Lessons from Japan: Brands Can Have a Latte Power

We just arrived home from a two-week trip to Japan.  Almost every day, I did at least one thing that some would say I should be embarrassed to admit:  I went to Starbucks.  Every single day.  And I don’t feel bad one little bit.  Do you know why? Because my day just goes better if it starts with a cup of hot English Breakfast tea, and I know that at Starbucks, I can get just that.  I know exactly what I am getting and (mostly) how to order it.  In Japan, I had to add “no milk” each time to confirm that I didn’t want it as a latte. But, in general, I wasn’t surprised by what I received. It was exactly what I expected and needed to get my day started.

And that is the power of a strong brand.  A consumer knows, wherever they see the trademark, what she is going to get.  It is the same power held by McDonalds, Westin, Tumi or Mercedes.  No matter where one sees these marks, they carry the same expectations from the last time a consumer sees the mark – wherever that may have been.  Each has very different expectations from consumers, but each has consistent expectations.

How does a trademark gain that strength?  Consistency.  Maybe it is fast, cheap food, or it is luxury, hand-stitched leather.  Whatever it is, the goods or services provided under the mark are remarkably consistent.  That means 1) everyone knowing what the company values are, and 2) living by them. For example, Starbucks has friendly baristas, consistent drinks (with specials for the season and counties – doesn’t a Sakura and Strawberry Frappuccino sound good?), and Starbucks “speech.”  The grande is always 16 oz and a frappuccino is a blended drink that sounds fancier than the smoothie/shake thing than it is.

If your company has multiple locations or franchises, then this becomes doubly important.  The customer should have a consistent experience regardless of the front door they walk through.  Consistent doesn’t mean identical, but your customer shouldn’t be surprised by their experience.

Therefore, build your brand through consistent messages to your employees, managers, and customers.  And raise a cup of your caffeinated beverage of choice at your next visit at a chain in celebration of getting exactly what you wanted.

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