One of the most interesting brand-specific blogs that I’m aware of is StarbucksGossip.com. Its proprietor is Jim Romenesko, who has a couple of other blogs you may have come across. He knows what he’s doing! (You may not have come across one of his pre-blog-era projects, Death Log, but that’s really cool, too.) Anyway, he was kind enough to answer a few questions as part of Murketing.com’s ongoing series of brand-blog Q&As. Here goes.
Why Starbucks? There are any number of chains or companies out there to blog about, what was it about Starbucks in particular that made you say, “I should do this.”
I frequent Starbucks stores in the metro Chicago area (and occasionally in Wisconsin) on a daily basis. I overhear discussions between baristas and employees that are sometimes interesting and not typical of a customer-clerk relationship (they’re usually more personal). I thought it would be interesting to move those conversations to the web, and toss in commentary from Starbucks critics, too.
Starbucks has more diehard fans and haters than any company I know, so I figured the online discussions would be passionate and occasionally raucous. I was right. Some of discussions about Starbucks are serious and should be read by management — the issue of high-sugar/high-fat/trans-fat products, for example.
StarbucksGossip.com works; but I doubt if a site like, say, subwaysandwichesgossip.com or potterybarngossip.com would.
Do you read any other brand-related blogs?
Just for a few products I own: Tivo and Apple Computer, for example.
Do you have any theories on why it is that Starbucks seems to attract diehard fans and haters?
The love/hate thing is answered by readers in many of the postings on my site. Haters believe Starbucks is killing independent coffee shops and lovers think the coffee and employees are great, and it’s a nice place to hang out. Starbucks is in-your-face in that it’s everywhere (I can walk to four of them from my Evanston condo), but then it has a leave-them-alone philosphy once you’re in the store. I appreciate that, as someone who nurses a drip coffee while using their wi-fi (or T-Mobile’s to be precise) for hours in one sitting.
When did you first visit a Starbucks outlet, and what keeps you coming back? Would you call yourself a Starbucks fan?
I believe the first Starbucks I went to was in New York City in the mid 1990s. (On Broadway, I believe.) At the time I was living in Milwaukee and that city was Starbucks-free until the late 1990s. I’m a “Starbucks fan” for selfish reasons — I want to have wi-fi wherever I go. I only drink drip coffee, so I don’t go for the Pumpkin Spice Latte and other specialty drinks that people on my site rave about. (I should mention that I live across from an indie coffee shop with free wi-fi and I frequent that place — as well as other indies. (I’m writing this from “Charlie’s Coffee House” in Wilmette, IL, which has free wi-fi.)
Starbucks now gets a lot of attention for its attempts to either sell or ally itself with cultural products (music, movies, books) — most recently there was the big article on this subject in the New York Times. Do you have a particular take on that? Or on the suggestion in that piece that Starbucks is kind of a boomer thing? [Disclosure: My own two cents on the general subject, although not on the Times story, which came out later, is here: Other disclosure: The writer of the NYT piece is a friend of mine.]
I don’t mind them selling CDs and books, but their promotion for Akeelah and the Bee was irritatingly over the top. What gets my goat is that they’re so busy peddling their other stuff that they sometimes ignore their core product: coffee. I was at the Glencoe, IL, Starbucks last Sunday and they didn’t have any drip coffee brewed. Too busy stocking Mitch Albom’s book, maybe?
What I’ve noticed in frequenting dozens of Starbucks in the metro Chicago area is that the stores generally reflect the neighborhood. I don’t think you can generalize and say it’s a boomer thing. In Winnetka, IL, I see moms and nannies with baby carriages; in Racine, Wisc., I see lots of working class families hanging out at Starbucks; on Michigan Ave. in Chicago I see the business crowd and tourists; and on Central St. in Evanston, there are lots of junior high kids.
Finally, just for the record, you don’t have any relationship with Starbucks, right? (That is, they ‘re not paying for your bandwidth on the site or whatever, or giving you free lattes for life.) Do you ever hear from people at or associated with company management?
No relationship from Starbucks. I have only heard from one corporate employee who commented off the record about a remark I made on the site regarding the quotes on cups. During the height of the “Ghetto Latte” controversy, I heard from Edelman — Starbucks’ PR agency — which wanted to know my pageview/traffic figures. I didn’t disclose them. I do get thousands of visits daily, and my traffic logs indicate that more than half come from Google referrals. If you search STARBUCKS + [almost any word], you’ll probably get StarbucksGossip.com in the top three search results.
Murketing thanks Mr. Romenesko, and encourages you to visit StarbucksGossip.com.