Starbucks doesn't sell coffee

by Jacob Laskowski

Have you ever noticed that Starbucks doesn't sell coffee?


Sure, they might fill dirty bean water into this cup, but it's the cup they're actually selling.


Yes, the nine cent cup.

"That’s what brands play on," as Stanley Hainsworth puts it. He's the former creative director at Starbucks. "It’s part of our nature to want to be accepted. Yet, at the same time, we have this desire to feel like we’re different from everyone else — which is the complete opposite of that yearning for acceptance but is nonetheless relevant."


The cup accomplishes this feat: holding the cup makes me different from the guy down the hall who's carrying a cheap 7-Eleven cup of joe. I'm different (read: better) than that old chump.


"I found that strategy particularly intriguing — when brands create things that make you feel like you’re different from everyone else," as Hainsworth says.


Consider this: without the green mermaid icon printed on its side, would the cup be as valuable? It certainly wouldn't. And that's because this now universally iconic cup tells a story—not just about Starbucks, but about the person holding it.


That's the power of iconic and intentional branding.

"I think that genuinely good branding involves an examination of every single way the brand, the product, and the experience is viewed," says Hainsworth. "Everything that you do, everything you release, everything you say — everything is the cumulative expression of your brand."


By neglecting this aspect of your business strategy, you risk losing what makes your cause or product unique and different. And, you could become just another cup of dirty bean water in a cheap cup.


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