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The Patagonia Way to Customer Loyalty


Patagonia is a revered brand not only for its products, but also for its purpose-driven environmental ways. The brand has cultivated a deeply loyal following. Craig Wilson spent eight years at Patagonia in various upper-level marketing roles and shares his perspective on the Patagonia loyalty model in the just-published book, The Compass and the Nail.

While the author outlines a fancy (but utterly confusing) diagram on how to forge customer loyalty the Patagonia way, the best advice he shares is this:

Share your beliefs. Demonstrate how they integrate into your product, design, and presentation. Communicate what inspires your particular esthetic. Those that believe what you believe will become part of your tribe.

Patagonia’s beliefs are rooted in the love for the outdoors. For over 30 years, Patagonia has run its business with a strong point of view about protecting and preserving the environment. The company knows that pollution is a by-product of how the business does business even when it makes conscious choices to reduce its impact on the environment.

The company has gone so far in its environmental mission by encouraging its customers NOT to buy new clothing but instead, to reconsider their purchase and/or repair their current Patagonia products.

By voicing its strong point of view, Patagonia is able to attract like-minded customers that aren’t tied to functional marketing triggers of price, promotion, or distribution. Instead, Patagonia endears itself to customers through emotional triggers. Michael Crooke, former Patagonia CEO explains…

Customers become advocates of brands because they develop an emotional connection with their core purpose. Brands that elicit advocacy provide a value beyond just product quality and experience. This connection is something that deserves analysis, as it is the foundation of true loyalty.

Creating loyal customers should be the goal of any business.

Unfortunately, according to Craig Wilson:

The term ‘loyalty’ and its associated meaning has been dumbed down to effectively mean giving your customers something, or paying them in some way, to stick around and keep buying from you. It’s disconcerting. Rarely is the word loyalty used to refer to a relationship, and more rarely is the word loyalty used to describe advocates.

The Patagonia way to foster customer loyalty that leads to brand advocacy is based upon doing business “from a place of trust and inspiration.” When customers trust your business stands for something far greater than making money, then a loyal tribe of believers will be emotionally inspired to support your business.

This is what Patagonia has been doing for the past 30 years. It’s what your business should be doing for the next 30 years.

The Stuttering Presenter


It’s funny. I stutter but I make a living speaking at conferences. A stutterer isn’t supposed to get up in front of people and talk. Yet, that’s what I do.

One of the most rewarding experiences I have is when someone from the audience comes up to me afterwards and tells me their story about overcoming stuttering or their story about how they still struggle with stuttering. It’s always a tearful moment for me when a parent shares that their son or daughter stutters and that I have given them hope of a more fluent life for their child.

Hope is what people who stutter and parents of stutterers need because all too often people affected by stuttering feel hopeless. This feeling of hopelessness comes in the form of shame and guilt. The stutterer feels shame because she gets laughed at, rejected, deserted, and riddled with unworthiness. And parents of stutterers experience guilt by thinking they somehow caused it or perpetuated it. It’s a vicious and traumatic cycle that leaves deep, emotional scars for everyone.

TP_175TURNING POINTS, a just-published book, shares 15 life-changing stories of courage and perseverance from people deeply affected by the shame and guilt of stuttering. (My story is included in this short anthology.) Collectively, our voices give hope to people who think stuttering will forever compromise their life.

If you know anyone affected by stuttering, please let them know about the book and share this excerpt.

So how can I, as a person who stutters, make a living as a keynote speaker?

The TURNING POINTS excerpt shares my story of how I faced a do or die situation in my early twenties that forced me to make a major decision. The result of that decision ultimately led to me becoming a public speaker.

For too many years, stuttering stifled my voice and stunted my growth. It wasn’t until I reached a very low point in my life that I decided stuttering wasn’t going to manage me. Instead, I was going to manage my stuttering. Meaning, I wasn’t going to allow the shame and guilt of stuttering to silence my voice. I was going to use every tool I had learned to minimize my disfluency and actively seek opportunities to speak, even if I stuttered. It was simple. For me to stop stuttering, I had to start talking.

Over the years my wicked good stutter has become less wicked good. I still stutter. A lot. Every day is an exercise in failure whenever I open my mouth to speak. However, on stage giving presentations, my stutter is greatly minimized.

A few years ago I gave some advice for how I, as a stutterer, approach giving presentations. This advice can help people who stutter and people who are reluctant to give speeches.

5 Tips for More Fluent Presentations

1. Advertise your stutter.
Stutterers know that stuttering happens as a result of trying not to stutter. We focus so much of our mental and physical energy to not stutter that it only heightens our anxiety when speaking. And that results in stuttering. I’ve found it very helpful to mention my stutter at the start of every presentation I give. Not only does it disarm the audience, it also allows me, the stutterer, the freedom to stutter without shame.

2. You are in control.
Out in the wild of impromptu conversations, there are many unexpected pitfalls that can prompt stuttering. Delivering a presentation on-stage is most times a planned conversation. You, the stutterer, are in complete control. You have the microphone. You have the floor. Being in control of the speaking situation can free us stutterers from the fear of the unknown. The unknown can cause us stutterers to not feel comfortable and thus, stutter more often.

3. The audience wants you to succeed.
Stutterers need to remember when giving a presentation on-stage, the audience isn’t there to heckle you or laugh at you. The audience wants you to succeed. The graciousness of the audience is something too many presenters forget exists.

4. The audience will pay more attention to you.
The audience recognizes the importance of your presentation. A stutterer must have something important to say; otherwise, they wouldn’t be on stage risking so much. The audience understands this and I’ve found people pay more attention to my message solely because I stutter.

5. It’s less what you say and more how you say it.
Too many times stutterers focus on sticking word for word to the presentation script they’ve written. That’s a recipe for failure. If you, the stutterer, get off track from the script, it can prompt even more stuttering because you scramble to get back on script. That scrambling can increase anxiety, resulting in more stuttering. Instead, I’ve found success by focusing more on commanding a confident stage presence and less on the words I use. When I keep eye contact with the audience, display good posture, make purposeful hand movements, etc.) I experience greater fluency on stage.

Those are a few ways I approach giving more fluent presentations despite my disfluency. If you have other tips, please leave them in the comments section.

And again, if you know a person who stutters or a parent of a child who stutters, please share the following TURNING POINTS excerpt with them. Thanks.

EXCERPT of Turning Points: Inspiring Stories of Personal Change from the National Stuttering Association by Mona Maali

Being Good by Doing Good

b the change 600Conscious Capitalism is a relatively new concept of doing business by leading with empathy, not authority. Sadly, too many businesses are led by fear and stress where bosses lead with fear and inflict stress on employees to get stuff done. Businesses that practice Conscious Capitalism are run with love and care (not fear and stress.)

Another way to view Conscious Capitalism is to think of it as Servant Leadership meets Mindfulness meets Environmentalism. It’s about doing business under the golden rule of treating your stakeholders (customers, employees, investors, communities, suppliers, and environment) like you’d want to be treated. It’s about using business to be a force for good in the world.

Raj Sisodia, a Babson marketing professor, has been tracking this business trend for the past 20 years. His studies reveal companies that follow Conscious Capitalism vastly outperform the market, citing a 1025% return over the past 10 years, compared to only 122% for companies listed in the S&P 500.

Whole Foods Market and The Container Store have been the torchbearers for the Conscious Capitalism movement and it is starting to truly gain momentum. Patagonia, New Belgium Brewery, Etsy, Ben & Jerry’s and Which Wich are a few other companies actively following Conscious Capitalism business practices.

However, despite reading a lot about Conscious Capitalism and spending a good part of my working career at companies that instinctively follow this approach, I’ve not been able to learn how businesses know they are “doing good by being good.”

Earlier thus year I attended the 2015 Conscious Capitalism Conference and learned exactly how a business knows they are doing good by being good. They become a certified B Corporation.

In order to become a certified B Corporation, a business must operate under certain standards of accountability and transparency with employees, vendors, local community and global community.

For example, as it relates to employees, a B Corporation business should offer lower-level workers the same benefits given to executives. The business should also be structured to openly share basic financial information with all employees and help cover costs for professional development of workers.

A certified B Corporation should also have a process in place to select vendors and suppliers up and down the supply chain that are committed to practicing “doing good by being good” business values.

Locally, a B Corporation should have an established partnership with a community charity and be committed to banking with either an independent bank or a credit union.

With regards to the global community, a B Corporation business should conduct an annual environmental audit of energy, water and waste efficiency and publicly share the results of the environmental audit.

Think your business is game to measuring its consciousness? If so, start by taking this short assessment tool (reg. req’d). It will take you less than 20-minutes to complete but the results of the quick audit will help you to understand if your business is on the path to “doing good by being good.”


Keep Your Marketing Authentic

It was almost a decade ago when I wrote my love story about Starbucks. That book, TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE, shared lessons on the business of branding, delivering memorable customers experiences and creating a workplace you’d like to work in.

I’ve started to revisit my Starbucks love story, chapter-by-chapter, in a series of posts on LinkedIn. My hope with this posting series is to inspire more businesses to base their future growth on the endearing and enduring principles the Starbucks business was built upon.

Today’s post is on keeping your marketing authentic. Enjoy…


Marketing messages surround us no matter where we are and what we do. It’s like we are trapped inside a singles bar all day, every day, having to endure pick-up line after pick-up line from a never-ending stream of advertisements hoping to score a one night brand-stand with us.

Starbucks marketers work under the premise that marketing has become the enemy. They believe that consumers today are savvy enough to sniff out anything that smells the least bit insincere and contrived. Marketing authenticity is the antidote to the world being perceived as a gigantic advertisement.

Starbucks marketers use a six-point unwritten code to ensure the marketing programs they create and implement are authentic, that they’re staying on message and on brand, and that they tell the story of what makes the product they are promoting Starbucks-worthy. Ideally, every marketing program created and implemented at Starbucks adheres to the following six points:

#1 | Be Genuine and Authentic

Nothing is more genuine and authentic than brewed coffee. Starbucks believes its marketing messages should be as genuine and authentic as the coffee it brews.

Starbucks has spent a great amount of effort getting to know its customers and what its customers want and expect from the company. This shows in the genuineness of one of their recent co-promotions. In the spring of 2006 Starbuck teamed with theNew York Times to offer a contest in which customers would purchase a copy of the Sunday paper at a Starbucks store, complete the Sunday crossword within the special Starbucks insert, and phone in the answer after compiling clues over a month-long period. It makes sense that Starbucks would choose to do this over, say, a puzzle contest based on Sudoku or some other super-trendy game. Doing the crossword puzzle over a cup of coffee in Starbucks is just one of the authentic rewarding everyday moments many customers enjoy. This promotion stays genuine by highlighting what many people already come to Starbucks for, and deepening their interaction with the store. Instead of going the trendy route, Starbucks stayed true to its customers.

And by staying true to its customers, Starbucks keeps its marketing authentic.

#2 | Evoke Feelings, Never Prescribe Feelings

Pedantic is not in a Starbucks marketer’s vocabulary, so preachy platitudes do not come across in the marketing messages they create. For these marketers, the words and imagery must work together to convey a sense of place, comfort, or mystique.

In fact, far from promoting its own agenda, Starbucks has gone out of its way to foster discussion and discourse in its stores. The now classic “The Way I See It” campaign, in which notable artists, activists, educators, and athletes are quoted on Starbucks cups is a prime example of how Starbucks attempts to foster discussion in its stores.

Launched in 2005, the quotes in the “The Way I See It” campaign helped to stir reflection, debate, and in some instances, controversy. The aim was to spark conversation in the old-fashioned coffeehouse tradition, which Starbucks has always embraced, and evoking the ideal of a place where ideas are shared. The campaign evolved to add quotes from Starbucks customers, that further enhanced the concept while at the same time getting loyal Starbucks fans involved in the conversation.

(The tradition of Starbucks fostering discussion and discourses continues to this day with the poorly executed and short-lived #RaceTogether campaign.)

#3 | Always Say Who You Are, Never Who You Are Not

When a business says who they are not in marketing materials, they are actually saying more about their competition than they are about themselves. You’ll never see Starbucks referring to its competitors in any of its promotional materials. The company doesn’t want to bring any attention to the competition. So while Starbucks will tout the high qualities of its newest Frappuccino® blended beverage, for example, it won’t advertise why its cold, creamy coffee drink is better than what’s being offered by other coffeehouses. While you will see Starbucks mentioning that it sources, roasts, and sells Fair Trade Certified™ coffees, it purposely chooses not to compare its Fair Trade coffees with other coffee retailers who sell similar Fair Trade coffees. By doing this, the company keeps the attention where it wants it: on itself.

#4 | Stay Connected to Front-Line Employees

Starbucks believes if an employee doesn’t respect or feel connected to a marketing program, then customers will not either. After all, Starbucks relies on its front-line employees to communicate its marketing messages to customers. And if front-line employees cannot connect with the marketing program, they will not make connections with customers about it.

Every November, when Starbucks releases its heavily anticipated Christmas Blend coffee, it’s an important time for stores and employees, who get an immediate increase in demand for the popular blend. Starbucks Store Managers can always expect a voicemail from Howard Schultz on the morning Christmas Blend is launched. He’ll leave the message from his Seattle home early in the morning, after having just brewed a batch on his French press, and share memories of what the holidays mean to him, his family, and the company.

The voicemails are one way that Howard communicates something deeper—about the coffee, the experience, and the company’s roots—to Starbucks employees. In 2002, as the company’s endeavors started embracing so many new things extending well beyond coffee, Howard took to leaving monthly voicemails to all stores sharing stories about his favorite coffees, to return the focus of coffee to front-line employees. Other company leadership in the various regions followed suit, using voice, rather than simply typing an email, to communicate the feeling and tone behind the experience Starbucks tries to impart to customers through coffee. By sharing their enthusiasm and their enjoyment, Howard and the other company executives highlight for the front-line staff the why of what they’re all doing, not just the how.

#5 | Deliver on ALL Promises Made

Nothing will turn customers off more than promising something and not delivering. Authentic marketing is strictly tied to this, and it applies to everything that’s promised, from supporting local charities, to offering benefits to all employees, to providing the perfect shot of espresso. Starbucks adheres to this right down to the photos of drinks it displays. Marketers at the company would wince seeing a pristine-looking beverage on in-store signage. Take a look at a sign next time you’re waiting for your barista to hand you your drink. For a sign featuring the Marble Mocha Macchiato, for example, even the chocolate drizzle lattice pattern on the foamed milk will be just a little bit off. The company wants its signage to look real, slightly imperfect, as if a barista just finished making it. And knowing that no human could ever perfect the chocolate drizzle lattice pattern, the sign reflects that.

Contrast that to what you see in fast-food advertising: the thick hamburger patty covered with red-ripe tomatoes, leafy lettuce, and thick-cut onions on a fresh-from-the-oven bun. Does it look too good to be true? Usually yes. But once you’ve taken the paper off and found a smashed burger with a yellowish tomato slice, wilted lettuce, scant onions, and a tissue-thin hamburger patty, you’ve already given your money to the restaurant. You could complain, but you’ll only be rewarded with more of the same. For these companies, marketing is a way to lure customers, and what happens after they’ve ordered really doesn’t matter. Sadly, we’ve come to expect this.

For Starbucks, marketing is a way to get customers to try new things and feel better about themselves—it’s the overall experience, the realness of the product, that matters most. For Starbucks, it’s all in the details of reality.

#6 | Respect People’s Intelligence

Starbucks treats customers as being interesting to get them interested. And interesting people, as Starbucks sees them, are constantly expanding their knowledge and horizons. For this reason, Starbucks uses a more educated approach when it speaks to its customers, from how it talks about itself as a company to the level of detail on its packaging. Starbucks consistently views coffee much like wine. Wine enthusiasts have acquired a palette for the various varietals and blends. They have an appreciation for the finer things, and usually are willing to put their money behind their interests. Just as a wine label will talk about where the grapes were grown and the flavors elicited in that first sip, Starbucks packaging talks about the coffee region and the roasting process.

An educated customer still has one final step to go: the ordering process. Starbucks respects its customers’ intelligence by not posting signs around the store with “Venti = Large, Grande = Medium.” While it may take a little longer to figure out how to order your double tall, half-caf, vanilla, nonfat latte, once you do, there’s a feeling of belongingness, that you’re part of the “club.”

That’s the same reason Starbucks doesn’t offer combo deals, like nearly every other quick service fast food restaurant does. It wants the customer to be able to order on her own. But no company can ever be perfect. One time Starbucks stores displayed a countertop sign at its registers promoting its version of a combo deal—“A Perfect Pair”: a scone and a cup of coffee. These signs were prominently featured in stores, that is, until Howard Schultz saw the sign in one of his stores and trudged back to company headquarters, with repulsive sign in hand, calling for the complete removal of the counter card sign. The signage creative didn’t respect customers, it spoke like a fast-food retailer, it wasn’t true to the company. The signs were pulled immediately from all stores as Starbucks marketers realized that the promotion strayed far from their unwritten rules of marketing authenticity.

Building a brand and growing a business that stays true to itself is not about perfection, but progress, about being capable of recognizing missteps and then fixing mistakes. That progress is what keeps strong companies moving forward.

Leading Questions…

  • What does your company do to ensure your marketing materials reflect the company’s mission and innate integrity?
  • How does your company address its competition in its advertising? Does it speak to the value of your product or does it speak to the lack of value from your competitors?
  • How does your company respect the intelligence of its customers?

  • note: this post originally appeared in TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE published in 2006

    Great Brands Help People Be Great

    about getting to talk about themselves 520

    A core belief in our PASSION CONVERSATION book is the need to rewire a marketer’s brain to appreciate creating opportunities (online and offline) for the customers you serve to share their own stories. A lot of good can come out of encouraging people to talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes, and their accomplishments.

    Ultimately, the passion conversion (aka word-of-mouth) is not about getting people to talk about you—the brand. It’s about getting people to talk about themselves.

    Truth be told, that line you just read is a riff from a Kathy Sierra tweet I saw back in the wild wild west twitter days of 2008.

    Kathy Sierra has a knack for understanding the user experience from being a master programming trainer to co-authoring many of the influential Head First tech books. She’s just published a book that expands on what it means for brands to get people excited not about the brand, but about themselves.

    In BADASS: Making Users Awesome, Kathy makes the case for why and how a brand can benefit from helping its customers become badass.

    Kathy explains how people do not care how great a brand is, but rather, how great they are when using a brand. And when people become a badass at something, they talk about it to their friends and friends of friends.

    Context is everything. Kathy explains, “Most products and services support a bigger, compelling, motivating context.” In this context, products and services are simply tools to help people achieve badass results.

    For example, I’ve improved my presentation skills over the past ten years. There are a variety of tools that I have used to help me become a better speaker. These tools support the compelling context of me giving better presentations.

    GIVE YOUR SPEECH, CHANGE THE WORLD by Nick Morgan is a badass book on public speaking because it helped me to become a better speaker. I’ve routinely recommended this book to people wanting to improve their presentation skills.

    The simple Logitech Wireless Presenter is a tool that helps me command a room better when giving a talk. No matter how far I wander away from my laptop, this clicker has the range to still advance my slides. Plus, the countdown timer on this device is a godsend. I never go over my allotted time because the timer keeps me on track.

    I design all my talks using PowerPoint software. It’s an easy tool that helps me create visuals that keep audiences engaged.

    And, I always love using a Lavaliere microphone when presenting. It allows me to improve my body language on stage because I can use both of my hands to emphasize key points.

    If you follow Kathy Sierra’s approach, then you’ll understand this…

    Great brands help people be great.

    As marketers we need to lose our self-interest and become selfless. The marketing game today is less about making a badass product and more about helping people become badass. When people use our products to become more skillful, more proficient, and more awesome, a passion conversation will follow because people love to talk about themselves.

    Keep the Likeables. Dump the Assholes.


    Being a top chef is a team sport. Yet, we tend to think of it as an individual game. It’s always a team of people working together from the line cook to the sous chef to the expeditor to the pastry chef to the many other cooks in the kitchen who get the dishes out to our tables.

    On the season finale of Top Chef Boston, we saw Mei go up against Gregory for a winner-take-all culinary clash. Mei won the clash (and the cash) but Gregory won me over with a subtle unselfish move that you might not have noticed.

    As is usual with the Top Chef finale, the chefs address the diners before each course to tell them what they are eating and how the dish was prepared. Before announcing each course, Gregory went plural on us. He said lines like, “For our next course, we have prepared…”

    He could’ve easily said, “For your next course, I have prepared…” But he didn’t. Gregory knew his small team, made up of two other chefs eliminated from the competition, was responsible for getting the food on the plate and on the table.

    I nodded with approval when I heard Gregory go plural by deliberately choosing to say, “we” and not “I.”

    In 2006 I led a breakout session at a HOW Design Conference on “Growing a Brand. Growing a Team.” Besides sharing advice on how healthy brands grow, we talked about the importance of needing a healthy team to grow a healthy brand.

    The meat of that session centered on the team-building advice of Keep the Likeables. Dump the Assholes.

    (Yes. Bob Sutton’s book THE NO ASSHOLE RULE had just been published and it heavily influenced my thinking.)

    We were working under the thinking that Likeables are friendly and helpful. They are the consistent performers on project teams. They always meet deadlines. They make others look good. They hold themselves accountable. They have a positive demeanor. They would rather solve matters face-to-face than through email exchanges. They are selfless.

    On the other hand, Assholes are co-workers that no one wants to work with. These folks keep extensive CYA files. They Cc: the world on inconsequential emails. They always have excuses. They would rather engage in divisive hallway conversations than actively participate during project meetings. They are selfish. Yet, every company has them and continues to hire them.

    One participant in the breakout session chimed in that Assholes can front themselves as a Likeable in the interview process only to show their true colors later.

    So, how can you distinguish between Assholes and Likeables during the job interview process?

    Our breakout session devised a simple test called THE “I” EXAM.

    When interviewing a potential job candidate, listen for how many times they say “I did this” or “I did that” when talking about their past project/group work.

    Sure, it’s natural for a job candidate to talk about themselves in an interview. But if they routinely say something like, “In the group I led, we did this … and we did that…” then you probably have a Likeable.

    However, if the job candidate neglects to mention the “We” and only mention the “Me” … then they’ve failed THE “I” EXAM and can be considered Asshole material.

    Let’s root this thinking to firmly established business thinking. Peter Drucker, like I need to explain who he is, long talked about the importance of effective leaders needing to be unselfish. In 1973, he shared his smart take on the most effective leaders saying “We” and not “I.”

    “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say “I.” And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say “I.” They don’t think “I.” They think “we”; they think “team.” They understand their job to be to make the team function. They accept responsibility and don’t sidestep it, but “we” gets the credit. This is what creates trust, what enables you to get the task done.” — Peter Drucker

    Well said Drucker and well-played Gregory.

    A Goliath Can Become a David Again


    “A company can grow big without losing the passion and personality that built it, but only if it’s driven by values and by people, not by profits.” — Howard Schultz

    Earlier this month I was talking with a regional franchise chain with aspirations to grow big… really BIG. But they want to grow BIG without losing their soul. Easier said than done.

    That conversation reminded me of the growth issue we faced at Starbucks in the late 1990s. At that time, Starbucks was fast approaching 2,000 locations. That’s BIG by most standards but Starbucks dreamed bigger and that dream has become reality as Starbucks now operates over 21,000 shops in 63 countries.

    Starbucks has truly become a Goliath’s Goliath.

    In my love story book about Starbucks, I shared the mentality of how Starbucks was able to still view itself as an upstart David even though they had become a monolithic Goliath.

    If your business is caught in the strategic crosshairs of needing to get bigger but remain smaller, the following excerpt from TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE might provide you with boardroom fodder. Enjoy…


    A Goliath Can Become a David Again

    TribalKnowledge_150There is a life-cycle model called the Sigmoid Curve, an S leaning forward, that describes the stumbling beginning, fast rise, glorious peak, and slow decline of every successful business, brand, or even idea. Management guru and author Charles Handy discussed this model in his book, The Age of Paradox, and pointed out that the right time to create a new idea, start a new curve, is when you are approaching the apex, not once you have passed it—for once you start down the other side of that curve, it may be too late.

    Sounds simple, but how to do that in the real world? Once you’re on your way to becoming a Goliath, do you really want to go through being a David again? It may be more romantic, but let’s remember, David was the underdog—and for good reason. But if you settle into the summit of the curve, you’re a Goliath just waiting for the next David to come along and knock you off your perch.

    Starbucks long outgrew being the David of the specialty coffee industry and became its Goliath. The company dwarfs all specialty coffee competitors in market share and customer mind share. However, Starbucks refuses to settle into the role of being a coffee Goliath. It will not consider itself a Goliath because it no longer considers other coffee retailers as its competition.

    Starbucks began with the mission of wanting to get the world to appreciate better tasting coffee. To put it simply, Starbucks has accomplished this mission. With the popularity and sustainability of the company, the next step is to make the transition from Starbucks as coffee “brand” to Starbucks as beverage “icon.” From this perspective, Starbucks is an upstart, competing against the old-school beverage icons like Coke and Pepsi. Starbucks considers itself a David because, compared to Goliath-proportioned Pepsico’s $66 billion and Coke’s $47 billion yearly revenues, its annual $15 billion is small in the megalithic beverage industry machine.

    So what is Starbucks doing to step up to its new self-imposed competitors? One way is to look to other brand icons for ideas. Take Coke’s Diet Black Cherry Vanilla Coke® beverage and compare that to the Starbucks Marble Mocha Macchiato. Both rely on what started as a specialized drink (Vanilla Coke® and a Caramel Macchiato), and then grew into enhanced versions of themselves. And, taking a page from iconic McDonald’s and its “limited-time only” specials like the McRib® and the Shamrock Shake®, Starbucks has introduced promotional holiday beverages. Drinks like the Pumpkin Spice Latte and the Peppermint Mocha bring a higher price point and add some zest to the usual menu offerings for customers, and that translates into driving higher year-over-year sales at Starbucks.

    Sure, borrowing some sales gimmicks from the large competitors works to some extent, but Starbucks didn’t get where it is today by following. Its brand is strong because it is the leader in the specialty coffee industry, and it led because of the passion its people had for the product. To transition to icon status will take hard work, significant investment, and continued passion. Upping the ante, going up against the Goliaths on a bigger stage, gets company adrenaline flowing. It motivates employees to keep a competitive edge, especially when the competition has changed. Nobody roots for Goliath. Most everybody roots for David. The best companies have their own employees rooting for them. Getting bigger by positioning itself as being smaller can rally customers and employees alike.

    Starbucks’ success turned itself into a Goliath, and now it has redefined and repositioned itself against a bigger Goliath in order to become a David again—a position Starbucks feels much more motivated operating under.

    Leading Questions…

  • Who are the Goliaths and the Davids within your company’s competitive set?
  • How must your business change to maintain its upstart David mentality no matter how big your business gets?

  • TOUGH LOVE | yours to read

    In 2010, I wrote TOUGH LOVE, a business book masquerading as a screenplay.

    It’s a business book but really… it’s a script that reads just like a Hollywood screenplay with standard script format, seven main characters and two plot lines.

    TOUGH LOVE tells the story of how a rags-to-riches entrepreneur finds success building a company (Galaxy Coffee) to be bigger only to realize, the hard way, that smaller is better. Inserted throughout the TOUGH LOVE script are breakout business lessons and thought-provoking business advice geared towards entrepreneurs and small business owners.

    TOUGH LOVE has been available primarily as a $9.99 digital download. However, it’s now available as a free download.

    Go ahead… download it, read it and share it. My gift to you. Happy Holidays y’all.




    TOUGH LOVE: Scripting the Drive, Drama and Decline of Galaxy Coffee

    Creating Difference

    the following post first appeared on the Brains on Fire blog


    Bernadette Jiwa is a kindred sprit to us at Brains on Fire. She thinks like we think. Her book, DIFFERENCE, is comfort food to us because she understands that “marketing is, and has always been, a transfer of emotion.”

    We dedicated lots of pages in our book to explaining how the best marketing is about loving people and if you don’t love people then get out of marketing. We also make a plea for businesses to understand that the passion conversation isn’t about getting people to talk about YOU, the brand. Instead, it’s about getting people to talk about themselves and how they have become better people because YOU, the brand, emotionally connected with them.

    DIFFERENCE is of the same spirit. It’s a manifesto urging marketers to go beyond developing products and programs that are not just different, but more importantly… create a difference in people’s lives.

    Bernadette explains,

    “You can’t build a great business just by being different. You need to create ideas and experiences that give people reasons to care and to belong, not just the reason to choose.

    What makes a brand unique today is the difference it creates—how it affects peoples lives and becomes part of their story. When you are organized to create difference, not just be different, the result is much harder to replicate.”

    To help businesses develop empathy-driven strategies that result in making a difference in the lives of customers, Bernadette shares a step-by-step framework called, The Difference Map. This framework starts with finding the fundamental truth about the people your business wants to impact and finishes with a pathway to develop products and programs that matter most to your customers. Click below to get started on creating a difference with the people your business loves.


    As this year ends and next year begins, you’d be wise to read and follow Bernadette Jiwa’s advice in how to make a difference in the lives of people who love you… your customers.

    In late October I spoke to a roomful of restaurant marketers and shared a little known story about Whole Foods Market. This story has become a Whole Foods company campfire tale and for good reason… it’s a story that helped to shape the culture of the company in its early days.

    In this short video, you’ll hear a how passion plays a pivotal role in a business becoming a beloved brand. Enjoy…