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Starbucks Company’s Branding: Cultural Phenomenon


Branding is a very important tool for the marketing purposes of any business. In entails a lot more than just giving a product a name. For instance, Starbucks branding is a long-term strategy of relational advertising and it helps in creating relationships between the companies manufacturing the product, the customers and their stakeholders. The impact of branding and advertising affects people as individuals and cultures as these activities knows no boundaries, as evidenced by the global recognition of Starbucks. This is because in terms of creativity, branding and dynamic advertising, these are turbulent and ever-changing issues that faces the company and at times in causes a change to the market. This paper focuses on consumer tribes branding as a cultural phenomenon of the Starbucks as it’s impacting on the way consumers.

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Why Brand?

Branding the various products from a company is a smart strategy of avoiding competition on the level of the cost and volume alone; it takes the product to a whole new level (Adamson, 2006, p. 78). Branding enhances a product’s value and separates it from other similar products, hence giving it a recognition that is beyond the normal functional attributes. Branding creates the feeling of customer preferences among related products and creates competition where the brands can capitalise to create competitive advantage (Thompson & Arsel, 2004, p. 635).

Starbucks has grown to become one of the most appreciated brands in the world because of its unique brand. Starbucks is an American company that deal in ‘coffee beans’ and serves prepared coffer in a number of forms. However, the company has diversified its products to more than just coffee. Due to this, Starbuck can boast of being a cultural icon that is purported to be selling coffee, but a keen look at the company’s business strategy, one realizes that coffee is just a stalking horse that is backed with advertising of a cultural phenomenon. Jung and Merlin (2002, p. 1,) has contended that what the company is selling is not coffee, but an experience. This is what is known as the “Starbuck experience” and this has been drawn into the minds of customers that they all associate with Starbucks in what the managers call “club mentality”.

Customers expect to be delighted and surprised by the service of Starbucks Corporation and it’s that kind of feeling that gets them to pay $3 for coffer worth 50 cents. The cost of prepared coffee-based products as Starbucks is extremely higher that coffer prepared at home but these products are still very popular (Jung, & Merlin 2002, p. 3). Starbucks marketers believe that commodity products as well as other established consumer products all need branding because they are part of consumers’ lifestyle and are also most consumed daily (Adamson, 2006, p. 78). When branding is not adequate, consumers will lack information like the quality, value and other attributes of the consumer products. Branding also offers a form of security for survival.

Cultural Phenomenon


Marketers have realised that incorporating cultural aspects like identity in their brands adds tremendous value to their products as the consumers attach beliefs and meanings to the product. It’s in the light of such beliefs that brand tribes emerged and these consist of groups of people with same interests or objectives for using a certain brand (Cova, et al 2007, 89). They define their own meaning of the brand and not as intended by the manufacturer. This means they deconstruct the brand and create their own interpretation and attach a symbolic use. Since its inception in 1971, Starbucks has grown to become a giant corporation dealing in coffer products across the world and has since attained the name of a cultural icon. This brand has developed a coffee house culture of the western world.

Consumption of coffee developed as a social event and it’s this social intercourse that has defined the Starbucks marketing strategy using coffee house culture as a tool. Coffee houses developed to be social places and of greater importance than coffee itself, hence the coffee servers realised that they could sell the experience at a higher cost (Jung, & Merlin 2002, p. 3). Starbucks has however managed to keep coffee as an important product beside the coffee house social experience and as such people has come to like being associated with Starbucks products.

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People of a certain class tend to use Starbucks products and as such Starbucks brand is a way of identifying with a certain social class (Thompson & Arsel, 2004, p. 635). This is the reason why rich, prominent people and celebrities like Starbucks brand and they get the experience at a cost because the company charges premium prices. This type of subculture identity simply means that Starbucks is no longer marketing a mere product but rather a lifestyle – a culture that clients identify with (Cova, et al 2007, 89).

Subculture is a phenomenon that emerged from the sociology concepts and that were mainly connected to social identity of people. One of notable subcultures is coffee driving at Starbucks. Whereas much of the driving force of the subculture is a shared interest among the individuals, consumers basically converge because of the interest in the brand culture (Schouten & McAlexander, 1995, p. 45). Starbucks have been ken on the changing trends of its customer consumption behaviour and as a result, it adapted to mass customisation to meet diverse consumer needs as opposed to mass production of one product and this way, the marketing strategy has made a lot of sense because culture is a very elemental aspect of marketing (Thompson & Arsel, 2004, p. 639).

Consumption is a decision that is made willingly and it allows consumers to choose what they want to purchase based on their personal preferences, personality and their desired appearance among other factors (Schouten & McAlexander, 1995, p. 45). It’s an obvious fact that a person can buy what she/he wants as long as they can afford it and therefore consumer identity is naturally created via consumption trend. Even though the need to consume is compelled, the consumer choice of a brand is entirely a free choice where individual use to forge identities.

Consumption has a new idea of display in consumer brands. There is an increasing display of logos on clothes, vehicles and food stuffs. For example Starbucks products is a product that celebrities and the rich cherish to be seen using (Klein, 2000, 67). This has depicted modern market as selling or buying the ‘experience’ rather than the product. Consumer choices are symbolic of their attributes and associations and these are largely driven by image display.

Cool and Authentic

One of the important means of identification and distinguishing behaviour in culture factor is by emphasizing authenticity and this has in fact been described as the true trademark of cool behaviour (Cova et al, 2007, p. 134). Authenticity is in a matter of fact a strong ideology discourse that maligns popular culture and it benefits the exclusive in several ways like sports or food. Music has been a very crucial factor for debate as influencing people the wrong way. Authenticity is value judgement that defines the lines of identification.

Starbucks dominance in the market is result of people tending to stick to what they believe is modern life (Holt, 2004, p. 299). The modern world today also defines customer behaviour and development of mass culture where they subculture is said to have real heritage. Authenticity is just a style that is communicated through brands, but despite the extent to which it’s contrived, styled or developed, it crucial for understanding consumer tribes. For Starbucks, selling coffee experience has been styled since the 1970s and today it has attained the definition of being cool when one uses Starbucks products.

Branding is now being used for expression of cool especially when one is communicating authentic self image and self identity. The contemporary consumer culture that is growing across the world is extensively dominated by consumer’s portrayal of their identity by what they consume – their perceived self image (Harvey, 2005, p. 101). The reputation that a brand builds on the markets because of the different factors that different companies have functions as the mediator between that individual and the public view (Arvidsson, 2005, p. 125). Consumers now tend to associate themselves with certain brand and by doing so they are able to depict a certain desired image or expose what they think their personality implies.

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Defining Cool

Being ‘cool’ is not something that a person can acquire but it’s something that other feel or appreciate in an individual. This aspect has not been captures well, but in its elemental understanding cool involves that feeling of originality, self confidence and identity – Factors that have to be attained easily by branding. Cool is not bothering what other people think or say about you and it’s therefore a feeling of free-will and self-confidence in an dispassionate way (Cova et al, 2007, p, 134). Basically, the mass media present social and economical inequalities among consumers as depicted in the way they advertise the brands. Cultural aspects of branding highlight the nature of ideology, power and identity helps to construct values that are taken for granted by consumers (Arvidsson, 2005, p. 123).

Comodification of Cool

Cool is now considered as the increased awareness of commodities and consuming them. Cool is an elusive term but basically it can be defined as an attitude and a cultural capital where people identify themselves by consuming certain products (Cova et al 2007, 135). The cool ideology has grown to dominate the world of marketing and has impacted on the world market because if information technology and globalisation. Globalization of culture is a major concept in branding and consumption.

This phenomenon is inseparable from, and possibly propelled by increased web of multinational corporations that have become predominant in the manufacture and supply of products through the associated sports, cultural and consumer product firms (Lash & Celia, 2007, p. 146). This is why the worldwide expansion of Starbucks brand is not only an economic phenomenon on besides being a cultural phenomenon one (Arvidsson, 2006, 78). The outcome is then increase in obesity and technological crimes in the developing world. With increased global networks for business, a demand for a certain product half a world away can cause serious transformative impact on the local and regional economies, systems cultures and social processes.

Consumer tribes

The concept of tribes is causing changes in the marketplace and its causing marketer a great deal of problems as regarding imagination and creativity. Cova et al has addressed how people needs are directing changes in marketing strategies of big companies like Starbucks. The advent of internet marketing has directed the increase of market to the global level since the society has embraced this new technology and its penetrating the marketplace at a very fast rate.

Consumers have unconsciously developed social groups that have a common spending trend. Consumer tribes are groups that are slackly attached, essentially unsteady and held together basically by emotions and obsession and collectively, the members of these groups engage in consumption of the Starbucks brand. This type of social culture change is causing a big influence over the way consumer tribes and businesses relate. When products are advertised, the customers use the information they obtain to assess, filter, reject and eliminate their doubts so that they get impressed with the product eventually.

Naomi Klein has argued that a big brand name like Starbucks is successful because of globalisation and the nature of these brands has cause inequality in the society (Klein, 2000, 69). Homogenization of culture is greatly affecting identity because of the cultures that are considered powerful like western culture (Klein, 2000, 72). Starbucks has effectively utilized the globalization phenomenon to its advantage. As the worlds culture continues to be homogenised into single culture, Starbucks continues to develop products that meet the needs of customers across the world. Geographical barriers are no longer barriers to the Starbucks marketing strategy because the information technology has provided media for advertising that traverse these geographical boundaries (Jung, & Merlin 2002, p. 7).

Amazingly, Starbucks products are uniting nations in global market because of interdependence phenomenon. These achievements have also been met with great opposition some claiming that Starbucks is not engaged in fair competition and question their ideology of marketing (Thompson & Arsel, 2004, p. 640). However, in their defence, Starbucks management constantly reiterate that the western world is leading in globalization and their lifestyle and ideology just trickle along with their products, they never impose on people these things.

Tribal marketing is now an art of gaining competitive advantage as companies struggle to meet the needs of the consumer tribes. Consumer tribes are now like ‘sheep-walkers’ and therefore the members of these tribes are very obedient to their passion and social trend. All they need is to have someone lead them and they would follow. This is what is called the leading tribes phenomenon. There are some observations that are quite unique to social communities and consumer tribes.

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In order to win the customers, Starbucks are doing a great job in marketing their products and they have perfected their services beginning from the display and presentation of the outlets. The setting of the Starbucks outlets plays a big role in it’s their marketing strategy as their joints are so clean and lovely. The lighting is dimmed in to create an ambience to inspire conversation between people. The products at Starbucks are increasingly becoming diverse (Skoggard, 1996, p. 63). Starbucks is an important brand in the social world and across major cities in the US and Europe one can always spot a Starbucks store and for their clients, a mere sight appeals to them to go in.

Having coffee while socializing is a notable consumer trend that is clearly being influenced by globalisation where the whole diverse world is converted into a single culture (Lash & Celia, 2007, p. 146). The goal is to achieve an ostentatious image. This global culture emerged from the western countries in American specifically and its concept is to use branding as a way of self expression (Holt, 2004, p. 299).

Because of its impact across the world, Starbucks now serves more than coffee because of the varying needs of its clients worldwide. There are a range of products in Starbucks stores including juices to snacks like sandwiches to music and even tea (Skoggard, 1996, p. 65). These products are found in all outlets be it in Japan, India, China, England, Brazil or in the Middle East. Furthermore, there are more hotels that are increasingly signing to serve Starbucks beverages like the Hyatt hotels. Each year, new outlets are opening around the world in place like Israel, Austria etc. It’s very difficult when talking about Starbucks not to mention its global present since the brand is selling in a number of countries.

Another view of consumer tribes in marketing is that apart from being leaders of a brand’s consumption, tribes use brands to communicate this on this platform. Starbucks should concentrate on value creation and the perceived value of using the brand. The Starbucks experience is a value that helps to build emotions. Starbucks has been able to achieve facilitating conversations and this is a way of marketing. Creating a platform or value is a strategy of marketing and brand communities become loyal users of the brand. The marketing strategy of Starbucks has been largely facilitation of the use of the product and set rules for their clients so that they win their confidence (Cova, et al 2007, 21).

One description of consumer tribes is their craving for attention and the consumer tribes that cherish Starbucks products form a leading role in purchasing their products. The modern consumers are interested in expressing themselves and rating themselves based on the value of products they consume. Starbucks as a brand that has gained recognition beyond the United States of America attributes most of its success to the increased development of media for advertising and globalisation. It’s through these media that the company has been able to advertise and market its products across the world. The need of developing self identity with certain cultures has impacted critically on the trend of consumption of Starbucks. The brand provides a means of defining people’s sense of belonging and the success story of Starbucks is evidence of the consumer tribe’s phenomenon (Cova, et al 2007, 21).

It’s quite evident from the process of transformational modern marketing strategies of Starbucks depict some things that are unique to it. One is that the brand is dominant is social aspects like meetings for groups of people and so on. The brand is also pragmatic and the marketing basically focuses on utility more that about coffee products.

Over the recent past, marketers considered consumers as individuals and the decision to buy as personal choice determined by unique needs and not as group impact. Nonetheless, a critically new perspective has emerged and the individualistic view is now being overlooked and marketing focuses on reality on the market rather looking at purchase decision as a social event. It’s natural that, the little groups that people identify with like the association with Starbucks that are rudimentary to experience of marketing (Cova, et al 2007, 21). The success of Starbucks and its famous culture are not as a result of individual consumption but rather, consumer tribes are important social relationships in business.

Since branding is intangible attribute of a product, it gains its worth from the perception of the consumer regarding what the brand represents (Skoggard, 1996, p. 63). According to Arvirdsson, the brand value is the value of predictable future cost produced by that brand. The ability of a brand to sell is the most significant element that is intimately associated with the relationship that the brand forms with consumers (Arvidsson, 2006, 78).

Holt argues that when a company uses global supply chains to distribute its products it’s likely to generate greater profits and beat completion and its bran value will increase (Holt, 2004, p. 293). As a consequence of shifts in the market mechanism, multination’s compete to become the strongest brand and they aggressively invest in branding to exploit the social perception of consumers, (Klein, 2000, 67). The shift offers a bigger market that can be exploited for more profits by homogenising culture across the world. Starbucks has impressively managed to develop products that meet different needs of consumers across the world and thus people from different culture can all related to these brands

Beginning with the mission statement, Starbucks is set to satisfy its customers. The mission statements states that the company is committed to enthusiastically satisfy all its clients all the time and positively develop the community and protect the environment (Jung, & Merlin 2002, p. 7). This definitely inspires employees positively and it’s also a great way of keeping the customers coming back (Skoggard, 1996, p. 66). Regardless of the economic turbulence that the world has experienced, Starbucks still offers an experience that keeps customers loyal even though this may not be very obvious to the investors because some stores have been closed.

To ensure customer service commitment, Starbucks has at least 20 workers per store with good salaries. It’s quite obvious that winning customer loyalty has to begin with employee satisfaction. It’s very hard to win customer loyalty when employees are suffering as this can be easily noticed (Jung, & Merlin 2002, p. 9). Loyalty as identified earlier is a matter of trust and not gimmicks in marketing and this can only be earned by hard works. Customers cannot be loyal to companies that overcharge them or that they do not feel value for their money, companies that treat other with disrespect and misrepresented good have negative influence. When employees are not treated well, they cannot be good ambassadors of the company and this is communicated to customers easily (Thompson & Arsel, 2004, p. 640).

The importance of excellent customer service is that it causes impact to a great range of customers with the observation range. And if many customers are impressed, many more will get the news and will come for the same experience. As a merit, brand equity can enable a company to charge more on its brand as compared to similar products because consumers associated certain intrinsic benefit to it (Schouten & McAlexander, 1995, p. 47). This is why Starbucks can charge premium prices for its products and still remain in the market. In the international marketplace for instance, a beverage of Starbucks coffee can cost double more than its official price just because it is being sold in an international or a five star hotel.

Yet people will still purchase the product without complaining because it elevates their status quo and they feel satisfied. It has been indicated that a strong brand with high equity will attract a big amount of committed customers, as it will create a stable and continuous bridge between the brand and its customer, and it can shape customers’ beliefs to define the brand (Aaker, 1991, p. 108). The eastern world’s perception of brand and value is considered to be highly affected by the globalization trend and western culture (Tomba, 2009, p. 46). As a result, the products from western worlds like the Starbucks products are considered superior and a show of being elite (Tomba, 2009, p. 46).


The Starbucks culture has greatly impacted on the american society and recently, it has resulted in ripples across the world. However, this is not the case because Starbucks is one of the many coffer brand names in the world but rather in the way customer service is done at Starbucks. Strabucks was perhaps the haddest business marketing strategy one could think of because looking across the world giant companies, one can name many companies doing business in other products but besides Starbucks it is hard to think of any large coffee shop. Starbucks evidently built a new lifestyle for peopel becsause as indicstd they do not just sell coffee products but a social experience as well and the experince is contagiosu and addictive. Infact, the customer segmentation of Starbucks show that peoepl of all ages stop at these shops to buy.

The increasing importance of branding of products in the modern world and consciousness of consumer culture is a cultural phenomenon that is dominantly concentrated around personality expression and self identity. Globalization on the other hand is playing a very defining role in building of brand image and self identity because it has increased accessibility to products and global culture. People therefore use these cultures to identify themselves or create their own image. Self expression has evolved based on the way the globalization phenomenon has brought down different cultures into one global culture. Many aspects of life have been homogenised so that there is existence of one unique culture.

Reference List

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Arvidsson, A. 2006. Brands: Meaning and Value in Media Culture, Routledge, London.

Cova, B., Kozinets, R., & Shankar, A. 2007. Consumer Tribes, Elsevier, London.

Harvey D. 2005. A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Holt, D. 2004. How Brands Become Icons – The Principles Of Cultural Branding. Harvard Business School Press, Boston.

Jung, KL, & Merlin, M. 2002. Lifestyle Branding: As More Companies Embrace It, Consumers Opposition Grows, Journal of Integrated Communications, Issue 1, Pp. 1-11.

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Schouten, J & McAlexander, JH. 1995. Subcultures Of Consumption: An Ethnography of the New Bikers,” Journal of Consumer Research, 43 – 61.

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Thompson, C.J & Arsel, Z. 2004. The Starbuck Brandscape and Consumer’s (Anti-corporate) Experiences of Globalization, the Journal of Consumer Research Vol. 31, No. 3, Pp. 631-642.

Tomba, M. 2009. Historical Temporalities of Capital: An Anti-Historicist Perspective, Historical Materialism, 17, 44-65.

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