Ropes and Chains…

May 19, 2008 § 2 Comments

…and kinky boots.  Okay, forget the kinky part – it’s not that kind of blog.   I’ve been planning on posting something here about ropes and chains for quite some time now, but I keep letting the idea get too big in my head.  Really it is simple:  Chains are strong because the individual components, the links, are strong.  The chain is no stronger than any given link.  If you’ve got strong components, make a chain.   Ropes are strong, but they are built on an entirely different premise.  The rope is built on the assumption that any given component, a fiber, might be weak.  The rope’s strength comes from its structure – the weave causes each individual fiber to support and strengthen each other. It is only when the structure is compromised that the rope gets weak.

So what does this have to do with branding?  Well, are you building your brand as a chain or a rope?  Are you trying to forge a handful of powerful, strong, individual and expensive pieces to carry and support your brand positioning? Are you relying solely on individual contributors – a CEO, a spokesperson, one brilliant marketeer, a single flagship product? Or are you creating an infrastructure to support your brand that allows each individual contributor – each ad, each product, each tag line, each front line employee, even each customer –  to reinforce and strengthen the brand message by providing a context for their efforts?  

The “golden arch” is a familiar link in McDonald’s branding chain, but the training to say “Would you like fries with that?” is the brilliant evidence of a structure that allows each employee (weak or strong) to strengthen the rope.


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§ 2 Responses to Ropes and Chains…

  • Dlaw says:

    Was in an exurban Starbucks the other day with a big Starbucks fan – their core market, let’s call her “Ms. Starbucks”.

    As everyone knows, Starbucks’ over-expansion into an expanding but segmenting espresso coffee market is showing where their brand has become “frayed”.

    Out of curiosity, I asked Ms. Starbucks to quickly rate our experience:

    Main cord: her iced doppio – perfect (meaning perfectly Starbucks) as always. Say what you want about their particular espresso roast, it is unbelievably consistent. A Starbucks coffee always tastes like a Starbucks coffee.

    I was going to try out that thesis on the newly-available and heralded “Pike Place” medium-roast blend, but they didn’t have it. No, nor the brown color-schemed cups. Starbucks hopes the Pike PLace blend will be another “fiber” in the Starbucks experience and it may be worth trying so long as they understand that

    A) Not everyone likes or is going to like their signature coffee roast.

    B) There is nothing they can or should do about that other than to offer an alternative that does not diminish the brand.

    Anyay, moving on, got the regular drip and from now on all ratings will be from Ms. Starbucks and rated in her pass/fail scheme of “Love it” / “Lame”.

    She tasted my Regular drip: “Lame” – maybe the Pike Place is a good idea. Their current drip does not age well in the pot, never has.

    Music: “Love it” – she didn’t know the song, but she enjoyed it although it was different from her usual style of music. Starbucks is INSANE if they get rid of their record label. The coffee house experience is now synonymous with a slightly funky, slightly rootsy, soft sound and Starbucks consistently selects that music well.

    Staff: “Love them” – the baristas were nice and fast – but this post brings up a question: shouldn’t they be saying something? Starbucks has shown an ear for coffee house music – shouldn’t they try to slip in a few key phrases so a Starbucks always sounds the same?

    Merchandise: 75% “Love It”, 25% “Lame” – good, but not as good as it seems. Starbucks merchandise is clearly important to the experience, particularly of their core, female clientelle. But Ms. Starbucks is gun shy on buying or even looking (more important) because a number of cups, etc., have been defective. Very bad. It’s especially bad because Starbucks consistently creates merchandise that gets Ms. Starbucks attention – a real accomplishment.

    Step 1: Make sure the stuff works or make your return policies clearer – worst case scenario you get a conversation with a customer.

    Step 2: Don’t rely on the designers or sales: get a bunch of “Ms. Starbucks” and get them to give you the quick thumbs up or down on the merchandise. Knowing that there are items in a Starbucks she might covet definitely brings Ms. Starbucks in.

    Final “I don’t know how you do this, but…” Suggestion: Many Ms. Starbuckss across America are very conscious about what they touch – germ conscious. Obviously you can’t make the milk pitchers perfectly sanitary-looking every minute, but is there a more comforting color than the black-and-steel? How about that “Pike Place” brown and a kind of creamy color?


  • davidscohen says:

    I never really thought about it before, but as you point out, Starbucks doesn’t seem to have any signature patter. The lingo is there, in fact it could be recklessly argued that there is too much lingo, but the job of using it is in the hands (or rather, mouths) of the customers. The customer is expected to know the vocabulary, which reinforces the sense of inclusion for those who do, but where is the up-sell? Should Starbucks be trying to Starbuck-ize drip coffee? Or should they be revealing a deeper path for the espresso enthusiast? Why play to your weakness (and weaken your differentiation) when you could flatter your super-fan? Which strokes the ego more (and defines the us/them brand cult experience better) – the suspect attempt to elevate the pedestrian cup ‘o Joe, or a barrista singling you out for your refined palette by offering, in conspiratorial tones, this month’s couture espresso & Belgian chocolate pairing?

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