Can Marketing Save Starbucks

According to Kraft’s new CMO, Mary Beth West, “Great marketing drives business. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t really matter.”

Forget for just a moment that Kraft’s top marketing posts have experienced more turnovers in the past year than a Hungarian bakery; Mary Beth West is a proven asset. She’s earned her stripes building Kraft Foods brands. She’s bold, she’s consistent and she respects the power of marketing.

So, in light of of Starbucks’ announcement today that 4th quarter profitability fell 97%, I wondered what kind of marketing would be required to pull Howard Schultz’ company up off the floor. After all, Starbucks’ arch nemesis (MacDonald’s) also made an announcement this week – global same-store sales jumped 8.2 percent during the month, beating the company’s own prediction for a rise similar to the one it recorded in its last quarter (damn you, evil clown).

But who knows more about marketing than Chief Executive Howard Schultz of Starbucks? He has tried just about everything to turn the company around: He has conducted companywide staff training days, thrown out the bean shop’s hot sandwich program and is closing hundreds of stores. But so far it isn’t working.

Have I mentioned that I love Starbucks? Have I mentioned that I really admire Howard Schultz? Have I made it clear that marketing is my life?

But unlike me, most Wall Street analysts are not believers. They say that the ship is still taking on water and Schultz is ordering the band to play louder to drown out the noise.

But the thing I like about Schultz is the same thing I like about West, they are mareketing geniuses. Schultz has always been a MBWA kind of guy; he knows consumers and what they want and how they want it, and he serves it up as ordered. The problem at Starbucks may in fact be that the consumer marketplace just doesn’t know what it wants right now.

Consider that our new president-elect is not coming into office with the endorsement of an overwhelming percentage of the population; he is squeaking in with a 1% margin. Consumers are confused, concerned, uncertain.

A $3.00 plus coffee drink is a luxury item for most Americans when they don’t have the spare change (or do but are afraid to spend it) and can get a similar cup of coffee for considerably less. That’s the bottom line.

Can marketing solve this problem? You bet. Can great marketing drive business back into Starbucks? You bet. Will Howard Schultz prove once again that he has the marketing savvy to give consumers what they are looking for? I’m betting on it.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.