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"Starbucks' Shockingly Simple Route To Brand Dominance" — Just Wisdom, Music Producer

Just Wisdom (00:00): So, hello, I'm Just Wisdom, a music producer and audio engineer, and this is my love letter to Starbucks.

Sam Thorogood (00:22): Welcome to Branding Love Letters, exploring the emotions brands evoke and the journeys they take us on. I'm Sam Thorogood, a graphic designer and your host. In each episode, I invite a guest to pick their favourite brand and unpack why it means so much to them. This podcast is a celebration of the branding that informs, impacts and inspires us. So, without further ado...

Just Wisdom (01:03): It was probably when I was in the military and I was stationed in Germany. I remember they had opened up a new mall on base. And I remember there's a Starbucks there connected to the bookstore. So that could have been the first place or it could have been in the airport or one of another places. All I know is that one day I just looked up and it was like a part of my life. I like the coffee because Starbucks coffee tastes different than all other coffee. And there was something about it that... Like a richness that just made me want to keep on coming back for more. And then it's welcoming, like Starbucks is a welcoming environment, whether it's just a place like at the airport or like in a Target where there's not really anywhere to sit, but the baristas are friendly and then you have options. And then it's just, it's kind of like a reminder, oh, I need to have this in my life right now. I don't know, like the advertising is, or the market is just, if you see the brand, you automatically think of a good cup of coffee or even me, like I stopped drinking coffee now, but a good cup of tea. So in the beginning it was probably because it was connected to a bookstore and then I could get a cup of coffee and go sit down in the bookstore and read books while I drink my coffee.

Sam Thorogood (02:36): You said you were in the military. Did that involve a lot of travel? Were you, were you in lots of different places and parts of the world?

Just Wisdom (02:44): So I've lived overseas, I was in Korea and I've lived in Germany and they have, whether it was Korea or Germany, there was a Starbucks there on base where I could go, something like, especially in Korea. Cause I said, after I got out of the military, I used to go travel out there a lot too. And there was a Starbucks that I could actually go sit down in and hang out on base. And then places that I've stayed off base, they have a Starbucks and Starbucks is one of those brands that everywhere you go, you know what you're getting. The only time they ever have anything different than like normal Starbucks is when it's attached like a Barnes and Noble, but standalone Starbucks, whether it's in Korea, Germany, or Texas is going to be pretty similar. And then the environment, like the, the ambience is going to be about the same and the baristas are going to be about the same. There's going to be super busy and they're running around back there. They're going to be friendly when they see you come in and greet you with a smile, you know.

Sam Thorogood (03:51): And is there something in that stability or that kind of comfort in knowing what you're going to get when you step through the doors of Starbucks, that's quite appealing as well, whether you're in Korea, whether you're in Germany, whether you're in Texas, there's a sense of, I kind of know where I am.

Just Wisdom (04:08): It's really comforting. Like a lot of places you go, sometimes, especially if you're looking for a cup of coffee or some breakfast, like Starbucks, you get oatmeal or their bagels or whatever you could, you know, what to expect when you go in. It's really important being like, say, if I'm an American and I go to Korea and I don't know my way around, but then I see Starbucks, it's like, oh my God, this is awesome. Because you know exactly what to expect. Like back in the day, I would get like a medium roast coffee, you know, like a venti medium roast coffee. And I know exactly how it's going to taste with coffee, because especially like I used to drink my coffee straight black. And so when you're drinking black, the taste is everything. And so knowing what the taste is going to be before you go is extremely important to me.

Sam Thorogood (05:06): You said to me before this interview that I've done remote work at Starbucks. I've built businesses from Starbucks. I've had first dates in Starbucks, done schoolwork in Starbucks. When I was a rideshare driver, if I needed somewhere to use the bathroom, I knew I could always go to Starbucks driving cross country. Can you tell me a little bit more about some of these eclectic memories that are attached to this brand?

Just Wisdom (05:29): Yes, absolutely. So so we'll say, so we'll start with, I remember after I got out of the military, I was a contractor. And when I moved back to the States, I was living in San Antonio and there was a Starbucks right by my house that I realised that I could just go sit down because I can't do work. I can't be productive at home at all. There's something about being at home that my mind switches off and I have to watch TV or whatever. But so I would always find somewhere else to go. Starbucks, it was a place that I could go. I knew I was going to have WiFi. I knew there's going to be clean bathrooms. And then it got to the point when I would walk in the door at that particular Starbucks, it hasn't really happened since then, but that particular Starbucks, like the baristas would see me come in and then they would already have my drink for me. So they'd make me a cup of tea or a cup of coffee. They'd be like, are we drinking tea or coffee today? And then they just have it ready for me.

(06:28): And then it's a place where I don't have to worry about being bothered or distracted. Because even though there's always a lot of people in there, they're all focused on their own individual journey, if I could say that. So I would go in and I would do schoolwork. If I had schoolwork, and then I could sit there for hours and just study, listen to whatever music, and then do my work without having to worry about getting distracted. Because you're somewhere, when you go somewhere like Starbucks or anywhere to do work, you have a focus and it's easy to just maintain that focus. And then I've had, like I said, my job at the time, I used to be able to work from home or do remote work. And so again, I would go to Starbucks and do the remote work because I could focus on the job. I'm not going to sit there and just watch TV. Even if I watch a little video on my computer, it's still on my computer and my work is up. There's nothing to really distract me majorly. And then Starbucks is always in a good location. So I could walk around. That was when, if I feel like I'm just being too sedentary, I can get up and walk around and maintain my steps through the day and then go back and sit down.

(07:44): They have food there. Sometimes it gets pricey, but I was always able, I knew exactly what kind of food I'd get there in the morning and I'd eat oatmeal. And then a little bit later I'd get a snack, it would be like a protein box with apple and cheese and whatever else. And then later on I'd eat a sandwich. So I would like, it'd be healthy choices for meals. And then I could just feel comfortable to be able to know that I'm going to get everything done. I remember when I met my current wife, I would wait for her because at the time I didn't have a job and I didn't have a car. So she'd come and pick me up where in the area that I was living. I'd wait at a Starbucks for her. And then when she would take me to, this was in North Carolina, to Raleigh. And when I first moved in with her, there was a Starbucks by her job. So I'd go hang out at Starbucks by her job and sit there all day. And I'd look for work. I would have a like interview at Starbucks. I would, like I said, the first time I'm like the first song I ever made was at a Starbucks because I was waiting for my wife at work. And so I would just, I don't know, like I was figuring out what to do and where to go next in my life. And so I was like, oh, what about making music? And then I downloaded this app and then I started making music. It gave me the opportunity to be creative enough to try something new. Does that make sense?

(09:21): And then, or where you brought up where driving across country, whenever I drive cross country, I like driving at nighttime. So I would leave early enough because I know I can get Starbucks before they close. And so I leave like at say nine o'clock, they usually close around ten and I get like a strong caffeinated tea. And then I would nurse that all night. And then around five o'clock in the morning, because another good thing about Starbucks is it's user-friendly when it comes to finding them. So when you're driving across America on the highway, there's a sign that will tell you Starbucks. Like, and that's important because you don't know like a lot of these cities, but Starbucks is like the logo is like a siren, you know, a siren calls out to sailors, you know, Starbucks or like weary travellers. Starbucks has signs everywhere that calls out to travellers, like we're here and we know you're looking for us. And that it always makes it easier for me to go somewhere familiar where I know exactly what I'm going to get. My wife always gets stuff from Starbucks. Like I know her order. I know my order and we don't have to guess.

Sam Thorogood (10:35): What emotions does Starbucks evoke for you?

Just Wisdom (10:38): Peace and familiarity. Like, I don't feel anxious or I don't have anxiety when I go into Starbucks. Like I have anxiety from being in the military and everything. But so places that are familiar to me are extremely important. Or places that like I like knowing before I go in because there's so much unknown. So it feels good to have something that is a known, you know, so going to Starbucks... As soon as I walk in, it just, I feel calm. I don't have to worry about what's going on outside. It doesn't matter if it's raining or storming or anything like as soon as I step in, it's just like sitting by a fire, you know, like a warm fire and you just look outside and it could be chaos outside, but you're warm in here. It's kind of like Starbucks to me.

Sam Thorogood (11:40): And you talked a little bit about the logo, but could you unpack that a little bit more kind of what that visual identity is doing when you see it in the different forms, whether it's on a billboard, whether it's on a menu, what is it about the way that they're presenting themselves visually that really speaks to you?

Just Wisdom (11:59): It's funny because this is things that you don't really think about until you ask. It's just, and I just found out that it's a siren. I'm telling you like, and it makes sense that that's what it is. I thought, oh, it's a mermaid, but no, it's like, it's the way it's set up is specifically to draw you in. The colours is green and white. It's like earth tones, you know, and then it makes you like, it draws you in. That's the only thing that's the only way I could really describe is it draws me in and it just, it brings back a positive memory, you know, and to where it's like, oh, I have to go there because this brings up a positive, like it makes me think of positive things. And so I could be stressed and like, well, let me go here and let me get a cup of coffee or cause my wife, like my wife likes a tall mocha extra shot. So let me, let me go here. Even if I'm not getting myself something, it makes me feel comfortable even getting my wife something from there. Long story short is the logo and the colours... It does something mentally to draw me in because it brings back positive memories. At least for me, I don't know for other people, but for me, it's something positive.

Sam Thorogood (13:22): Have Starbucks done anything in their, in their history that has surprised you particularly?

Just Wisdom (13:29): A couple of years ago, or it was actually like five years ago, two guys were arrested in a Starbucks, but they're just, they're waiting for their friends. But the manager thought that they were, I don't know what the manager thought because they weren't harassing anybody. They weren't doing anything nefarious. They're just sitting there waiting. They just didn't come in order right away. And so, and in Starbucks, in response to that, they apologised and then they shut down 8,000 of their stores. And they had a training, like a racial bias training with all of their employees and stuff like that surprised me because Starbucks doesn't shy away from or try to, I guess, lessen major things that their employees have done to ruin the way the brand looks. They will always tackle that head-on and come up with a plan of action to fix the public's view of how that made them look.

(14:40): And so that was surprising that, that like immediately, like they jumped on it immediately. There wasn't an, oh, we're going to do an investigation into this. And it takes months and nothing really comes out immediately. They're like, we're shutting down and we're going to attack this head-on because that's not who we are because that's not really who Starbucks is. Like people go there and like, I've gone there sometimes and maybe I couldn't afford to get like coffee or whatever, but I just, I still sat there all day, got water. Nobody questioned me, like go to the bathroom. Like I said, I'll come in there. Like when I was an Uber driver and just go use the bathroom and then leave, nobody ever was ever like, oh, I'm not, because now they have codes on the bathroom doors that you have to go ask the barista, but the barista is never like, oh, did you buy something first? They're always just welcoming. But yeah, the surprising news is how they will attack controversy and they will get to the root of it and fix it and then move forward as a company.

Sam Thorogood (15:43): Have there been any times when it's been harder to love this brand?

Just Wisdom (15:49): Well, when that story first came out, it was kind of harder to love. And then COVID, during COVID, they shut down their stores, like, and I get it, they shut down their stores to where you couldn't just come in and hang out. But they also got rid of the public bathroom during that time. And so, so I live in Vegas, and it's like, it's really, really, really hot out here. And there's a lot of homeless people. And I know that homeless people utilise Starbucks, especially like they'll go in there and go to the bathroom, because you can't just use the bathroom on the street, you know, and then they'll go in there and get water. But when they closed everything down, that made it to where they had nowhere to go, which is kind of sad. Like, I understand not being able to go inside and just sit down and hang out during the epidemic or pandemic, but to be able to use the bathroom because some people were still going inside to order their drinks. But you couldn't go inside and use the bathroom.

Sam Thorogood (16:56): How would you describe Starbucks if someone had never heard of them before? How would you put into words what this brand offers?

Just Wisdom (17:05): It's more than just a coffee brand. It's like a place of refuge. If you want to give interviews there, if you want to interview people, I say like first dates, like it's a place where you could go sit down and just be introspective about your life or your past or your future. And you don't have to worry about other people bothering you or looking at you or even paying attention to you. You could go be private there in public place and just do whatever you need to do and reflect however you need to reflect on your life in a comfortable and safe environment. Like to me, it's a safe environment. And they have healthy foods, but nothing that's going to be like where you're happy, where you feel like you have to overindulge. And they have friendly staff that will make things the way that you want them to be made. It's not even like other coffee places where you just go up and literally like the only choices are really coffee and then like some unhealthy stuff. It's so much of a variety. You kind of like choose your own adventure in a Starbucks. And then you can either sit there and reflect on life or create a webpage or make a sales call or read a book, or you just leave and they'll always be there. Like there's something for everybody. People that are in a hurry, you could order on the app before you get there. And you can be confident knowing that when I walk up, my drink is going to be ready and I can just leave. Or people that aren't in a hurry, you can be confident that when nine times out of ten, there's going to be a space for you that you could just sit down and do whatever you need to do.

Sam Thorogood (19:08): And you describe it as a choose your own adventure. How would you summarise your adventure with Starbucks over the years?

Just Wisdom (19:19): So Starbucks has helped me, I guess, evolve as a person. I've gone through so many changes. I'm not the same person that I was when I first discovered Starbucks, maybe like 15 years ago. I've evolved. I went from being in the military to being involved in politics to being like a massage therapist for a brief period of time to now make music. And it's been there every step of the way. And it's like, I've actually evolved in the store. So it's been a place that I've been able to go and feel comfortable with enough to where I choose this place to help me or to be there for me while I evolve as a human being.

Sam Thorogood (20:14): Can you please tell the listeners more about you and your music and where people can connect in with what you're doing?

Just Wisdom (20:27): So my music, like I said at the beginning, I go by Just Wisdom. My music is on Apple, Spotify, Tidal, YouTube, like all the major platforms. It's mainly instrumental music. Because of everything that I've done, whether being an Uber driver or hanging out at Starbucks, just doing homework or work, I started getting to the point where I liked listening to like classical music or just straight instrumental music. And so I started making that music because it's non-offensive and I don't have to follow along with the music. It can just play in the background while I do whatever I'm doing. So that's the kind of music that I make, music that you can just play in the background so you can focus on the task at hand and it won't be distracting and it's not offensive or anything. Like it's good for Uber drivers. It's good to play in the background of Starbucks or wherever.

Sam Thorogood (21:36): Well, finally, I would love for you to share your love letter that you have written to Starbucks with us.

Just Wisdom (21:45): Dear Starbucks, words cannot fully express the affection and admiration I have for you. From the moment I first laid eyes on your inviting storefront, I knew that there was something extraordinary about you. You are more than just a coffee house. You are a sanctuary that awakens my senses and soothes my soul. Whenever I step into your warm embrace, the aroma of freshly brewed coffee fills the air, enveloping me in a comforting embrace. The sound of friendly chatter and the gentle hum of brewing machines create a symphony that instantly puts me at ease. It is in this haven that I have found solace and a sanctuary from the chaos of the world. Your baristas with their genuine smiles of expert craftsmanship have become familiar faces in my life. They understand my quirks, my preferences, and they never fail to create a concoction that perfectly suits my mood. It is in their hands that ordinary coffee becomes a masterpiece, a work of art that captivates my taste buds and delights my senses.

(22:50): But it's not just the coffee that keeps me coming back. It's the ambiance, the cozy corners that invite contemplation, the buzz of creativity that permeates the air... Whether I'm seeking a quiet moment alone or sharing laughter with friends, your welcoming space provides the backdrop for countless treasured memories. Starbucks, you have become more than just a place for me. You are a symbol of comfort, connection, and shared experiences. You have witnessed my triumphs and listened to my deepest sorrows. Your unassuming presence has been a constant companion, supporting me through life's ups and downs. So as I pen these heartfelt words, I want you to know that you hold a special place in my heart. Your existence has brightened my days and warmed my nights. The love and care that you put into every cup reminds me of the beauty and joy that can be found in life's simplest pleasures. Thank you, Starbucks, for being a beacon of warmth and familiarity in this vast and ever-changing world. You have inspired me to savour each moment, to embrace the present, and to find comfort in the ritual of a perfect cup of coffee. With all my love, Just Wisdom.

Sam Thorogood (24:07): Well, thank you very, very much for letting us hear your branding love letter.

Just Wisdom (24:13): Absolutely. You're welcome.

Sam Thorogood (24:18): You've been listening to Branding Love Letters and I've been Sam Thorogood. I'm on a mission: equip pioneers like you to bring others onto your journey. Come and find out more at Thanks for listening. Oh, and big thanks to Thomas Thorogood for the music. Take it away, Tommy boy.

Sam Thorogood | Pilgrimage Design