New brew for Starbucks and trademark?

Starbucks Amended Drawing green dotI’ve written so much, for so long, about the branding and trademark adventures — overwhelmingly unhappy ones — of Starbucks that I’ve pretty much run out of ways of starting blog posts such as this one.  (See what I did there?  — Ed.)  Maybe that (not my blogging, but the facts on the, er, ground) is why, according to Steve Baird, Starbucks is trying to roll out something new and exciting on that score:

We’ll soon see whether coffee truly goes hand in hand with closers, at least in one famous brand owner’s quest for registration of a non-verbal, non-traditional color trademark at the USPTO. I’ve been noticing Starbucks focus on green straws lately, with the door signage shown below, offering a pretty creative use of “look-for advertising” without using those clunky words:

Starbucks Green StrawSo, my search of filings at the USPTO was expected to find at least one supporting a claim of ownership to it, but what I found instead is a brewing battle over the green dot on a white cup . . .

Read the post.  As Steve explains, it’s, well — no big surprise — not going great for the great-coffee-markup people.

Given Starbuck’s track record with its trademarks and its recent demonstratively tin ear with respect to marketing initiatives, you’d think I’d say Starbucks’ initial disappointment (which hardly means anything at this stage, of course) on this initiative is unsurprising.  But, really, how fair is this?  Starbucks is actually a brilliant marketing success at its core, building a multi-billion-dollar empire on really expensive variations of pretty good coffee sold in paper cups in cafes where the only people who can sit down are the first 20 customers and their laptops.

In other words, Starbucks is all about brand:

Starbucks positions their products based on quality and image rather than price. Starbucks created the coffee shop revolution, and they have had the ability to be the public educator on espresso coffee. According to magazine article found on Starbucks.com, the company’s brand is a member of the coming century’s top twenty-five brands (2). It is critical that Starbucks position their brand for what the brand stands for: an innovative industry leader that produces high quality products. Brand image . . . is a goal that all the future functional strategies will work to attain.

Starbucks must differentiate their products based firstly on image and secondly on the product itself. Considering that international markets such as Italy are renowned for high quality coffees, it will be difficult for Starbucks to differentiate their products on quality alone. Combined with its research and development emphasis on product development and being the first mover into a market, Starbucks should differentiate its new products based on their unique features and brand image.

Starbucks must position its brand as an experience. The Starbucks’ experience is what will entice new customers to visit their locations and create customer loyalty. First impressions will be vital in ensuring repeat customers.

If this analysis is correct, what Starbucks has to do, and keep doing, is finding ways to get more and more first impressions as what I assume is its core market — young professionals first habituating themselves to the disposal of income –comes of age.

That can’t mean, in a time when “generations” are measured by decades or less, not just copying your older sibling’s, much less your parents’, cup-of-joe-and-all-day-wifi experience.  So I give Starbucks credit for fighting the good fight, which it has to do to keep customers away from the office Keurig and standing, waiting for a seat in the ubiquitous Starbucks on the corner.

Ron Coleman

I write this blog.