Starbucks EMEA marketing boss on deepening engagement with the brand

Starbucks’ product-led marketing has been delivering growth in same-store sales for the past 18 quarters. To sustain the momentum, the company is harnessing the power of user-generated content to humanise the brand and connect with customers at a personal level, says EMEA marketing boss Ian Cranna.

The new “Meet me as Starbucks” campaign signals a different marketing approach for Starbucks, which has traditionally peddled lattes and frappuccinos in its ads. Now the retailer is brewing up a different message, one that centers on the millions of people who gather at its stores everyday and the stories they have to tell.

“We noticed that our customers were already arranging to meet up at our stores everyday on social media”, says Cranna. The ‘Meet me at Starbucks’ campaign was born out of that insight and the ability it gave us to talk about those moments of human connection at a global scale.

“It’s not about product marketing being replaced [by brand-led activations] but rather creating a deeper level of engagement from the moments of connection between our customers around the world.”

The campaign’s ambition is reflected in its scope, taking fans from Tokyo to Prague and from New York to Paris in what Starbucks plans to turn into a mass crowdsourcing platform. Fans are encouraged to share stories of getting together at the retailer on Instagram with the #HowWeMet hashtag. While details are still being finalised, the coffee chain is planning future activations on Twitter and Tumblr in the coming months.  

Starbucks has flirted with brand-led marketing in the past but pulled back, opting to channel early investments into the US.

“Customer experience and the emotion for the Starbucks brand have always been key to our positioning. The [latest] campaign has enabled us to get those messages across on a global scale and that’s a huge opportunity”, says Cranna.

Whether it’s meeting up with friends or marriage proposals, all the moments will be expressed through user-generated content. The focus aims to ensure consistency with the brand’s founding principle of its stores being the “third place” alongside work and home where people can socialise.

Cranna adds: “[The campaign], is an ongoing piece of work for us. While we’ll continue to talk to customers about our products, we want to celebrate and share more of those everyday moments happening at our stores around the world. Customers are incredibly emotional about the way they talk to us about the experiences they have. We’ve not had the scale to be able to recognise and celebrate those moments at scale [in the past].

The fact that customers are sharing the stories, which are so similar to one another, validates the strategy, says Cranna. “People’s brains are wired to be social and even though the technological era is fast developing, getting together face-to-face is an important aspect for daily life. Human connection is driving human happiness and those experiences are entwined in the Starbucks brand.

The coffee giant is pursuing a major push out of its home US market, and international regions are becoming an increasingly key part of its plans for long-term growth. It dovetails with expansions of the brand’s core range beyond coffee to include tea, food and alcohol.