March 20, 2009

Engaging Consumers - Starbucks Shared Planet

I was in Starbucks earlier today, and saw an poster with this interesting message:

Work with 1.2 million people to grow and harvest even better coffee that earns even better prices.

Everything we do, you do. You buy coffee at Starbucks. Which means we can work with farmers to help improve their coffee quality and their standard of living. We call it coffee that is responsibly grown and ethically traded. And thanks to you, we've grown big enough to be able to do this kind of good on this kind of scale.

Good job, you."

The poster ended with messaging for the company's "Shared Planet" CSR campaign, with the tagline "You and Starbucks. It's bigger than coffee."

It looks like Starbucks is attempting to engage its consumers in its CSR activities by drawing a clear connection between consumption and the work Starbucks does with coffee farmers. I find this interesting on a few levels. It's great for Starbucks from a business perspective - in the second to last sentence, the company is basically saying that, the more consumers buy, the more good Starbucks can do. For a company that relies on repeat customers, that's a pretty decent sales pitch. Furthermore, in addition to making consumers feel good about buying one more cup of Starbucks coffee, it also educates them about what Starbucks is doing through its CSR program (at a high level), and specifically about what "responsibly grown and ethically traded" means (though the definition isn't very detailed). For a company that makes social responsibility a core part of its brand, it's critical to do this effectively.

One thing I thought was missing from the poster was a call to action. Reading the poster, I found it rousing - it told me how effectively I was enabling Starbucks to have a positive impact on coffee growers. Getting to the end of the poster, though, there was no way for me to have a bigger impact, other than buying another latte.

I checked out the
Starbucks Shared Planet website, though, and saw some of my questions answered. The website offers customers the opportunity to pledge to use their own mugs for their Starbucks coffee (4,733 people had done so as of 6:50 today), as well as a "Volunteer to Volunteer" section, where website visitors can learn more about volunteer opportunities. In particular, the Starbucks V2V area of the website, which has a social networking component, is designed to be "a catalyst for conversation and connection that inspires people to contribute to a cause greater than themselves". I didn't, however, find any opportunity to have an impact on the issue highlighted in the poster - improving the quality of living in coffee-growing communities - via this website.

A few days ago, I
asked for examples of companies that engage consumers in their CSR activities. This is a very interesting example of such an initiative. I think it has the potential to educate consumers about Starbucks' CSR, thus possibly increasing loyalty; to make customers feel a stronger relationship with the company; and to increase the impact of the company's overall CSR activities. However, this will all depend on how the initiative is executed. The time and effort of Starbucks customers has the potential to be a powerful resource - how will the company deploy it? I look forward to following this initiative, and also to hearing any of your thoughts on this project in the comments section.

Enjoy the weekend!


  1. Hi Jessica, Thanks for this blog. I love how your experience in the store brought you to the Shared Planet online experience, and to V2V! A google alert came across my email today linking to your blog. I manage Starbucks V2V and work closely with our Shared Planet Team at Starbucks. V2V is all about getting out in your local community to do grassroots types of initiatives. It is the community piece of Shared Planet. If you or any of your readers have any questions just let me know. I'm happy to provide more information on this. Have a great weekend!

  2. Interesting point that as a consumer you wanted to do more to engage with Starbucks than "just" buy their product. I think this speaks to the way that the consumer impulse can be shifted from simply a transactional experience to a shared relationship. You wanted to be part of the Starbucks "tribe," which for you might mean more than buying their product.

    This is a powerful force in the consumer-centric US culture. It seems to me that companies who can effectively build "tribes" will find that their financial returns improve and they are able to do more good in the world.

  3. Hi Jessica,

    Did you know that Starbucks is sponsoring a competition about how to reduce the use of paper cups?

    I think your ideas would really be welcome.

    If you could possibly also consider commenting on my main entry at , which requires registration, and even vote for it if you think it's a good idea? I would be very grateful.

  4. Everything we do, you do. You buy coffee at Starbucks. Which means we can work with farmers to help improve their coffee quality and their standard of living.