Stories Sell

I critiqued Starbucks earlier in their approach to launching Via, their instant coffee. I don’t know how well it’s done, but if signs like this are any indication – people still think they are samples:

Starbucks Via is Expensive, People Think It's a Sample

Consider their problem: they have trained their customer to experience a rich, if not expensive, tradition — they enter a stylish café with pleasant sounds, a rich aroma and a crowd of people enjoying conversation. They serve their coffee with hyper-specialized noun phrases making everyone feel part of the inner crowd. The customers expect not only a good cup of coffee, but a great experience to go with it. Starbucks Via is a way to have a good cup of coffee without the experience but for the same price.

Why would the consumer want this? To answer, they have pulled out several ads which tell stories. Fictional people explain why they drink Starbucks Via and their reasons resonate with many coffee drinkers. Here is a picture I took in the BART station of these ads:

Example Ads Showing Starbucks Stories

I don’t know how successful it has been, but it strikes me as the right approach. Stories are an excellent way to communicate value to customers, but I think Starbucks can do even more than tell good stories, they can enable their customers to create their own stories by giving away a few free samples. This might better help their customers justify the pretty extreme cost better than even fictional stories can provide.  Nevertheless, we are more influenced by stories than features.

If you’re trying to lead people to change, are you using stories to help them understand why they would want to? Or are you just putting up signs telling them to stop stealing the coffee?







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