Tall, Grande, Venti: Success in Starbucks Coffee Culture and Branding

Starbucks Coffee Company is more than a frequently recognized brand. When a Starbucks customer hears the company’s name, he or she can instantly recall a standard type of beverage, store design, and even a specific musical vibe. This is due to the use of branding and the expansion of coffee culture at Starbucks.

Though Starbucks is frequently criticized for standardizing and defining the café experience in America, a Starbucks customer can theoretically order his or her favorite beverage in any Starbucks and receive the same beverage, customer service standards, and café experience.

Howard Schultz, Chairman and CEO of Starbucks Coffee Company, refers to this as the third place environment. Schultz promotes Starbucks as a place for customers to go besides home and work. When customers feel the impact of the third place, they tend to frequent Starbucks because it is familiar to them and certain expectations can be consistently met.

Starbucks is associated with high quality and matching prices, but the high price of Starbucks beans is downplayed more frequently with time among customers who profess to taste the difference in quality. Any Starbucks barista can also provide customers with a list of reasons to justify the prices of the beans.

Much of the justification for the price of Starbucks products is linked to business ethic. As a company, Starbucks puts profitability behind fairness and equality amongst coffee growers, employees, and customers. Starbucks set the standard for fair trade coffee sales, refusing to exploit coffee growers in third world countries simply to turn a profit. Instead, as part of Starbucks’ mission, the company reinvests some profits into healthcare for coffee growers abroad and baristas who work in the stores, ensuring top conditions for the company’s producers.

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Customers feel that this value is passed along to them in each latte, frappuccino, or cup of coffee. This is proven by the fact that Starbucks is growing as a company exponentially and that traveling Starbucks customers, when recognizing the logo, brand, and culture of the store, take delight in stopping by at a new location.

The community care and third place mentality can be applied to any business. The subtitle of CEO Schultz’s book is How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. Despite these great ideas and branding methods, Schultz simply introduced a new idea and let it grow. Like most small businesses, he didn’t start out with a large budget, but rather with a business model-and his was particularly successful.

The original Starbucks concept hit a ripe market at the right time. Consumers preferred Italian-style espresso based beverages and the café environment offered by Starbucks, but beyond that, the company started with basic goals and solid ethics. This transformed into a recognizable logo, standard cups (along with sizes) and cardboard drink sleeves. Because the idea was unique and the coffee culture was accepted, the décor, drink size names, color schemes, and Siren logo were all accepted as well.

Starbucks is now one of the most easily recognized brands in the country, and rapid domestic and international expansion show no intention of curbing the brand recognition or the third place idea.


Schultz, Howard. Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. New York: Hyperion, 1997