Four B2B Marketing Lessons from Starbucks

This article will discuss B2B marketing lessons that start-up and small business firms can learn from Starbucks.

I never used to understand the appeal of Starbucks.

Before becoming an avid coffee drinker, I couldn’t grasp why the alternative atmosphere, odd ordering system, or premium (sometimes crazy) pricing was so appealing to so many coffee loving consumers. It all seemed like a bit much.

Everything changed for me while studying at university. A lack of in-school study space and a need for caffeine suddenly made Starbucks a whole lot more appealing. As both a newfound coffee connoisseur and a marketing student, I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes Starbucks so successful and came to appreciate Starbucks on a number of levels.

Here a few B2B marketing lessons that professionals can learn from the phenomenal success of Starbucks.

1. Start with Culture

Great brands are almost always reflections of great cultures. As Bill Taylor has written for HBR, success is “about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values.”

A unique aspect of Starbucks’ marketing efforts is that internal culture is as much of a focus as external activities, and Starbucks is renowned as much for its unique culture as it is for its coffee. To be truly successful, one B2B marketing lesson that professionals should focus on is expanding their thinking beyond the scope of traditional marketing and ensure everyone in the organization ‘lives the brand’ (through regular training initiatives and openness).

2. Create Authentic Experiences

As I’ve written about previously, great brands are a summation of experiences created, conversations fostered, and feelings elicited. Where Starbucks excels is in creating a range of authentic customer experiences that are collectively designed to allow customers to satisfy their own unique needs.

There’s no cookie cutter experience and a Starbucks experience is always an authentic, personal one regardless of where you are in the world. It’s been well written about that Starbucks’ goal is to become more than a coffee shop, striving to be a “Third Place”. Accordingly, the company structures itself from top to bottom with the goal of fulfilling that defining idea. Another B2B marketing lesson that professionals should consider is taking a similar approach to B2B products and services and design marketing programs that emphasize flexibility and relevance at every stage of the B2B sales cycle. Ensuring that ‘customer experience management’ is chief among the buzz words around your office should be a key B2B marketing priority.

3. Foster Communities

At the end of the day, a great product or service will naturally generate a community of fans. But as Starbucks has proven with MyStarbucksIdea and other community building initiatives, great brands help to enable their most passionate brand advocates.

From a B2B marketing perspective, fostering communities can help maximize the value of long-term customer relationships at minimal cost. Engaged customers may have information about your products and services that could be extremely valuable. Why not harness that knowledge for the benefit of all of your customers?

4. Marketing Tactics

From 1987 to 1997, Starbucks spent less than $10 million per year on advertising as it expanded its empire across the globe. From a very early point, Starbucks understood that the most effective marketing tactics for the brand weren’t paid mediums, but simply word of mouth.

Because of the nature of B2B business, organizations would be wise to place an equal emphasis on generating ‘offline’ buzz. Starbucks also excels at embracing opportunity with its marketing tactics, whether during holiday seasons or because of the performance of particular products. B2B marketing professionals should focus on utilizing B2B marketing tactics that are agile enough to adapt to changing circumstances and take advantage of market opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more B2B marketing lessons, please don’t hesitate to contact us or download one of our marketing white papers. Venture Accelerator Partners can help you grow your business as your part-time marketing or sales services provider.

This article was first published in 2013 and has been updated since.

Four B2B Marketing Lessons from Starbucks