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If you're interested in your company's brand, Facebook is now impossible to avoid.
I'll be talking about branding with Innovation Protocol's Managing Director, Sasha Strauss, at the Crawford Family Forum tonight. It will be the first installment of DeBord Report live at KPCC's community space, and I believe there's still time to RSVP!
Leading up to the discussion, I doing a micro-series on branding. I already talked about the Apple Genius Bar as a customer-service concept that really put the Apple brand over the top. Now I'm going to look at another fairly well-know Silicon Valley company and the impact it's had on branding.
Facebook isn't even ten years old, but it's already on the runway to be one of the biggest tech IPOs of all time. It claims hundreds of millions of users. And it's become an essential place for companies to make a case for their brands.
But this isn't your father's branding. The concept of "branding" is relatively young — no one talked about brands 50 years ago, as Sasha Strauss will point out. But for most of the history of brands, companies controlled the core message. Apple was what Apple said it was, Nike was what Nike said it was, Ford was what Ford said it was.
Photo by Qfamily via Flickr Creative Commons
Is this a match for Starbucks in California?
There haven't been any actual Dunkin' Donuts stores in California since the 1990s, but that's all about to change. This isn't you father's Dunkin' Donuts. This is a whole new, amped-up, recently IPO'd and private-equity enabled Dunkin' Donuts. Not a cheerful place to stop in for a delicious coffee and and sticky ring of fried dough, but Starbucks worst nightmare.
Dunkin' Donuts, which has become something of a hipster alternative to 'Bucks, has almost no presence west of the Mississippi. However, following its $400 million initial public offering last year, it's putting itself under pressure to grow. Understandably, given that it's stock price has bumped along in a narrow trading range since its successful debut (it came out at $19 and has lived reliably above that ever since). But it's trading at 100 times earnings (not unusual for a newly IPO'd company), which means that investors are expecting this sucker to go someplace.
Starbucks re-opening, 2010.
Starbucks has gotten itself into the very definition of an awkward position, particularly in California. The coffee chain is being protested by an anti-gun group for looking the other way when practitioners of what's called "open carry" show up for meetings at Starbucks with their unloaded firearms.
Starbucks has said that it's just respecting the local laws. But there's speculation that 'Bucks is being used as a forum by the open-carry crowd to invite challenges to its rights (they're even come up with a gun-weilding Starbucks alterna-logo that probably horrifies Howard Schultz). And of course Starbucks' core demographic isn't as friendly to the Second Amendment as the core demo of the National Rifle Association.
So Starbucks has a business problem. Gun advocates and gun haters both like coffee. Why would you want to choose between groups?
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File: A Starbucks Coffee barrista readies a beverage for a customer in the new 42nd Street store August 5, 2003 in New York City.
Yesterday, Starbucks announced that it's buying Southern California's own Evolution Fresh Inc., for $30 million. That's pretty small potatoes as M&A activity goes. But for Starbucks, buying the juicemaker — which, according to the Starbucks announcement, is "one of the only true juiceries left in the industry that still cracks, peels, presses, and squeezes its own raw fruits and vegetables" — is just the beginning of the beginning.
And a risky undertaking.
Starbucks wants to move beyond coffee and expand its presence far beyond its retail stores. So far, it's been doing this slowly and carefully — and has already endured one misstep, when it over-expanded prior to the financial crisis. In Steve Jobsian fashion, CEO Howard Schultz returned to the company to trim, reinforce, and realign. The ship was righted. But now it's looking to grow again.