When Starbucks announced its “Race Together” campaign earlier this month, it was probably assumed that it would be great for business.
Baristas were encouraged to write “Race Together” on customers' cups and try to strike up conversations about racial issues in America. But this ended up embarrassing just about everyone involved.
A week later CEO Howard Shultz announced the end to the coffee klatch experiment but said the overall initiative was far from over.
“We have a number of planned Race Together activities in the weeks and months to come,” Shultz wrote in a memo to Starbucks employees.
Social media skeptics
But the campaign appeared to backfire on the Seattle based company. Some took to social media suggesting the company might start the race conversation in its own boardroom, pointing out the coffee company's senior executive team is mostly white and male. Others pointed out that Starbucks has almost no presence in areas with mostly minority populations.
While Starbucks may have suffered some embarrassment, it isn't the first corporation to pledge allegiance to what it perceives as its customer base's value system. Food businesses have been doing it for some time.
Restaurants now routinely brag that their food is “locally sourced,” purchased from local farmers and not from a huge agribusiness operation. It's hard for fast food restaurants to make that claim but Chipotle, from the beginning, has adopted a “food with integrity” mantra.
Food with integrity
“Food with integrity is our commitment to finding the very best ingredients, raised with respect for animals, the environment and farmers,” the company declares on its website.
Using quality, fresh ingredients should make the food taste good but good-tasting food almost isn't enough these days. Connecting with the values of the consumer is another way to solidify customer loyalty.
McDonald's became an empire when it figured out how to deliver the same food, prepared exactly the same way, tasting exactly the same, at countless locations across the U.S. That consistency has been a hallmark of McDonald's success. But now that food has become politically correct, consistency is not exactly a virtue.
McDonald's competitor Wendy's appears to be shifting toward the Chipotle model, as the recent commercial for its salad, seen below, suggests. It's not just that the salad tastes good, but where it comes from that's important.
Values, Attitudes, Lifestyles
The concept of a business trying to attract customers by adopting their values actually goes back about 3 decades. In 1978 the Stanford Research Institute developed Values, Attitudes and Lifestyles (VALS), a proprietary research methodology used for psychographic market breakdown. It was designed to help companies develop their products and services to appeal to the consumers most likely to purchase them.
In the past, consumers might purchase a product primarily because they perceived value in the product. Today, it seems companies believe their customers will buy their products and services simply because the business espouses the consumers' values.