Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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The Best People Have Theories

A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with my friend/coworker/all-around-swell-person Shana (link at her request) and she said something that that I’ve been repeating ever since: the most interesting people are the ones who have theories on things.

It’s just so true. We all know people who are finding connections in seemingly disconnected ideas and forming grand theories off them. They really are the most interesting; When they look at the world they see a bigger picture.

While I appreciated what Shana said, I didn’t give the idea the due it deserved until recently when I realized I had been repeating it to everyone I knew. It just kept popping up everywhere. (It was a slow boil/regurgitation/digestion/[insert term here].)

When it connected to this New York Times article on ‘The Starbucks Aesthetic’ I realized I had to write about the topic. Part of what makes people who have theories more interesting is that it shows they’re not afraid to say what they think. When you share your crazy theory you are invited people into your world, it’s a look at the way someone’s brain works that we seldom get. These people are more interesting because they’re not afraid to follow their own path.

I don’t think its a far stretch to want the same things out of brands. A company like Starbucks has developed a customer base who likes them for more than just their coffee. They appreciate things like the space, the way their treated and the fact they feel a little fancy ordering things in ‘venti’ with some kind of crazy milk and sugar combination. They see the brand as a reflection of themselves. The company treats its employees well, giving them healthcare and a fair amount of power to make decisions on an individual store level. In the end they’ve created a lifestyle brand that can extend past just coffee, as we’re seeing now.

As Howard Schultz explains in the article, “With the assets Starbucks has in terms of number of stores, and the trust we have with the brand, and the profile of our customers, we’re in a unique position to partner with creators of unique content to create an entertainment platform and an audience that’s unparalleled.”

A big part of the reason for that is Starbucks is not afraid to be a company with theories. They don’t need to appeal to everyone, but they’ve discovered there’s a plenty big market willing to spend $4 for a cup of coffee to make a pretty good living. They found their identity and ran with it.

Just think about all the brands out there unwilling to put themselves out there. In the coffee space Dunkin’ Donuts seems like their in the perfect position to claim the ‘anti-Starbucks’ badge. But instead of going all out and becoming the working-mans coffee shop they are trying to make their stores like Starbucks but appeal to the regular joe with ‘America runs on Dunkin”. Another great example is this spoof of what would happen if Microsoft designed the iPod packaging. Again, because they want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible they end up diluting the product beyond recognition.

A company like Starbucks doesn’t just serve coffee, they build experiences. It’s all very active.

For their customer, Starbucks is a curator of taste.

Not just coffee taste, either. They’re a trusted source who is only now beginning to explore just how far they can take what they’ve built. The beauty is it can extend almost infinitely as long as Starbucks maintains its unique taste and identity.

Think of it this way, you trust me in one way or another. If I recommended a book you might buy it. Then if you liked the book and said you’ve got to hear this band, you’d probably listen. As long as I continue to give you good recommendations my influence can extend beyond just my original area of concentration.

So why should companies be any different? Sure they’re trying to sell you something, but who cares? As long as you trust them and they keep delivering the goods doesn’t everyone win?

I think so.

October 25, 2006