Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Here’s the Hype—Not So “Venti Big”

“We’re doing something big at Starbucks. Like Venti big. We can’t tell you what’s going to happen because that will ruin the surprise. Come to any Starbucks on April 8, at noon sharp, to celebrate something big.”

Ok, I admit it. When I got this e-mail, I was instantly drawn into the hype. And I shared it with friends.

On Monday, April 7, my colleagues Samantha Murphy and Barbara Hagan, and I debated what the “big” announcement would be. “Maybe they will announce that they will offer free wireless,” I suggested.

“Nah, they would tell you to bring a laptop or wireless device. I think they are introducing their self-service coffee machines,” predicted Samantha. (We had just posted this very story on our Web site that morning.)
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” I added.

As we each made our way to three separate Starbucks locations on the appointed day at noon, we learned the big news—the company introduced a new daily brew. This new brew, called Pike Place Roast was named after the first Starbucks store that opened in 1971. It was located in Pike Place, Seattle (home of the famed Pike Place Market).

Truth be told, the entire experience was really a let down—big time. While visiting the Starbucks on Park Avenue in Rockville Centre, N.Y., I was one of four customers on line at noon. The gal in front of me ordered a latte, and only then did the barista ask if she would like to try a “Short cup” (8 oz.) of the new brew for free. She said, “Sure.” Then it hit the barrista to ask the rest of us if we wanted to try one too. Hey, that’s why I was there, right?

After paying for my Grande non-fat, iced cafe mocha (yes, I made a purchase), I also got my Pike Place Roast, as well as a “loyalty card” entitling me and a friend to a free Tall Pike Place every Wednesday from now until May 28.

Sam’s experience had even less customer service. Visiting the East 57th Street location in New York City, “I was surprised by how little fan-fare there was,” she told me.

They too were giving out free samples, although she had to ask about the promotion. Worse, they had her stand off to the side with about five others, all waiting for someone to bring them their Short cup of Joe. After seven minutes—yes, seven—she was served. She received no loyalty promotion.

And poor Barbara, who visited the location on 56th Street and Lexington Avenue, New York City, had the worst experience. There was no signage or indication of a “big announcement.” Being the only one in the store, she was too embarrassed to ask about the promotion and left.

On a high note, the blend was pretty good. It was similar in taste to espresso, which I am partial to. Yet, I still question the effectiveness of this promotion. The e-mail did its job. It caught my attention and brought us all into the stores.

However, with little to no signage or cross-selling efforts, how effective could the overall promotion have possibly been? I have no idea how Starbucks will measure the effectiveness of this campaign, and I would love to know how many customers will become fans of the new roast.

While we may never learn the true results of the promotion, the experience did teach us all one big lesson—don’t believe the hype.

Deena M. Amato-McCoy

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