Sensory Branding and Starbucks


Starbucks has been under pressure to increase store revenue and profits, and, once again, they are turning to sensory branding for the solution. The most startling change is that the firm will go back to grinding coffee in its stores for the sole purpose of improving the coffee aroma. Presumably, it’s cheaper to ship the coffee pre-ground in sealed packages, but Starbucks management apparently feels that any productivity loss at the stores will be offset by improved customer loyalty and higher sales.

Starbucks earlier dumped its egg breakfast sandwiches because the egg smell conflicted with the expected and desirable coffee smell. (See Starbucks Admits Sensory Mistake.)

Taste: Another key element of Starbucks plan is to replace manual espresso makers with the Mastrena, an automated machine that will ensure product quality and consistency:

‘It’s not just a piece of equipment,’ Schultz said of machine made by Thermoplan, the same Swiss company that makes Starbucks’ current machines. ‘It’s an unbelievable tool that will provide us with the highest-quality, consistent shot of espresso that will be second to none.’

As McDonalds first demonstrated, product consistency may trump quality and creativity for keeping customers coming back. Despite the appeal of the barista manually cranking out espresso shots, the new machine should reduce product variations. (Perhaps this will give the baristas more time to grind the beans…)

Smiles. Leaving the sensory side of things, we note that the new machine is actually seven inches shorter than the current manual machines, which enables more interaction between barista and customer. As I reported in Smiles Really DO Boost Sales, test subjects who were exposed to a subliminal smiley face were willing to pay about twice as much for a drink than those who saw an angry face. Those extra barista smiles may end up being a lot more important to Starbucks than minor variations in espresso flavor.

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