Thursday, December 29, 2005

Starbucks should have hired me... do ethnography for their product development/marketing division. While I like to think of the big academic ideas... I like thinking about and influencing the products we use in our everyday lives as well.

One of the blogs I keep up with is called "Starbucks Gossip: somebody has to monitor America's favorite drug dealer." Most recently, it talked about the demise of its rich chocolate drink, Chantico. While Starbucks is learning from this and apparently launching new chocolate drinks in February, the narratives are the same: millions of dollars have seemingly been wasted on the positioning of a product not suited for its sociocultural context. Back in May, some of the comments on Chantico's popularity drive home my assertion that they needed someone to look at the particular situation of where they were deciding to implement this product:

Posted by: Doppio | May 16, 2005 6:42:50 PM
Yes. I have noticed that Chantico isn't as popular as most people would've thought. First of all, Starbucks has to realize that decadence isn't the right way to go. In Boston, people are very health conscious, more than most people in other regions. Therefore, the idea of 390 calories is quite impossible for them to think of, never mind stomach. I think the highest day we get Chantico is on Saturday because of all the tourist and what not. I usually make an extra 1 so we have 3 pitchers on hand.

Posted by: chris | May 17, 2005 11:29:25 AM
Yeah, up here in Vancouver it's kinda died off...but then it's also become unseasonably warm up here, frappucinos are going like crazy...along with the new Mint Mocha chip (All the stores in my district and a neighbouring one are currently out of chips)...even though I think the syrup smells like varnish.

That said, one has to realize that as people move towards summer (even if the weather isn't showing it), they're going to want to 'warm up' less. Chantico is the ultimate in a winter drink. I think Starbucks may put it on hiatus for the summer but I definitely see it coming back next fall.

I think the most insightful comment comes from a barista in Seattle who says:

Posted by: rich | May 17, 2005 11:09:35 PM regards to Chanticos here in Seattle? I've probably made a mere hand full since it was launched beginning of this year. We use to make 3 pitchers per day because we're one of the highest volume stores in Seattle, but now we only make one and it doesn't seem like we've tapped into that pitcher at the end of the day. Anyways, Chantico was a bad idea here in the US because everyone is always on the go, unlike the European Cafes where people actually sit down to enjoy the people watching and the "cafe experience." This lack of "cafe experience" here in the US should've been noticed during the developmental phase of the Chantico...I'm sure someone (or someones) is going to get fired for this, because *$ spent way too much $$$ advertising it (just look at those giant billboards here in Seattle and Vancouver).

Clearly, this initiative required local knowledge. What I would have done if I coordinated a study for this:
1. First, observe the circumstances of the district/city of the Starbucks though observation, interviewing the baristas (who know a lot more about what works for the store than they seem to be given credit for) and customers. Providing ethnographic reports on the particular store.
2. See if the product will take flight at all.
3. In cities where it might be successful, channel the dollars and energies there, launching a beta limited-time-offer release of the product.
4. Monitor its reception and sales in each location.
5. Interview the same parties pre-release in the stores the product where the product was introduced.
6. Make changes to the product and postioning according to input. Maybe some focus groups for increased collaboration, providing incentives for people to participate.
7. Ditch the implementation altogether, or implement it only in select areas.

In any case, doing this study would have been cheaper than the $$ lost in the full all-out launch of this product. I know that from spending time in North America, Europe, and Asia in and around various Starbucks, that the "coffee cultures" in each store, and each place are quite different. Big companies with big global reach need to look at these local knowledges and micro cultures in much greater detail.


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