How Starbucks Changed the Brand Game to Dominate the Coffee Market

For over 3,000 years, dating all the way back to the ancient Greeks, virtually every business has competed in the same way: through “branding.” They leverage extensive advertising and promotion to establish and differentiate their brand from competitors. Numerous business professionals believe that branding is the only and optimal strategy for competing.

That is not true. Branding is neither the only nor the optimal strategy for competitiveness. Amazon, Apple, and Tesla, as well as emerging players like Peloton, Halo Top, and Seedlip, all have a secret formula for success. These and other “Transcender” companies do not play the traditional brand game that every other company does; they invent their own, rise above their competitors, and force them to play by their rules.

Starbucks is the poster child for this strategy. Starbucks became the world’s largest coffee chain not through branding, but through game-changing innovation. By adopting the same strategy — which I’ll share with you here, by demonstrating exactly what Starbucks did and why it was so successful — your company can establish itself as the dominant force in your industry.

Starbucks attempted to win its first 16 years by playing the brand game. Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl, and Gordon Bowker co-founded Starbucks in 1971 in Seattle’s historic Pike Place Market. The founders sought to distinguish the brand through the use of premium roasted coffee beans and brews. However, the coffee chain was losing. It was growing at a rate of one store per year.

Howard Shultz purchased the company in 1987 and immediately rebranded it as “The Third Place” between home and work in America. The goal was to become a destination where people would stop and linger on their way to work or on their way home from Starbucks—every single day.

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