Thursday, February 21, 2013


The U.S. coffee chain Starbucks opened its 7th store in the country on 6th February this year. It said that the brand counted India among the top five global Starbucks market in time to come. For this it was willing to make investments in aggressive expansion and locally relevant innovations (in its products and processes). Thus the store at Delhi showcased examples of Indian craft of weaving and sported handicrafts made by local artists. For its menu also the company has kept the Indian palette in mind; it includes items like Murg Makhni pie and mutton seekh roll, besides also offering Tata Tazo Tea ,a rarity at Starbucks worldwide. Will it do well? Well, sure it can provided the marketer does not try to sell frame as painting. In which case the warrior may not emerge the winner; the devil will devour the hindmost.

Way back in 1999 use of Barista brand name, an Italian word for a cafe, in India was rather an adventurous christening. Barista had opened its first outlet at Basant Lok, Vasant Vihar, one of the most happening places for test marketing youth hang outs. Barista, meaning brewmastersomeone who prepares and serves coffee-was chosen since all smart evolved coffee lovers are expected to know that Italy is the cradle of coffee. The brand wanted to recreate an authentic Italian coffee experience. Indeed, it wanted to present them a true blue coffee culture evoking a feeling, mood, and ambience symbolizing ‘brio’ (energy) reflecting ‘verismo’ (truth) adding to a matchless ‘virtuoso’ (a mastery touch) performance befitting a real cognoscenti.

Barista had a simple and focused vision of “offering consumers a never before experience while they sipped coffee of the highest intangible quality in an ambience powered by innovation and designed to offer heightened experience levels at every turn as they go along….experience that is not stagnant or likely to erode with time but ever rejuvenated and enriched by creativity, imagination taste, and style.” To deliver this experience the brand opted for serving limited but diverse and exotic range of coffee, food, music, games, decor, indeed the overall ambience of an authentic coffee bar. By year 2010 (they began in early 2000) Barista wanted to become top of the line global player with a minimum of a thousand outlets in India.

CafĂ© Coffee Day was dismissed as a competitor for ‘the highly experiential and premium’ brand. Barista wanted to position itself within the competitive arc of starred restaurants, snazzy upmarket coffee and other outlets, cine-multiplexes, malls, and plazas-any place inhabited by cool, sophisticated, and young at heart people doing time out.

Barista’s USP then was being customer driven, connecting with two specific moods that would largely colour the drinker as he steps inside, relaxation and recharge. The experience inside was expected to serve the customer well, additionally because the coffee served was hundred percent ARABICA served through Italian coffee machines. Porcelence (no styrofoam cups, please) was the serveware since it retains the heat, flavour, and aroma of coffee, as no other material does. The brew masters were trained to decipher and connect with their customer’s preference and choices. Little wonder, in absence of effective competition, the brand recorded a healthy 25% annual increase in footfalls, that too through only word of mouth publicity and viral marketing. Not a paisa spent on mainline advertising.

Further, sound of Barista (the customized music tracks played during different times of the day in sync with the mood and sensibilities of different set of customers), loyalty programs, special games, diverse food items in league with the season and customers preferences, and then some more wowing techniques went a long way to deliver the real, true blue Barista experience.

Barista had been mighty successful in introducing a defining coffee culture, in a warm and friendly ambience. It opened out a ‘whole new world of coffee drinking experience by offering Capuccino, Latte, Caramel, Mocha, you name it, alongwith fusion meals, so as to transform a commodity into a culture by creating value that refreshed the body while stimulating the entire being and enriching the soul.’

Alas, the experiment started floundering after a very promising start even though the experience was still nothing to complain about. Some where the brand lost its script. So what went wrong? Well, we hardly have the space here to unfold the subsequent chain of events. Suffice to say nurturing the brand is more taxing than rearing a baby. Starbucks needs to keep this in mind; it should not take early endorsement of a brand by a limited set of coffee afficianados as being a sign of thumbs up by the entire market.

P.S: We at Theory i are of firm conviction that management cases don’t admit of one single ideal solution. Depending on the context multiple-and equally potent-approaches may be perfectly justified. Hence your magazine does not append ‘solutions’ to these cases.


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