast. Why? Because the smell of heating egg and cheese sandwiches interferes with the coffee aroma.

This is a fairly amazing reason to drop what was supposed to have been a major growth product line, and shows that some companies really DO understand sensory marketing and branding.

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Roger Dooley writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research to make advertising, marketing, and products better. He is the primary author at Neuromarketing, and founder of Dooley Direct LLC, a marketing consultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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5 responses to "Starbucks Admits Sensory Mistake" — Your Turn

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steve baker 1. February 2008 at 3:40 pm

It wasn’t just that the smell of ham and cheese interfered. The oil they used for those sandwiches reeked. Smelled to me like burning plastic. I couldn’t believe that a company so tied to the “experience” wouldn’t have gotten damning feedback on this the very first week, or even during trials.

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
2. February 2008 at 2:49 pm

I agree, Steve, one would expect them to have spotted the problem earlier. Perhaps their test locations had better ventilation. Indeed, it seems like the problem could have been addressed with some strategic exhaust fans that dumped the offending aromas some distance away.

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Diane Christopher 3. February 2008 at 7:27 pm

Roger,
Thank you for your great blog. I visit regularly and really appreciate all that you share.
Regarding Starbucks, could this just be another in a series of marketing blunders? Consider the rapid growth strategy that seems driven more by ego than demand; and the soylent green beverage rollout (because people like the color); and then the unfortunate dilution of the brands prestige and experiential focus by installing kiosks in just about every big box grocery store out there. Could Starbucks be on its way to being compared in furure marketing textbooks to Krispy Kreme and Boston Chicken rather than Singapore Airlines and Nike. What say you?

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Roger Dooley
Twitter: rogerdooley
4. February 2008 at 7:47 am

Thanks, Diane. I think Starbucks has used sensory marketing very well, but they are victims of their own success. To produce high growth rates for investors, they have to keep opening new stores. This has certainly led to saturation in some areas. Other growth-oriented changes, like drive-through windows and breakfast sandwiches, have further diluted the in-store experience. Plus, their success in selling expensive coffee beverages has attracted a host of competition.

I think their back-to-basics strategy may help, but investors are going to have to adjust their expectations. I do think they are fundamentally better than a company like Boston Chicken whose growth was fueled by accounting games – Starbucks has built a powerful brand and had many profitable years. Now, they need to ensure the brand stays strong and determine what level of growth is sustainable.

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Eamon 5. February 2008 at 10:18 am

Over here in the UK, breakfast is a big deal (lots of people still have cooked breakfasts, even). And the same can be said for other Northern European countries. I wonder if the same applies to northern countries with colder climates (where a good breakfast is very important)?

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