Starbucks Made Me a Marketer

In Defence of Marketing

Why I am what I am, and I do what I do

I don't believe in marketing

I was walking down the street one day, when suddenly I found myself grabbed from behind. I'd seen the green van slow down in my peripheral vision and pull up beside me, but how could I have known? As the bag, steeped in the aroma of used coffee grounds, was pulled over my head and I was dragged, flailing, kicking, my muffled screams an ineffectual plea for help, I knew it was too late. Starbucks had me.

Ok, a sprinkling of artistic licence. It obviously wasn't like that at all. But if somebody had told me I would be working as a marketer ten years ago, I would've laughed in their face.  I would have told them that they would have had to drag me kicking and screaming to the Marketing brainwashing centre.  I had no idea that a coffee shop and my drinking habits would be instrumental in causing a shift in my perception and consequently in my career plans. 

Ten years ago I would have cursed the very word marketing and spat at sales.  I would have laughed in the face of the feeble attempt at marketers and advertisers vying to get my attention as I ignored their expensive TV ads, making tea between programmes, delighted in assigning their email to spam, blocked their texts and calls, crushed their mail shots under my heel and filed them under bin. Marketers were advertisers.  They were just there, always in the background, irritating, itchy, like a mosquito that never leaves the room. 

So! What really happened…?

Uni happened. My class and I were sitting in a marketing workshop at my university discussing which brands people had affinities to. Me in my smug, on the verge of stubborn, disloyalty to all branding would've dug my heals in and denied any such leanings if put on the spot, but our lecturer, either purposefully or not, approached from a different angle, asking if there were any brands we used often and chose over others.

When I said Starbucks, he asked why? My defining moment. My epiphany. The question stumped me. It was a few years ago, but I'm fairly certain I remember stumbling over my words. I wasn't sure. I wasn't loyal to a brand, not me. Pah! I could go to any coffee shop I wanted. Yes, I could! You can't throw a stone in Norwich in any direction without hitting a café or coffee shop. I had a multiferous choice of coffee shops to visit.

 But I didn't. I went to Starbucks. Almost. Every. Time. At no point had I consciously wondered, why?

Coffee Induced Epiphany

I was both shocked and appalled at myself. How had I become a sheep to a corporate coffee giant?

It niggled at me. I may have just so happened to have visited a few, small, independent coffee shops in the weeks following that workshop in an attempt to prove my brand disloyalty.

From that moment, and in the introspection that followed, I saw things with fresh, new eyes. I watched how their in-store operations worked. I compared how their customer service differed to other coffee shops and cafés. I watched how the people who worked there were different. I dissected how every part of their customer experience came together to provide, whatever it was that made me go there at the expense of their competitors.

Why did I keep going back to Starbucks?

They didn't interrupt me. They didn't hassle me with offers that turn out to be too good to be true. They were just there, conveniently, where I was. They provided all of the things that I was looking for, just when I had needed them. They provided a relatively quiet, comfy place for me to study. There was wifi and somewhere to re-charge my battery as well as myself.

They were happy and friendly and made me feel valued when I visited the store.  And even when I didn't, I would  occasionally bump into staff around the city and we would stop to chat. They made sure I got what I wanted quickly, and made sure I was noticed, even if there were lots of people ahead of me in the queue. They sent me free coffee on my birthday. If there was anything wrong, they put it right. I could relax and spend as much time there as I wanted, no time limits, no pressure.

So now, instead of defiantly standing against marketing, I am triumphantly sounding a battle cry for remarkable marketing.  Because remarkable marketers aren't here to interrupt, cold call and annoy. A marketer who really knows their stuff knows it's not about the hunt or pushing for the sale, it's about every seductive moment leading up to it.

It's empathy.  It's about the stories you tell, it's the way you make people feel when they interact with your business, it's the great relationship you build over time, it's caring and giving people value, providing the solutions to their problems and making their lives better for it. It's having the right product, at the right time for the right people. When your potential customer decides it's the right time to buy, they don't need to be persuaded by your sales team, they already know what they want and trust your business to be the one to provide it.

Some might say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. But a remarkable marketer knows it's the look, the smell, where the recipe originated, what it's made of and how warm it makes you feel when you remember the person who first made it for you. I'm hungry now. I should have picked a less tasty metaphor.

Ten years ago, to make me a marketer, would've seemed like an impossibility. Today, I can't imagine being anything else.


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