Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh cruel Starbucks! Why do you mock me so?

I read an article in INC magazine online today about Starbucks, authored by one of my favorite bloggers Joel Spolsky and was inspired to write an entry wherein I do my usual thing; offering free advice to those who did not ask for it and certainly won't take it.

Many people already know what is wrong with Starbucks, what I am going to do is identify 3 ways to fix it.

1) Well Designed Kiosk Systems - I've been harping on this one forever! Some people say that Kiosks would impact the illusory atmosphere of a little coffee house escape that Starbucks has so carefully crafted, and I'm not sure that they are wrong. What I sure of however, is that the daunting rush hour lines crush that illusion in a way no well-designed kiosk could ever deign to. Picture walking into a Starbucks (even during rush-hour) and passing a little fob (which knows who you are, what your favorite drink is and your preferred form of payment - including credit card, just like amazon) over the kiosk. The kiosk presents your typical order (which is transmitted to the barista), along with an upsell pitch (offering a free biscotti if you buy a travel mug) in a way that does not require you to take ANY extra steps at all (much like a banner ad on a web site) if you chose not to touch it (of course the kiosks are touch screens) and also presents you with any other recent orders you have made (like when you came in with your insanely hot girlfriend and ordered her favorite drink too). You touch your choice, the order is submitted to the barista, your card is charged, you read the paper until a barista calls out: "Herman! Your grande non-fat ice latte is ready!". At which point you enjoy your drink.

Get it?
  1. Walk in
  2. Flash an RFID embedded fob
  3. One touch for a typical order
  4. Read the paper / check email on your phone / chat up your girlfriend
  5. Drink your expensive coffee beverage
You can't tell me that is not a remarkable experience.... well you could, but I would think you were lying, joking or not too bright.

2) iBucks iPhone App - Picture an app on your iphone that knew all the starbucks locations, your calendar and your location too(if you allowed it to). You could:
  1. tell it to have your favorite drink ready in 5 min for when you walk in (of course the charge is handled in the same way as it is described above)
  2. have it offer you text-alerts 20 -30 min before certain meetings with discounts on your favorite drinks
  3. invite your other iBucks enabled pals to join you
3) Solve the actual problem at the root - Create a position and hire a "Chief Experience Officer" whose job it was to continually infuse and reinvigorate every location, every system and every employee with the essence of the Starbucks brand promise - A truly great coffee drinking experience.

Oh yeah, almost forgot... If Starbucks already has a CXO. Fire him/her and hire a new one who will actually do their job well.

Starbucks rush-hour experience - Garbage

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

American Brandstand

Brands are strange enigmatic beasts that are omnipresent in our daily lives in more ways than most people think. Most people who live in a commercial society are familiar with organization-based brands. Some people are also highly tuned to individual brands of well-known personalities. I sometimes refer to certain aspects of my life or personality being “on brand” or being harmonious with “brand Fish”.

Just as many people are aware of brands, both organizational and personal, many people and organizations are unaware with how to care for and enable a brand. It’s actually a lot more simple than many people think, but the problem is that simple does not mean easy or pain free – simple means lacking complexity.

How I care for and engender my personal brand are grounded in my upbringing. Growing up, there were things my parents taught me by explanation and then there were things they took for granted that I would absorb from their example and the culture around me. The value of standing for something fell into the latter category.

The reason why it has fallen into the "took for granted" category is sort of interesting - it emerges out of my Jewish heritage. Being raised as a Jew on Long Island meant I grew up hearing Holocaust this, Anne Frank that, Elie Wiesel the other! One of the key parts of these stories and lessons was that amidst all the horrendous tragedy that befell the Jews and many other minorities, there were some things to be learned – in the forms of perseverance, courage and the respect for life. Some of the greatest bravery displayed was by people who had the courage to do what was right by hiding Jews from the Nazis while risking the well being and safety of themselves and their families.

As I grew up, finished school, and got a job that I turned into a career, the stories gave me a sense of honor and continuously affected my everyday work and life choices.

When I became a father, however, things changed subtly. My engrossing responsibility to someone other than myself took the highest priority in my life and for some time I was conflicted on how to think about this in the context of my upbringing. After some thought I figured it out - it was not that my principles had become luxuries, my principles had remained the same, I just now had new "input" into the decision-making process. My questions then became, "How do I apply my principles to this new situation?" and "Where does 'protecting' them become forsaking my values and heritage?" The answer for me became that if, in the act of protection, I cease to be a figure they can admire and trust, then that "protection" is not something that actually serves their best interests. I believe that my children are best served by seeing me behave in a manner that is consistently honest and forthright – regardless of context.

Reader – “Whoa! Is this crazy dude ever going to get around to talking about company brands or what?”
Blogger – “Patience please.”

Being a person of deeply ingrained principles, tradition and devotion, I have stood fast on many "small battles" that seemed to hold precedent and consequence within them. Over time, I have refined this approach by improving my ability to actually see looming precedent in balance with long term interests and goals.

These sorts of decisions where short and long term interests seem to be at odds are the same sorts of conundrums that face many companies and organizations every day. The difference between sustained greatness and short term success is in part tied to the fortitude of the organization's members, the clarity of purpose and the ability to see the decision points as they actually are.

My point is this - companies who are willing to compromise who they are at the most core level are NOT protecting shareholder value as some of the decision-makers proclaim. In many cases they are actually compromising the value proposition that the organization holds to the public and ultimately short-changing the both the shareholders and the community at large of the long term promise of the organization (i.e., THE BRAND!).

Blogger – “Comically enough, this matches up with all the data and data-oriented conclusions of the phenomenal business books Good to Great and Built to Last by Jim Collins.”

Many people think a brand is a logo. It is not. There are some more-educated people who think a brand is a promise (what an organization says it stands for) - they are half right. There are still some other educated people who believe that a brand is an emotional context held by the customers, employees and partners who are served by the organization when thinking about the organization (what people believe an organization stands for – see The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier) - they are half right as well.

Blogger – “Almost there!.”

It is my belief that the brand is a two-sided coin - the promise and its reflection, the perception. In order for an organization to be of sustained value to others, it has to define its promise clearly and live up to it every day so that the beholders of the promise can see it for both for what it is and what it aspires to be. In this manner, individuals can have relationships with the organization on something other than price - because to many individuals TRUTH HOLDS VALUE!!!

Blogger – “Wait for it…

Just like truth holds value in how my kids look at me.

Blogger – “Wow! I wasn't sure if I was actually gonna get there!!!! Thanks for sticking it out.”

Standing for something - Like it.
Purporting to stand for something - Garbage.