5 Reasons Why Starbucks is so Persuasive

What better place to write this post than sitting in Starbucks on a beautiful spring day. The smooth jazz is playing as the barista and others hustle behind the counter helping a diverse group of people who pop in and out for their daily fix. Of course, there’s also the smell of roasted coffee beans in the air. All the senses are engaged when you visit a Starbucks.

Coffee has gone from the Maxwell House and Folgers morning drink to something we enjoy 24 hours a day. That shift is due in large part to Starbucks. It’s amazing when you think about it because you don’t see Starbucks commercials on television and you don’t hear them on the radio. You won’t see them on billboards or magazines either. So how does a company do what Starbucks has done with no advertising? Here are my thoughts on why Starbucks is so persuasive.

Reason #1 – They create an experience when you walk into a store. Reread my opening paragraph and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no mistaking it; you know when you’re in a Starbucks. Oh sure, you can get good coffee at Panera, Cup ‘O Joe, McDonalds (or so they say) and other places but none of them feels cool like Starbucks. It’s enjoyable to sit and take it all in as you enjoy your favorite caffeinated drink. This differentiation is the principle of scarcity at work. You can’t get this feeling anywhere else.Not only is the service great inside, it’s excellent at the drive-through as my friend and LinkedIn guru Bob McIntosh points out his post Want Great Customer Service, Go to Starbucks.

Reason #2 – The baristas and others who work here really seem to enjoy their jobs and I don’t think it’s because they’re hyped up on caffeine. I’m not familiar with Starbucks’ hiring process but the company knows what it wants in an employee and does a great job hiring the right people. That’s a huge part of the Starbucks brand. When you walk in you’re greeted by multiple people asking how your day is going. They engage you in a way that makes you like them and as we all know, people like to do business with people they like. That’s the principle of liking and it makes you want to come back again and again.

Reason #3 – Something that stands out about Starbucks is how easily recognizable its cups are. It’s amazing how many times you see them when you’re out and about. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the airport, at the mall, out for a walk in the park or anyplace else. That’s Starbucks’ advertising – me, you and everyone else walking around with a Starbucks in hand! The more we see people with their Starbucks, the more it signals to us that it’s a great product. The principle of consensus tells us people look to others to get a sense of what’s appropriate behavior. Which would you assume is the better restaurant, the one with lots of empty tables or the one with a wait? Most people would assume the latter and so it is with Starbucks.

Reason #4 – Have you tried the Starbucks app? I think it’s one of the best apps available for your smart phone. You can put in your favorite drink so when you visit you hold the app up to the scanner and the barista knows exactly what you want. It has a store locator, which is great if you travel a lot like I do. You even get free songs from iTunes almost weekly, which is cool because it exposes me to music I probably wouldn’t go look for, or want to buy. This giving engages the principle of reciprocity, making us more likely to return the favor, so to speak, by purchasing coffee.

Reason #5 – But the smartest move Starbucks made with their app is the ability to load it with cash so you can pay by phone. It works just like having a gift card except you don’t need the gift card because you pay with the phone. The brilliance is once you’ve loaded the app you don’t feel like you’re actually spending money when you buy your coffee! After all, if I have $25 or $50 on my app I’ll go out of my way to use it versus perhaps stopping by some other coffee shop where I have to “pay.”

And think about this; it’s much easier for consumers to make a few, larger purchases by reloading the app occasionally as opposed to constantly pulling $5 or $10 out to pay each time you stop by a store. In other words, Starbucks has removed the pain of paying.

Is Starbucks for everyone? Of course not, but there’s no denying the company is an incredible success and that’s not by accident. Starbucks is very intentional in its attempts to persuade us to get our fix at one of its local establishments and I’d say it’s doing an amazing job.

Brian, CMCT®
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

2 replies
  1. Tali Berzins
    Tali Berzins says:

    Thanks for the post. I finally fixed my Starbucks app and found that I had $9.25 still on it. Being one of the first major retailers to embrace cell phone apps doesn’t just happen; it has to come from fostering a culture of innovation, as well as attention to detail. While most large companies will preach innovation, very few successfully innovate, because they don’t have to do. If that were the case then start ups, that drive a big percentage innovation, would never get off the ground.

    Starbucks is anomaly, a huge corporation that still innovates. I would also say their timing has been right for this era. We are a society constantly on the run, immersed in technology, but at the same time we are human. Since humans are social animals, we still prefer social relationships. Starbucks, by being crowded and friendly allows us to “socialize”.

    In large part they have replaced the local dinner or coffee house, not everywhere, you can still find them in the big cities and small towns, but in suburbia they have. Their success can also be tied to the virtual office place. Not so long ago Starbucks was the perfect place for business networking or even a meeting; however the last few years they are too crowded so I personally try and go to some of the quitter places for that, especially if it is a meeting with someone I don’t know well.

    None-the-less a remarkable company, although unless they start selling beers and wings they will not be my “preferred” destination. The coffee culture is just not for everyone.

  2. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    Something I didn't mention but it certainly impressive is how Starbucks came back from a decline in the mid 2000s. I read Onward by Howard Schultz (owner) and was surprised at the difficult fincial position they were in (closed many stores). To their credit they kept innovating and now appear to be as strong as ever.


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