What Business Owners Can Learn from the Starbucks #Fail

By March 30, 2015Advertising, Branding, Business

The epic fail! Starbucks’ #RaceTogether campaign, in which baristas in over 12,000 locations wrote the hash tag on customer cups, proved to be a major flop.

The Intention: To spread awareness for racial equality, good sentiment, and ultimately align Starbucks with a positive cause.

The Actual Result: Customer backlash, anger, and a big blow to public sentiment for the Starbucks brand.

Where They Went Wrong.

Starbucks is a place you go for a premium beverage experience. They charge a premium price and primarily serve a specific market segment in well-to-do city/suburban settings. You know what you’re getting before you walk in.

So when customers came in Monday morning last week for their coffee, they weren’t expecting an in your face socio-economic call-to-arms. Their initial reaction was “What the…?” It didn’t seem authentic because it wasn’t coming from the right place. Strike 1.

The idea was doomed from the start, but the real rage came from the execution.

The campaign was launched with a series of posts to the Starbucks Instagram account with hands holding cups. All of the hands were white. Strike 2. The apparent irony reverberated through social media, but was spurred even more when the Starbuck Sr. VP of Global Communications deactivated his Twitter account after receiving numerous complaints and call-outs.

The head of communications refusing to communicate? Big mistake. Strike 3.

What Your Business Can Learn.

As of last Friday, Starbucks decided to stop writing the hashtag on customer cups, ultimately putting the kibosh on their campaign.

There’s three main takeaways from the Starbucks #Fail that all businesses can use to their benefit.

1. The Importance of Being Earnest
The Starbucks #Fail is due in large part because people feel cheated. Here is a huge company, with locations across the world and billions of dollars, trying to give customers a reality check on current issues. They are replacing something fun and friendly—their name or message writing on cups—with a serious message.

While it may have been with good intention, the message was coming from the wrong place. Thus it was deemed inauthentic.

2. The Importance of Branding.
If you don’t know just how important your brand is to your business, you need to do some serious homework.

Starbucks failed on a big scale first and foremost because it did not remain true to its brand. It’s a household name, and people walk in ready for the signature Starbucks experience: a laidback, hip atmosphere that’s very welcoming. But the campaign turned that positive feeling on its head when, almost out of nowhere, it broke rapport and forced customers to focus on a major societal issue.

When it comes to your branding, consistency is the key. Branding is meant to help manage expectations, not blindside customers. If your known for taking on big issues and thrive in that space, then go for it. But if a new campaign seems a bit off-topic and unaligned, it may be best to rethink things.

3. The Importance of Being Social
This whole ordeal could have been slowed down dramatically if they had paid more attention to their social media strategy. White hands in a picture meant to show racial equality? Deactivating your Twitter account when customers are actively seeking answers? Terrible decisions made, most likely due to a lack of commitment to social media.

Businesses taking part in social media must commit to it, no matter how good or bad it gets. When angry customers start posting, don’t dig your head in the sand. Address the situation, and have a plan of action in advance if at all possible.

Be strategic by thinking through campaigns for the ROI you hope to achieve.

The More You Learn.

We can all learn from this mishap. Yet putting this insight into action is the only way to truly make your business better because of it. Stay authentic and true to your brand identity. Brand your business properly. And make sure you have the correct social media strategy and public relations strategy in place. You’ll be glad you did.