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July 24, 2009

Are Popular Coffee Houses Going Stealth?

In this post: Megan explores the branding tactics of a popular coffee giant …

Megan WuskeCoffee. I love coffee.

Wow, just saying the word gives me a little jolt of energy.

Of course, I have visited Starbucks a time or two in search of a strong cup of coffee or a foamy latte. I’ve noticed during my last few visits to my nearest Starbucks that they have had some subtle changes.

Now, I’ve always thought branding was an interesting topic and I’ve found that it isn’t uncommon for a company to decide to strategize and re-develop their brand. Re-focusing a company’s efforts can revitalize their image among other great things.

At first, I thought the changes that Starbucks all over the nation were making were a good idea. I loved that they “raised the bar” on their food by taking out all of the artificial ingredients and that they’ve joined the (product)RED initiative to help fight AIDS. But, the most recent changes that Starbucks have been doing is what really caught my attention.

It was reported that they opened a store, 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea, in Seattle, Wash., without their company’s logo, and that they plan to open more coffee houses with the same concept. Starbucks is referring to these coffee shops as “community cafes,” but many others are coining them with the term “secret Starbucks.”

Now, in my opinion, this goes against all branding rules. If you wanted to build you brand, wouldn’t you include your logo wherever necessary or possible? Also, why would you want your customers to think that you’re going undercover, or that you’re trying to trick them into thinking that they’re visiting a coffee house that really isn’t what it appears to be?

I feel like it’s quite deceiving.

Perhaps this is the result of a tough economy and the competition Starbucks is getting from McDonald’s affordable McCafes or Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee craze. I think that Starbucks may be getting a little intimidated from the new competition, and they realize that they need to try something new and exciting. None the less, I don’t think disguising their brand is a good approach to accomplish this feat.

Do I think this will this stop me from going to Starbucks? No, absolutely not. I guess it’s just something interesting to think about …