The Image of Coffee

You walk into a coffee shop where you order your usual Cappuccino. You see the variety of different drinks along with the unusual size options: tall, grande, and venti. You pay, and the last thing you do before you enjoy your beverage is tell the person taking your order a name to write on your cup. So, where’d you go? I can bet that 9 times out of 10, the answer would be correctly replied as Starbucks.

For the past three years, I’ve been asked what public relations practitioners really do. Although my answers have ranged from in-depth to vague, I feel that my personal example of Starbucks wraps it up pretty well.

I first heard about Starbucks in middle school by a teacher who expressed his own opinions about their coffee. He said that the coffee was, in fact, mediocre, but the single reason why it has gained its fame was because of the image Starbucks sold attached to their personalized (however incorrectly spelled) cups of coffee.

You can’t help but compare this image to Dunkin’ Donuts, which America apparently runs on because DD sells just about the same exact menu: coffee, sweetened pastries, and breakfast options. It’s clear, though, that they’re different. Why? Besides the obvious physical differences of style and taste, the main difference that portrays the proper effects of public relations is the “Starbucks people”, the employees. Starbucks, well-known for their excellence in employee training, uses the people they hire to embody the specific image of a caffeine experience that would “inspire and nurture the human spirit (Starbucks Coffee Company, 2012).”

For example, Vania, a good friend of mine, shared a story of how she went to Starbucks for their seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte and realized that she had forgotten her wallet. In cases like these, the usual process goes along the lines of a cancelled order and a slightly embarrassed customer. Instead, the Starbucks employee continued the order, and asked that Vania would (please) just come back the next day to pay for her order. In the usual emotion-less world of business, this particular instance of trust isn’t common. In fact, I daresay it doesn’t exist. Vania went back the next day to happily pay for that Pumpkin Spice Latte alongside that day’s choice of a Starbucks beverage.

If public relations can be simply described as “the management of credibility (Stacks) ”, Starbucks shows that people—and the interaction between people of an organization to the people of the public—can be the basis of trust, and consequently, the success of a business.

Works Cited:

Stacks, Don W. Primer of Public Relations Research. New York: Guilford, 2011. Print.


4 thoughts on “The Image of Coffee

  1. This is a very interesting concept! Even though both brands sell coffee, they do not seem like competitors. Thanks to it’s PR team, Starbucks has the “cool factor,” which is why consumers want to purchase their coffee from them. Dunkin Donuts (which happens to be my coffee place of choice) just falls flat in feelings of exclusivity. Since, “America Runs on Dunkin” mostly everyone could be found sipping on an ice coffee from a DD cup. Yet, if a man is sipping on a cup from Starbucks he can be seen in a new light. Also, selecting employees that enhance the consumers experience is always positive. After letting her pay for her coffee the following day, I’m sure your friend Vania will be a loyal costumer for years to come.

  2. You bring up an interesting point. Coffee isn’t that fantastic of a beverage, but thanks to the image each brand identifies with, the American public views coffee as a standard component of life. I also enjoyed reading about a occurrence I so often encounter: the personalized Starbucks cups. Not a week goes by that I don’t see a Facebook mobile upload or Twitter picture of a funny misspelling of someone’s name on his or her Starbucks cup. An aspect of Starbucks’ positive image I had never thought about was the skillfulness of the staff, making each trip quick and efficient. Your anecdote about the friendly cashier trusting your friend to pay her the next day doesn’t surprise me, as I have never had a negative experience at the coffee shop where I was not immediately accommodated.

  3. I hadn’t really taken notice to the difference in employee relations between Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks. Dunkin really does have a more “fast-food restaurant” vibe when it comes to their employees. Get in, get out, sell coffee. Starbucks is an all-around more relaxed environment. I can take my laptop or a book to Starbucks and relax for a couple hours. The idea of doing that at Dunkin Donuts never occurred to me. I think the Starbucks employees make that difference- they make you feel like you’re welcome at Starbucks.

    Really great post!

  4. Pingback: CSR… For real? | hellodee

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