Tuesday, January 24

Starbucks Blonde

In case you hadn't noticed, Starbucks introduced a new coffee blend in their stores ... Starbucks Blonde.  It's a "lighter" version of their infamous coffee, presumably to address consumers who feel that most Starbucks coffee is too strong.

I stepped into my local hot spot to get my usual Skinny Vanilla Latte, and I was hit not only with multiple displays popping from every corner, but also "wet"sampling from one of the baristas well as free take-home samples.  It was a full frontal assault.  It makes sense, because I think it's addressing one of the brand's weak points -- the regular coffee blows your socks off!

But I have to say that I immediately had what is probably a weird perception of Starbucks Blonde the minute I heard about it and saw the "light" packaging.  I assumed that the coffee would be light colored ... well, blonde.  It's not though, it looks like any other coffee sitting in a mug.  I guess that's the case, coffee is coffee, but with a name like Blonde I just assumed it would have a much lighter color.  I'm sure it can't, but that was my assumption from the name.  I guess it would look like there was already cream in it otherwise.

Maybe they should have called it "light" instead?  No, then people would probably assume that it's lower in caffeine.  What a conundrum!  Honestly, because it didn't match my expectations, I have no desire to even try it.  And then it doesn't really match the naming hierarchy for the rest of the products that then go from Medium to Dark.  How does Blonde as a name fit into that?

I do like the name though, it's catchy.  Although with multiple options within each variety, on several occasions now I have witnessed people trying to figure it all out with great dismay and a whole lot of attention from the baristas.  Oh boy.

I'm sure it's a good move on the brand's part.  I just thought it was interesting how certain words bring up certain expectations about a product.  I also thought it was interesting to see how the company has pretty much completely rolled out its new logo now, almost one year to the date.

What do you think about new Starbucks Blonde?  What's your experience?  Jim.

Jim Joseph
President of Lippe Taylor
Author of The Experience Effect series
Professor at NYU


  1. I was running to a meeting and needed coffee. Starbucks was the only game in town (or on that NYC block). I was reluctant. While I prefer strong coffee, Starbucks is too bitter for me. I walked in, prepared to opt for their Pete's lighter blend. Lo and behold, I saw Blonde. Inquired and was told hold it compares. Was offered a sample. Good! I then had to say that I wouldn't mind going blonde. And for those 20 minutes, I had more Starbucks than I ever did before. I don't think I'll ever go back.

  2. Hello Jim,
    I'd like to get your opinion on Starbucks' plans to expand the sale of alcohol regarding the brand image. I must confess I just entered a Starbucks 4 times in my life, so I'm not very familiar with it. However, when reading this article on Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/keithlevy/2012/02/27/baristas-transform-into-bartenders-starbucks-expands-serving-alcohol/), I was totally surprised, since I would not associate Starbucks with alcohol at all. Despite the will to get more customers outside peak hours, do you think it is a good strategy in terms of brand consistency?