October 20, 2007

Starbucked in Italy

Your mom is always your Mom, even when you have a few grey hairs and your own grown children, and mine still sends me "care packages" like when I was away at sleepover camp. Back then it was full of sweets, comic books and small necessities, while now it comes full of newspaper clippings with her notes on the side and lots of yellow highlighter.
Among the politics, culture, local news and quirky pieces, I found an article from the magazine Psychology Today on Starbucks by the author of a recently released book called, Starbucked. So here is some of the psychology behind the phenonmenon and a peek into the reasons why Starbucks may not manage to capture the Italian market afterall.

To begin with, he states, "the Starbucks' worldwide explosion wasn't fueled by coffee; it was the way they sold it. Starbucks closely tracked consumers' desires, their hidden needs, even their favorite colors and music. This awareness of customer psychology has netted Starbucks 40 million loyal customers per week." So, what do Starbucks' customers desire and need? The "Starbucks Experience", or in other words, a place to hang out, to "ease the problem of social disconnection" while offering something comforting to make people feel "coddled and tranquil. " Americans were feeling the need for a public gathering spot, a "third place" (after home and work). In the end, Starbucks is not about coffee at all, but a place "to bring people together thorough the social glue of coffee", a place that counteracts efficiency ("X" number of customers in and out in an hour kind of efficiency) and concentrates on feelings and an atmosphere of relaxation, warmth and luxury, a "coffee experience."

So that is why Starbucks doesn't concentrate on the quality of the coffee. Instead it has developed an innovative Starbuck proprietary language to add to the "experience". Ordering a "tall", "grande" or "venti", a "doppio", "a latte", or a "grande caffè misto" makes you feel like a Starbucks' insider and soooooo European and sofisticated. The subdued and gentle colors, curved countertops and warm materials have all been studied with care. Even the colors of the coffees -- a few years ago, the "hot" summer color was white, so they put out a "vanilla and coconut Crème Frappuccinos" to capitalize on this trend.

Oh dear. You probably thought that you just liked to have a Starbucks coffee now and then, instead you have been lead by the nose by one of the most powerful brands in the world, on the same level with Apple, Google and Ikea.

But for all its attention to psychology, the Italian market is going to puzzle the Americans -- its a cultural thing.

1. THe Italians know their coffee -- the taste, acidity levels, the difference between Brazilian and other beans, the art and experience required for its proper preparation. In the end, the quality of the "coffee experience" depends in great part on the quality of the coffee itself, not just the atmosphere.

2. Italians love to be particolare and coffee is one of the areas in which this attribute reaches its highest expression. It might be difficult to get everyone to drink the same substance out the same standard paper cup (click on the green writing for a fun cartoon, to move forward, click on the arrow at the top).

3. Italians have places to "hang out" -- their "public gathering places" are in every piazza and along the main Corso of any small town on a Sunday afternoon -- and there isn't the same level of "social disconnectedness" to be addressed. People are "coddled" and made "tranquil" at home (by their mothers, even at past 30) and don't need to seek comfort in a paper cup while sitting on a comfortable chair, alone.

4. Italians don't feel the need to counteract an overabundance of efficiency. The choice to linger in bars and restaurants is the norm -- leaving quickly is a challenge.

5. Italy is in itself an "atmosphere of relaxation, warmth and luxury" even without a "coffee experience."

6. I just can't image Italians getting used to ordering a "latte" with a straight face. THey would have to do something with the fake Italian lingo, maybe substituting it with exotic American names. "A meeelka, pleeeze".

I think I'll go have a tea.

a domani,


Kataroma said...

Thinking about it, the only place where Starbucks would have an edge over the Italian coffee shops is that S'bucks allows you to sit down at a comfy table without paying extra.

So, maybe Starbucks will force the Italian coffee shops to stop charging extra for tables which would be a good thing for all concerned.

Rob said...

I do hope that Starbucks does not get a hold in Italy. I have noticed a disappointing trend amongst the Italian youth to support places such as McDonalds, just because it is foreign. Starbucks might well get the same support for the same reason.

Starbucks is popular in Ireland because of its iconic status in America. So many Irish have lived there, holidayed there or have family there that they love the sense of connection with the US that Starbucks offers.

Plus, with the demise of Bewleys, it is the only place you can sit and read a paper without getting dirty looks from the staff...

Anonymous said...

Another extra edge for Starbucks- lots of their shops have free Wifi!
I think some Italian big cities could use a "hang-out" place like Starbucks. why not?
Their coffe is not better or worse, it is different from iatlian coffee. I'm Italian and though I will never give up my espresso o cappuccino, I do like to have Starbucks on occasion. It's a different kind of beverage all together, it's not really competition for our traditional coffee.

Anonymous said...

Your "Out the same standard paper cup" link leads you to gmail log in. Did you intend it?

Elizabeth said...

Kataroma, I agree with the table thing, how true!
rob, I think young people are easily swayed by marketing experts (like the cigarette companies!) and follow the newest fad, just because they are "told" to do so.
anon, my technical skills must be lacking...let me try to link up again. It is an Italian cartoon on ordering coffee and very cute. You are right about the wifi (and the free seating). The coffee is different, like a McDonalds hamburger and a meal at a trattoria, but sure, why not occasionally.

Iota said...

I've learnt so much from this post. Am I the only person who thinks it's extraordinary that a small cappuccino is called a "tall"? Sometimes I ask for a "small cappuccino" just to be rebellious.