business news in context, analysis with attitude

In the New York Times yesterday – and, we presume, in other major newspapers around the country, Starbucks ran a full-page ad saying the following:

    Who needs a coffee machine?

    Maybe we should think of companies less like machines and more like individuals? With a machine, you just turn it on and it does its job. It has no responsibilities and no morals. And it has no future. An individual - and a corporation - is obligated to live in the world according to human principles in the present, or else it cannot thrive in the future. For us, this means remembering that we are more than a coffee company; we are a people company, serving coffee one customer at a time.

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KC's View:
It seems to us that Starbucks continues to hit all the right notes as it continues its expansion inside and outside the US, understanding that it needs to always perceived as doing the right thing regarding its shoppers and employees.

It strikes us that Starbucks, because of its rapid expansion and growing ubiquity, could reasonably expect to be subjected to many of the criticisms that companies like Wal-Mart like experience. But with few exceptions, Starbucks avoids these pitfalls, largely, we think, because it understands the notion that as a growing company, it has a larger responsibility to its people – those who shop in its stores, and those who work there.

For some reason – and we suspect that not everybody will agree with this assessment – when Starbucks runs ads like these, they strike us as statements of principle (perhaps because they aren’t responding defensively to bad press and community attacks). With other companies, a similar ad might seem more like a public relations play, and by it very nature would come off as insincere.

It is a lesson that more retailers should learn. Stand for something. Communicate it effectively and frequently. And, in order to compete in a tough marketplace, understand that it makes sense to embrace a higher responsibility, not run from it.