Starbucks brand strategy / positioning case study

Starbucks Brand Strategy Analysis

Restaurantscoffee shops; FMCG Non-alcoholic beveragescoffee

Owner of the brand:
Starbucks Corporation

Key competitors:
McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Costa Coffee, Tim Hortons

Brand essence

To inspire and nurture the human spirit.

Brand values

Togetherness, care, inspiration, inclusiveness.

Brand character

Warm, friendly, human, welcoming, inspirational, caring.


Starbucks was established in 1971 in Seattle by three university friends, Jerry Baldwin, Gordon Bowker, and Zev Siegl. Its original business strategy was focused on selling high-quality coffee beans and equipment rather than coffee-based drinks. Although the founders called the company Starbucks after the chief mate in the “Moby-Dick” book: Starbuck, according to them, the name didn’t have a deeper meaning; they simply believed that it should start with the letters “st” to make it sound more powerful.[1]


When Howard Schultz joined Starbucks as director of retail operations and marketing in 1982, he tried to convince the owners to change the strategy and start serving beverages. Since they didn’t buy into this idea, he left the company to set up his own chain of cafes called Il Giornale (which Starbucks invested in). A few years later, due to a shift in Starbucks founders’ priorities, they decided to sell their business to Schultz. Schultz rebranded Il Giornale to Starbucks and began the global expansion of the company. He introduced a new business strategy focused on selling beverages and bringing to life the concept of “the third place”.


The idea behind “the third place” revolves around creating a space, where people could spend time between home (first place) and work (second place). Implementation of this concept required turning a commodity business into a lifestyle brand and an experience, for which people were willing to pay a premium. Through its product offer, packaging, communication and interior design, Starbucks has been consistently building its image as a warm and cosy place where one can relax, recharge, and meet other people; a place where everyone can feel good and welcomed. This philosophy is captured in Starbucks’s mission, “to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time”[2].


Most Starbucks campaigns are product-focused and their tone of voice is often different from the tonality of its brand communication. Product campaigns are more upbeat and dynamic, while brand campaigns are more emotional and uplifting (e.g., “Possible Is Just the Beginning”[3]). To this day, Starbucks has run only one global image campaign, “Meet Me At Starbucks”[4] launched in 2014. Its central theme was togetherness, encapsulated in the main message: “every day good things happen, when we get together”[5]. The brand documented the stories of people from 28 countries – friends, families, businessmen and businesswomen, band members, etc. all meeting at various Starbucks locations and conversing over a cup of coffee.


The last major change in Starbucks’s visual identity took place in 2011, when the company refreshed its branding and removed its name and the word “coffee” from the logo, emphasizing that its assortment is wider than just coffee and includes also tea, juices, pastries, sandwiches, salads, and even wine and beer in selected locations. 


Although many sources describe Starbucks as an Explorer brand, the elements of this archetype are apparent only in the Starbucks visual identity, in particular in the logo which is based on the image of the sea goddess. Starbucks’s brand strategy and messaging focus on belonging, togetherness, inclusivity and warmth, which are the themes characteristic of the Caregiver (nurturing) and the Regular Guy (belonging) archetypes.

Most important campaigns

1. “Starbucks College Achievement Plan – Believing In Yourself Again” (2023)

2. “Starbucks LGBT+ Channel 4 Diversity Award | Every Name’s A Story” (2020, UK)

3. “Here For Every You” (2020)

4. “Meet Me At Starbucks” (2014)

5. “Kick” (2014)

Official brand statement:

It happens millions of times each week – a customer receives a drink from a Starbucks barista – but each interaction is unique. It’s just a moment in time – just one hand reaching over the counter to present a cup to another outstretched hand. But it’s a connection. We make sure everything we do honours that connection – from our commitment to the highest quality coffee in the world, to the way we engage with our customers and communities to do business responsibly. From our beginnings as a single store nearly forty years ago, in every place that we’ve been, and every place that we touch, we’ve tried to make it a little better than we found it.


Starbucks Mission
To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Starbucks Values
With our partners, our coffee and our customers at our core, we live these values:
Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome.
Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other.
Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect.
Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.
We are performance driven, through the lens of humanity.[6]

Interesting facts:

The first Starbucks outside North America was opened in Tokyo in 1996.[7]


1. Ad Age on Starbucks’s 50th anniversary
M. Adeolu, “See How Starbucks Is Celebrating Its 50th Anniversary”, Ad Age, Oct 2021, 

2. Marketing Week on the shift in Starbucks’s strategy
M. Fleming, “Starbucks Moves Away From The ‘Drumbeat Of Promotions’ To Build Longer Term Relationships With Customers”, Marketing Week, Apr 2018,

3. Adweek on Sturbucks’s first global image campaign
T. Nudd, “Ad Of The Day: Starbucks Tells Your Story, Not Its Own, In First Global Brand Campaign”, Adweek, Sep 2014,

  1. M. Allison, “Starbucks Co-founder Talks About Early Days, Launching Redhook And Seattle Weekly, Too”, The Seattle Times, Mar 2008,
  4. T. Nudd, “Ad Of The Day: Starbucks Tells Your Story, Not Its Own, In First Global Brand Campaign”, Adweek, Sep 2014,
  5. Ibid.
  7. “Starbucks Company Timeline”, Starbucks,

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