In my recent blog post about the "Chief Meaning Officer" I suggested that "Only brands that give more than they take will be able to create sustained brand loyalty." Starbucks' "I'm In" campaign is a great example of a brand living up to this new concept: On the day after President Obama's inauguration, the coffee chain will be launching a major marketing initiative that encourages latte lovers to visit soup kitchens or otherwise commit to giving back. Between January 21 and 25, Starbucks customers who promise to do five hours of community service during 2009 will get a pledge card and a free cup of coffee at their local Starbucks store.
Starbucks' campaign is supported by Hands On Network, the nation's largest volunteer organization, and tied into the national call to service by incoming President Obama: "Everyone has heard loud and clear that this is a time to act, and what Starbucks is doing is breaking down the barriers of how to connect with your local community," says Starbucks spokeswoman Lisa Passe. The campaign provides a blueprint for marketing with meaning and presents the quintessential win-win-win situation: The embattled coffee chain will reinvigorate its grassroots image and underscore its ties to the local community; consumers are recognized in their desire to do something meaningful and are provided with an effective and user-friendly platform to take immediate action; and – last but not least – the brand-facilitated volunteering benefits the common good.
The design of the "I'm In" campaign exhibits the key characteristics of marketing with meaning (see the work in progress chart below):
SOCIAL: The campaign helps the community but also builds one itself – offline and online (Facebook, etc.). Through their pledges consumers can connect with like-minded people, make new friends, and take collective action. This provides them with a sense of belonging and identity, social recognition and impact: "Let's get to work together!"
PERSONAL: Like Obama's fundraising campaign, Starbucks relies on micro-contributions (of time, in this case) that are feasible and fully customizable for the volunteers. To reach its goal of a combined one million pledged hours of community service, the coffee chain plans to sell the five-hour commitment as something anyone can do with just 25 minutes every month. The Pledge5 website gives consumers a list of convenient volunteer opportunities, and the consumers determine individually how exactly they want to be "in."
STORYTELLING: The campaign is cleverly timed with the inauguration week, as well as the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday which the president-elect suggested be celebrated through acts of service, and it hijacks some of the attention that is directed towards the big event on Tuesday. Participants become part of a greater narrative that echoes the memorable lines of JFK's inauguration speech: "Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country." "I'm In" weaves together a historic moment in the face of a national crisis of historical proportions, the consumer "power of one," grassroots activism, and the resurrection of a once proud American brand. That the campaign not only helps America but also Starbucks, is ok and "makes sense" in the context of the campaign narrative. The story transcends the brand.
DISRUPTIVE: The campaign challenges conventional advertising and will be a surprise for many consumers – something different and new that is immediately relevant for them. In addition, the campaign's signage disrupts the typical Starbucks store experience, and customers may even feel some peer pressure at the point-of-sale (especially when they come in groups) to commit to the program.
RESPONSIBLE: The campaign leverages both the Starbucks brand and the inauguration event to attract maximum attention to a cause on the national stage. Honoring its customers' desire to do good, Starbucks has implemented a powerful platform that offers personal recognition, a sense of community, and appropriate tools to prompt action, converting even those into community volunteers who would maybe not pledge their commitment without the push of a branded contest at the point-of-sale. Starbucks acts as the catalyst, and the campaign creates societal value far beyond business.
What marketers can learn from the Starbucks campaign: With production capabilities and financial assets off-shored and out-sourced, brands are ever more important as the only remaining indispensable value of a company. Brands are assets in the public domain; brands are social funds. The creation of brand equity is a cooperative act based on the values that you share with your customers.
Tim Leberecht is the CMO of frog and the publisher of design mind.