Business Design

How Starbucks Uses Design to Build Their Audience

July 2, 2015 | by Mineh Ishida
Starbucks understands the value of design | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Living in Tampa, I don’t see a lot of companies who truly understand the value of design in attracting and keeping the right customers.  There are a handful of companies who do it well, but on a day to day journey through the businesses in this town, the majority of the branding and marketing are quite outdated, and don’t seem to have a targeting strategy.  I think this is why I’m always so excited when I walk into a Starbucks store.  Here is a company that understands the value of design. They wield design like a well trained fencer manages their sword.  It’s an extension of who they are, and they wield it with pinpoint accuracy in accomplishing their marketing goals..

Starbucks Targets Their Audience Through Design

The majority of Starbucks’ target audience consists of the young adult population.  These are both men and women who fall between the ages of 25 to 40. This demographic accounts for just shy of 50% of their total business.  In order to attract this audience, Starbucks uses trendy design that keeps their customers feeling like the brand is current and a part of the “lifestyle” that these consumers want to live.

If you look at online design trends for this population, you’ll find many common themes reflected in the branding at Starbucks stores.  At the time of this article’s writing, Modern retro designs, polygon based designs, minimalist flat designs and informational icons are all still very prominent in the consciousness of this age group, and in the designs of many trending products.  Starbucks has integrated all of these trends into their branding.  Just look at these photos:

Modern retro design at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Modern retro design at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Polygon background with modern retro badge design at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Polygon background with modern retro badge design at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Minimal flat design featuring informational icons at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Minimal flat design featuring informational icons at a Starbucks store | Photo by Mineh Ishida

Design Creates an Experience in Starbucks Stores

If you haven’t yet read the interview that Dieline did with the Starbucks creative team, I highly recommend it.  It provides a lot of insight into the design strategy and process of the brand. I particularly liked the following statement:

“The brand is almost like a friend—a unique, well-traveled, cultured friend you know well but who always manages to surprise you” – Jean Marie Shields

It’s so amazing how the little things change the feeling of the room.  From the fonts on the wall, to the color palette of the products, every thing in the store has a feeling like it belongs there.  Don’t confuse this to mean that everything is in the same style.  There are is a diversity in style among the different brand assets, but overall, they tie together well.  It reminds me of a curated gallery. There may be different artists represented in a gallery, but a well curated exhibit will have a central theme that ties it all together.  This is the feeling I get when I walk into a store.  The combination of all of the design elements create a dynamic and exciting environment that has a pronounced effect on my experience with the store.

Change Makes it Fresh, Consistency Keeps it Comfortable

One thing that I found that Starbucks has done really well is that every few weeks, the designs in the store have changed. Either there are new featured products, or the branding and signs have changed. This keeps the store feeling very trendy and cutting edge.  We’re trained by advertisers and the high volume of information that we receive to tune out things that become familiar. Starbucks changes it up periodically and regularly, so that their messaging and brand feels current, and does not get stale. I think this is very important to any brand that is trying to maintain repeat business, especially with younger customers.

What they do not do however is change the feel of the store. The designs all have a consistency, like I mentioned above. You know you’re in a Starbucks store. The branding is versatile but recognizable. This is critical, as part of Starbucks’ success comes from the fact that people feel like their branch store is their “home.” It must remain comfortable and inviting so that the brand can build and retain a community of customers.  This comfort comes from familiarity, so new designs must “feel” the same, while gently evolving with the new marketing messages.

Your Business Can Learn from Their Example

Businesses today have to stand out, and it’s an ongoing challenge with all the competition out there.  Starbucks has managed a viral growth through savvy business and marketing.  I feel like design has also been a very integral part of this success.  If businesses want to market to their target audience and build a following of repeat business, they could learn a thing or two from the example provided by Starbucks.  Design can be a powerful force in attracting and retaining the right customers.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another Green Tea Frappuccino.

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