Branding. We all hear about it but for many new entrepreneurs, the concept sometimes seems overwhelming. What exactly is branding? Is it your logo? Is it your website? Is the products you create, the way they are packaged, or the bag they go into for your customers to carry off to their new homes? Is it social media? Is it a slogan? Or is it more abstract like colors, feelings, and emotions? To answer the question, all of the above are correct. Your brand is your visible and emotional representation of your company, products, or services, the process of how they are conveyed to customers, and the feeling your customers get when they think of your business or experience your products or services. Sometimes, quite often, brands can extend beyond physical experiences. Whether or not you own a Mercedes-Benz, for example, you know that the brand is synonymous with luxury and class. Similarly, when you think of Dollar Tree, you think of tons of cheap stuff from China. Both businesses make millions of dollars, but it takes a lot more sales and customers for Dollar Tree to achieve the same profit that Mercedes-Benz will earn from a single sale. The Apple brand represents trendy, stylish, and highly functional technology. There’s a reason why people will stand in line in the cold wrapped around an entire building every time a new iPhone is released, even when the iPhone they are currently using is perfectly fine. No one stands in line for a Nokia or a Blackberry. Blackberry used to be the phone for the business professional but somehow they couldn’t keep up with smartphone advancements and their brand image has suffered.
Let’s do a quick exercise. I want you to visualize the following concepts….. You woke up early and you’re still tired from working late the night before. You need coffee. You feel that paying 5x more for a cup of the same amount of coffee fits your lifestyle. So you head to Starbucks and wait in the drive-though line for 10 minutes. The cashier takes your card and hands you a…..red cup of coffee. Who cares, right? It’s just a cup. Now you’re already running late and need to get to work. Or is it? Is a simple, red cup of coffee with the Starbucks logo, more than just a red cup? Has this change in design suddenly stopped you in your tracks? Are you posting your opinion of this cup on social media, hoping to engage or upset fellow friends?
Branding. The color red. Simple. Coffee. Starbucks. Starbucks isn’t known for just coffee, but more as a lifestyle brand. People who love Starbucks are very loyal customers. Other customers are seasonal, during cold weather….which is right now. You know the best way to get your brand out there? Get EVERYONE talking about it.
The United States is very politically divided with a strong liberal side and strong conservative side, and then other people somewhere floating around in the middle. This is not a political post. But when it comes to branding, controversy can sometimes be the one missing piece of the puzzle for that big viral push. What happens when you offend an entire group of people? Outrage. Then? Everyone is talking about it. Social media is a great way to engage people who otherwise wouldn’t even care. But because they see all of their friends talking about the outrage of the RED CUP, they feel like they have to share. They’re more likely to post photos with said red cup. And Starbucks? They’re laughing all the way to the bank.
This is not the first specially-designed cup that Starbucks released during the holidays. They started their Christmas design back in 1997 and have had different cup designs over the years.
What is different this year? Culture. American culture is now obsessed with political correctness and getting offended. Everyone is offending each other and everyone has opinions and feelings to share about it. Think back to 15 years ago. No one shared opinions on every little thing on social media. But now we do. We post everything from a selfie of the hour to what we’re eating for dinner and opinions are as freely available as oxygen. Knowing this, companies are able to use these kinds of situations to capitalize and nail a killer marketing strategy. Was it Starbucks intention to create an offense design? No way. As Candace Cameron Bure said, “It’s a red cup, folks.” But because this situation was handled a certain way by the media, millions of people are suddenly posting and sharing photos of this red cup. Imagine the millions of dollars saved on advertising.
Social media is powerful. Branding is powerful.
This tiny design change has spiraled into something that not only got millions of people talking and sharing about it for free, but celebrities are making official statements on the issue and they even got some airtime on the Ellen Degenerous Show. People are so interested in this red, disposable cup controversy that there are hashtags specifically dedicated to it such as #CupGate2015. PR, even bad PR, still gets people talking. The more people are talking, the more they are thinking about your company and, by default, the higher your sales go up.
Whether it was intentional or not, Starbucks’ most certainly has been part of a huge viral marketing campaign. An increase in sales and a free advertising along with celebrity endorsements, not to mention endless news articles and official statements shared on every network, they would have otherwise had to pay for is an incredible opportunity. While your business may not go “viral” overnight and we certainly do not recommend setting out to offend people or get involved with controversial issues (although this was was verrry far-fetched), always think about the power of branding and what it can do for your business. Even the old cups that didn’t cause social chaos are great branding.