Last week, Starbucks launched a new storytelling website, Starbucks Stories. Bringing together content from multiple platforms – the 1912 Pike blog, Starbucks News and Starbucks Channel – the new site promises to deliver “stories reported and created by our team of multiplatform storytellers.” It will give audiences everything from the chance to “meet the coffee farmers and agronomists working to create the world’s first sustainable agricultural product,” to hearing “people speak to country, togetherness, family, service as we continue to report on what is meaningful and real.” Which sounds great. Or does it?
Just a PR Exercise?
In a digital world saturated by content, you might be asking why anyone would be looking to a multi-billion-dollar coffee company as a place for meaningful, real stories. You might ask whether Starbucks Stories is just a PR exercise for a company that has wavered between hero (CEO Schultz’s commitment to hiring US veterans) and villain (tax scandals in the UK and the need for a hasty review of employee diversity training in the US).
Maybe so. Certainly the content on the site is largely what you would expect: news on product launches and holiday specials; photo diaries from employees around the globe; and social impact press releases dressed up with some extra photography and media-friendly soundbites.
A Potential Model
But while the content may be a work in progress – the press release for the launch of the site promises everything from films to graphic novels – Starbucks is clearly laying its cards out when it comes to what its future communications will look like and achieve, and that is exciting. Starbucks Editor-in-chief Jennifer Sizemore – former NBC journalist and VP of Communications and Marketing for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre – seems to think so. Tasked with building the “global newsroom of the future”, she has long advocated for corporate-funded content, arguing that in a world of fake news, it’s more transparent (“you know who paid the pay check”), and that it provides a platform for stories that might otherwise go untold.
Starbucks Stories is the first clear step towards enabling that. While some may question the need for it (or ask why it has been developed as a separate hub and not woven through the existing strong consumer or somewhat traditional and flat corporate channels), as a concept, I would argue that it chimes with a wider trend for bolder, more open and engaging insight from the companies we align ourselves with.
Fuel for the Fire of Transparency
Consumer and corporate audiences are savvier than ever and expect more as a result. We want to know how they treat their people, how they address diversity and equality issues, what their supply chain looks like, and how they are staying relevant. And past mistakes should not prevent any company from moving forward – in fact, they should be fuel for the fire of transparency and a willingness to communicate beyond financials and product launches.
The factors that influence the value we place on a company and its products are nuanced and varied (more on that in this excellent Harvard Business Review piece), and while product quality, price and performance are important, they’re also things we expect. They are functional markers that companies need to hit in order to even be in the game – they are not what drives consumer loyalty, investor belief, or employee commitment. Such sentiments towards companies and brands are driven by value markers that are far less tangible – and therefore far harder to demonstrate. Markers such as providing hope, showing vision and enabling audiences – consumer or corporate – to feel as though they are part of something larger than themselves.
A Commitment to Stories
By committing to telling stories from across the business, Starbucks is tapping into this desire. It is showing the world what it stands for and what that looks like in action – and crucially, showing how it is addressing previous missteps. If, as promised, it can bring these stories to life in increasingly engaging, authentic ways, the opportunity to build brand loyalty, advocacy and affiliation is huge. Whether this new site and the promised new content can do all that remains to be seen. But at least Starbucks is making clear that it is a company worth watching. As a passionate advocate for storytelling and transparency, I find that exciting, and it’s something other companies could certainly learn from.
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