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  • Susan Peters

Case Study: How Starbucks Leveraged Social Media to Navigate the Great Recession of 2008

In the annals of business history, Starbucks stands as a shining example of how a global giant can successfully pivot and emerge stronger from a financial crisis. The year 2008 marked a turbulent period for businesses worldwide, but Starbucks, the world's largest coffee retailer, demonstrated remarkable resilience and adaptability. This case study explores how Starbucks harnessed the power of social media to align its operations with customer demands, leading to a remarkable turnaround.

Starbucks digital marketing in a recession


Starbucks: A Name Synonymous with Quality

Founded in 1971 in Seattle, Starbucks had grown to become a global powerhouse with a presence in 50 states across the United States and 43 countries. The company was renowned for its quality, earning accolades such as "Best Business," "Most Admired Company," and "100 Best Corporate Citizens." However, this success came at a price, as Starbucks was often perceived as having higher prices than local coffee houses.

The Starbucks Challenge

The Impact of the Financial Crisis

The 2008 financial meltdown posed a significant challenge for Starbucks. As consumers sought cost-effective alternatives for their daily caffeine fix, Starbucks witnessed a drop in sales. In response to this financial crisis, the company was forced to close unprofitable stores, shutting down 600 shops by March 30, 2008, with profits falling by 28 percent compared to the previous year. This was a pivotal moment for the coffee giant.

The Return of Howard D. Schultz

Reigniting the Emotional Attachment with Customers

In January 2008, Howard D. Schultz returned as CEO, replacing Jim Donald. Schultz, who had presided over Starbucks's public offering in 1992, recognized that the company needed to shift its focus back to its customers. He emphasized the need to reignite the emotional attachment with Starbucks customers, redirecting the company's strategy away from bureaucracy.

Starbucks Howard Schultz

Schultz's approach contrasted with the previous leadership's view that blamed the economy and higher dairy product costs for declining business. He contended that Starbucks' heavy spending on expansion had created a bureaucracy that masked its problems.

A Fresh Approach: Embracing Social Media

From Conventional to Technology-Oriented Strategy

Instead of traditional strategies like store layout changes, Starbucks took a novel approach. It embraced technology and encouraged an environment where employees could contribute to organizational strategies and ideas. This led to the development of a community involvement concept.

In March 2008, Starbucks launched "My Starbucks Idea," a platform that allowed customers to exchange ideas with each other and directly with the company. Customers were invited to share their thoughts on products, services, layout, advertising, corporate social responsibility, in-store music, and more. Over 93,000 ideas were shared by about 1.3 million users on social media, with page views per month rising to 5.5 million.

Rebuilding Trust and Customer Engagement

Connecting with Customers Worldwide

After the 2008 crisis, Starbucks had to rebuild its customer relationships and show the world that it cared about quality and consistency. "My Starbucks Idea" provided a direct link between customers and the company's headquarters. Starbucks' ubiquity became an asset as customers worldwide connected with each other, creating like-minded communities.

The Power of Social Media Marketing

Projecting the 'Cool' Element

Starbucks recognized the importance of projecting its 'cool' element through social media-based marketing. The company adopted a balanced approach, focusing on community engagement over pushing too many products, causes, or offers. Social media platforms helped Starbucks swiftly manage and mitigate damaging information that could harm its global identity.

Mobile Apps and Customization

Pioneering the Use of Mobile Apps

Starbucks was an early adopter of mobile apps, integrating social media strategy objectives with technology channels. The company's iPhone app included features like store locators, nutrition-based information, and a rewards program, which enhanced its social media community fabric.

One innovative initiative, "MyStarbucksSignature," allowed customers to create personalized drinks and share them with the community. This initiative educated customers about the wide range of product offerings and showed them how to order custom drinks, fostering an interactive and fun activity.

Results: A Robust Fan Base and Increased Engagement

Reigniting the Brand Trust

Starbucks implemented over 100 ideas through "My Starbucks Idea," building a robust fan base. By giving customers a platform to voice their ideas and views on the brand, and by actively responding to them, Starbucks rekindled its brand trust.


Effectiveness of Social Media in Reigniting a Brand

Starbucks' successful use of social media demonstrated its ability to align its operations with changing customer demands. The company managed to rebuild customer trust, ignite customer engagement, and reconnect with its global customer base. Starbucks maintained a fine balance between spontaneous and well-planned social media posts, projecting its 'cool' image while engaging with the community.

In the ever-changing world of business, Starbucks' case is a testament to the power of social media in transforming and reinvigorating a brand. Social media platforms serve as a bridge for Starbucks to listen to its customers, respond to their ideas, and show its commitment to quality and community engagement.

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