Wednesday, 12 December 2012


There's been something in the air over the last few weeks urging us to have a go at some of the biggest global brands. Stories about tax dodging, revelations about use of forced labour, Facebook postings about where NOT to do your Christmas shopping and a general disillusionment with the big boys.  The Havas CEO, David Jones, terms this "The age of damage" - these days, the people can rise against a corporation or authority that is not seen to be behaving responsibly via social media instantly and knock anything from 10-15% off your share price in a day.

The main victim in the UK seems to be Starbucks. I expect that there has been resentment against Starbucks brewing for a while and the recent tax revelations have brought it all to the fore. Starbucks is unlucky, in a way, as I suspect the brand has now become a symbol for the people to direct all their anti-global feeling towards.

It's got to the stage where Starbucks have had to release an Open Letter, where they admit that they have  "found making a profit in the UK to be difficult" and "not performed to our expectations."

But hang on. If I'd emerged from a ten year Rip Van Winkle-like sleep, I wouldn't believe how the mighty have fallen. Ten years ago, Starbucks was up there as the poster-boy of branding, along with Nike and Apple. I even have a book, published in 2002, by Scott Bedbury, called "A new brand world - 8 Principles for Achieving Brand Leadership in the 21st Century". The gold standard example is Starbucks.

In the introduction, Scott Bedbury states "Given the near collapse of public trust in large institutions - from major corporations like Enron and Worldcom to organisations like the Catholic Church - there has never been a more important time to establish and strengthen brand trust." Plus ca change, it seems.

The books lays out 8 principles for brand-building, including "everything matters" and "big doesn't have to be bad". It's all good stuff, still valid today.

But the principle that got to me most was the final one: "Relevance, simplicity, and humanity - not technology - will distinguish brands in the future."

It's a shame that Bedbury's successors at Starbucks don't seem to have practised what he preached.

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