Episode 5


What does it mean to be a brand?

One of the most critical barriers to success is understanding what a brand is and what a brand is NOT. I get this question all the time. Let me tell you what a brand is NOT: A brand is NOT a name, logo, tag-line, package design or the product itself. I call these elements: Window-dressing your brand. A brand is simply an EMOTIONAL IDENTITY that differentiates products, services and people.

As a former marketing executive at global multi-billion dollar consumer products companies like Nabisco, Kraft Foods, Cadbury and Godiva, I successfully crafted emotional identities for some of the world’s most iconic brands. Over the course of 25 years, a frequent challenge I faced was communicating the role a brand played in consumer’s lives…in other words its Core Value. To solve this problem, I developed a process to label that brand’s Core Value using just ‘One Word’. This helps consumers understand what they are actually buying.

During this series, I will select a brand I worked on or studied and share it’s ‘One Word’ Core Value, as well as share valuable topics in the branding arena that will help you Stand-Out Conquer Obstacles and Reach Excellence…in other words, SCORE.

So let’s turn to today’s brand clip… Starbucks.

Show Notes (click to expand)

Let me start by sharing my FAVORITE drink – A Solo Venti Non-Fat w/Whip White Mocha…yes that’s a lot of words…but trust me, it’s yum-oooooo…it’s my drink and nothing feels as good as holding that hot cardboard cup in my hand…with the logo for everyone to see.


In fact, I’m not alone. When I speak on stages across the country, I do an interactive exercise with my audiences, where I show the Starbucks logo and then ask for the 1st word that comes to mind. The majority shout out COFFEE…in unison too…it’s really cool.


I expect them to say COFFEE because most people, when they think of the brands they love, think of the category label that each product, service or person falls into…NOT THE CORE VALUE they each give to the world.

Then there’s always someone in the audience who yells out “EXPENSIVE — $6+ for a cup of coffee is a bit much”. Of course I then ask that person to stand up (the look on their face is priceless) and we continue the conversation. I ask them what they do when they’re at a Starbucks. They share how they spend hours there doing school work or meeting friends to catch up…pre-coronavirus of course. 

When I ask why they do this at a Starbucks…vs. a McDonalds, the answers are very telling:

The leather chairs are very comfortable.
I love that the Barista knows my name after writing it on the cup – in fact, sometimes my friends give fake names so we can hear them yell it out.
The FREE WIFI helps….especially as a college student.
The aroma of the coffee keeps me awake.
The acoustic music is very soothing.
It’s nice to escape to a place that feels like home when catching up with friends

These statements are the key to understanding the power behind the core value this brand offers. I help audiences see that people are not actually paying $6+ for the coffee…they are actually paying for the opportunity to be a part of the Starbucks COMMUNITY….you’re paying for a place to come to and relax – a la the comfortable chairs, soothing music, nice aroma…and free WIFI too etc. 

Starbucks is INTENTIONALLY creating a cafe experience that’s designed to put COMMUNITY first….centered around the coffee culture. In fact, Howard Schultz clearly states that….STARBUCKS IS IN THE PEOPLE BUSINESS SERVING COFFEE….not the other way around. Think about it…if Starbucks was in the coffee business, then there would be no need for cafes….they could just sell their coffee in supermarkets and call it a day. 

If there’s one thing I know for sure, it’s this:

Your product is NOT your brand.
Your brand is your Core Value…AND
You use your product as the vehicle to drive your Core Value.
Starbucks uses coffee to drive their Core Value of COMMUNITY.

The next time you think about STARBUCKS, remember:

COMMUNITY is how Starbucks SCORES.

I’m Rich Keller, The CATALYST and see you next time on The CATALYST Effect!

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