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November 14, 2005

Interview with Anne Saunders, Starbucks marketing svp

UPDATED (May 2007) | Anne Saunders has left Starbucks to become a "Brand and Advertising Executive" with Bank of America. For more, read the press release announcement.

From the folks behind Reveries “Cool News of the Day,” comes THE HUB, a bi-monthly online magazine designed for senior-lever marketers. The latest issue of THE HUB has just been posted online and it includes a Q&A with Anne Saunders, Starbucks senior vice-president of marketing.

Given my insider knowledge of Starbucks, I found the article interesting and I think you will as well. Below are a few snippets and quick Brand Autopsy take on one of Anne Saunders’ comments.

Anne Saunders on how Starbucks goes about “marketing”…
”It really is about connecting with someone in a more intimate, experiential way that we think will have longer lasting ability to build affinity than a 30-second TV commercial or an ad. Yes, we do some advertising, and we see value in that as well. But I have a team of people who, given our product line, are focused on what we are going to do in the stores, and how we communicate that.”

Anne Saunders on Starbucks & traditional advertising …
”The thing I’ve learned since I’ve come to Starbucks is that advertising isn’t the only way. You can be extraordinarily successful as a business using what people would call non-traditional means. It’s really
expanded my view of how one creates awareness and builds loyalty and affinity among customers. It’s expanded my notion of how important experience versus information or one-way communication can be.”

Anne Saunders on communicating with in-store Starbucks customers …
”The average customer is in our store six times a month. If I look at our heaviest 20 percent of customers, they’re in our stores an average 16 times per month. So I have this great opportunity to have those people have an experience and a relationship with us that in many, many businesses you don’t. So, part of that gives me the luxury to think about marketing in a different way.”

Anne Saunders on the Hear Music CD-burning stations …
”We’re doing awesome with the music venture overall but we are definitely still in test mode with the burning stations. I don’t agree with the thesis that it’s not going very well. It’s been a really strong and healthy part of our business, and we’ll keep at getting the digital piece right. It’s new. No one else is doing it. We really want to make sure we learn and get it right.”

BRAND AUTOPSY TAKE >> Hmm … reading between the lines here, I surmise the Starbucks CD-burning station project is on hold … indefinite hold. If you recall in a Fast Company cover story (June 2004), Starbucks announced plans to roll-out the CD-burning stations to 1,000 locations by this time. However, less than 50 stores have been outfitted with the CD-burning device. I live in Austin, TX, one of the test markets for the CD-burning venture, and haven’t seen anyone burn a CD in months.

Anne is spot-on when she says Starbucks is still trying to solve for getting the digital piece right as users of the music kiosk can only burn tracks to a CD and not download tracks to an MP3 player. Big miss. However, by having a digital pipeline in-store, it opens up lots of future opportunities for Starbucks to take advantage of.

  • Click here to access the full interview (.pdf file) with Anne Saunders in THE HUB
  • For vintage Brand Autopsy comments on the Starbucks CD-Burning kiosks click here and here.
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    I'm a fan of the entire Starbucks model. The importance they put on enhancing the customer experience(in store) rather than a 30 second TV ad.

    It is not a new way of thinkng, but definitley a minority view that is slowly growing. Soon enough it will be second nature to focus more on the experience with the customer...whether it is quality service at a consumer electronics store or serving coffee to your customer for the 16th time this month, without them having to order, because they already knew what he/she was wanted...

    I would love to work for corporate Starbucks....I really admire the approach they take.

    As long as they don't forget to focus first and foremost on the coffee! I don't care about burning CDs or MP3s in Starbucks. I go there for the coffee, which is what Starbucks is all about. If they lose sight of that, nothing will save them from an untimely death at the hands of their numerous and hungry competitors.

    I would love to know who you consider the most state of the art marketing professionals in the travel, hospitality, and customer experience world. thank you.

    who heads up marketing at whole foods?

    You know, if all of this stuff worked, then why is Starbucks closing 600 stores today? Why is it that the last time the stock peaked at $40 was way back on May 5, 2006. It used to hover around $22 then jet to $44 and split again. That's rapid growth vs. mildew and death. Starbuck stock didn't split once in the last six years. What's innovative about that? Doesn't anyone check financial results vs tactics employed before patting someone on the back anymore?

    Ahh ... 37 consecutive years of growth tells me the Starbucks approach to growing a business works very well. Every GROWTH business hits a wall at some point. For Starbucks that wall came after 37 years. For a retailer like Steve & Barry's, that wall comes after a few years.

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