Beloved Brands in the Market

The Starbucks comeback story: The time they lost their focus, only to regain it!!!

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StarbucksStarbucks is one of the best consumer experience-led brands. While certain consumers believe it is a great coffee, in some blind taste tests, Their coffee has finished middle of the pack. Starbucks builds everything around the consumer experience. The brand views itself as being in the “moments” business. The brand stresses the importance of the culture with its staff and uses service values to deliver incredible guest experiences. Employees wear their green aprons with pride.

The moment of escape

For consumers, Starbucks offers the perfect moment of escape between home and work. To spark pleasant moments, they offer a unique combination of Italian coffee names, European pastries, relaxed and friendly staff, comfortable leather seats, and indie music. Overall, they creates a warm atmosphere, all in support of a fabulous experience. The experience the brand creates makes the coffee taste great.

Starbucks had tremendous success in growing its brand in the 1980s and 1990s. By 2003, people viewed Starbucks as one of the most modern beloved brands in the marketplace. They had earned a very healthy position, so it began looking for new opportunities to grow beyond coffee. As Starbucks defined the brand as an “escape,” it naturally looked for other areas where consumers escaped.

Starbucks took their eye off the ball

In 2003, Starbucks created its own music recording company, won eight Grammys, then launched a movie, and started a partnership with William Morris to scout for music, books, and films. Starbucks even opened an “entertainment” office in Los Angeles.

Within five years, they had lost focus of who it was. These new businesses had become a significant distraction; their core coffee brand suffered dramatically. Without the inspired leadership on coffee, sales plummeted, and the stock price had fallen from $37 to $7.83. The company had to cut 18,000 jobs and close 977 stores. The Starbucks brand was in a complete free fall. Would it be yet another trendy brand to fade off into the sunset?

Creating Beloved Brands Starbucks turnaround story

Starbucks desperately needed to refocus.

The company exited the entertainment business and rebuilt everything back to the coffee ritual. It closed each store location for an entire day to retrain every barista—a symbol of what is most important to consumer experience of the brand. Starbucks created sandwiches, snacks, and pastries around the coffee routine to gain more share of requirements and stretch the coffee routine into lunch and dinner. All these efforts were designed to rekindle the consumer experience.

The following five elements of strategic thinking allowed Starbucks to complete its turnaround plan.

1. Set a vision of what you want

Starbucks wished to become a cherished favorite moment of the day. The question for Starbucks was how to build smartly around the consumer experience to drive significant growth in same-store sales.

2. Invest resources in a strategic program

They needed to regain its strong bond with consumers, to refocus on the consumer experience and build the brand through its culture-led essence, supported by a phenomenal team of employees. Starbucks wanted to bring this culture to the forefront of the consumer experience.

3. Focus on an identified opportunity

In 2008, Starbucks refocused to shift the coffee ritual beyond mornings. It wanted to build an all-day gathering place. The company broadened the portfolio around coffee by adding desserts, snacks, and sandwiches. They saw an opportunity in its under-utilized retail locations, which remained relatively empty after 11 a.m. The company wanted the broader portfolio to boost lunch and dinner sales, and earn a higher share of the consumer’s wallet and higher same-store sales.

4. Leverage a breakthrough market impact

Starbucks closed every store for a day to refocus on its service, then built a broader portfolio around coffee. The company successfully reconnected with most loyal Starbucks fans. It was able to turn the morning coffee routine into an all-day life ritual, allowing them to focus on becoming a consumer experience brand, and a gathering place to savor moments with friends and colleagues. 

5. Performance result that pays back

No longer seen as a destination just for morning coffee, but rather an escape at any point in the day, they saw double-digit growth for five straight years. Meanwhile, the stock price increased 10-fold over that period.

The Starbucks Brand Plan

If you took the strategic thinking model and began to outline a brand plan for Starbucks, these would be the core elements:


Build a cherished meeting place to gather as a favorite moment in consumers’ day.


Increase same-store sales and earn a higher share of requirements among Starbucks loyalists.

Key Issues:

1. How do we build an overall consumer experience beyond coffee?

2. How do we drive significant growth in same-store sales?


1. Rebuild the consumer experience by training all Starbucks baristas to emphasize how our people make the difference to bring brand lovers back to Starbucks.

2. Enhance the Starbucks experience at lunch with innovative sandwiches and snacks, to reinforce the quality difference at Starbucks to successfully enter the lunchtime market.


Focus staff on creating amazing consumer experiences. Retrain all baristas. Launch exotic, refreshing coffee choices, light lunch menu, increase dessert offerings. Create shareable experiences to motivate brand lovers to influence others.

To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.Beloved Brands book

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

To order the e-book version or the paperback version from Amazon, click on this link:

If you use Kobo, you can find Beloved Brands in over 30 markets using this link:

And if you are in India, you can use this link to order:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. Find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. Create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. Build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. Advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.


Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.

Beloved Brands in the Market

Is the Tim Horton’s brand at risk? How can they re-kindle the Love?

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Said with Canadian pride, Tim Horton’s is not just an emotional decision, it’s a personal one. How we feel about Tim’s is in part irrational. We are loyal, un-relenting, outspoken, and possessive. And we are OK to wait in a long line to get our double-double. Tim’s is still a Beloved Brand, but there are signs it might be getting tired and could be at risk at losing. The most Beloved Brands connect with their consumers in five common ways: a brand promise (positioning) consumers love, an emotional brand story (advertising) freshness (innovation), purchase moment and finally the experience (backed by the culture and operations).


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Over the last 20 years, Timmy’s had consistently nailed all five, which is what made it our most Beloved Brand.  But in the last few years, we are seeing slippage on the advertising and the customer experience.  We can see that in the stock price for Tim Horton’s. If you invested $10,000 in 2009, your money would have doubled in just 2 and 1/2 years–considering how badly the stock market was doing this would have been an ideal place for your money.  But since then, the stock has gained very little, and has basically been flat for the last 9 months. That’s not worthy of panic just yet, but from usually we see issues with Brand Health before we see issues of Brand Wealth. It seems that Tim’s has been so focused on the US expansion over the last two years, that they risk letting the brand slip in Canada.

Let’s use the five Brand Connectors to assess Tim Horton’s Brand Health:

  • The “comfortably Canadian” Brand Promise has been brilliant over the past 20 years, striking an emotional cord with our Canadiana more than any other brand. They have created a humble brand, with a simple comfortable menu.  Timbits-500x254It’s not the best food or coffee, but it’s comfortably predictable. People always point to how Tim’s coffee loses in blind taste tests. So would my mom’s dried out and burnt Roast Beef. But I love my mom’s roast beef, because I familiar with it, and it makes me feel comfortable. I’d grade the brand promise an A+.
  • As for the Brand Story, it is what has made the Brand, with deeply emotional and engaging advertising. Magical Canadian story telling at it’s best, whether an old woman walking up a hill or a grandfather at the hockey rink. What’s happened the last few years? Nothing. The last two great spots that connected with consumers were at the 2010 winter Olympics with the Sidney Crosby “wouldn’t it be great…” TV Ad and the other about an immigrant family arriving at a Canadian airport. Those spots made us proud to be Canadian and Tim’s owned that pride. But, the last few years, all I see are “cute” product spots, with a media plan completely void of the anthemic beautiful ads that made Tim’s a Canadian Icon. Please don’t show me how coffee is made. That’s completely off the brand character.  Tim’s has to return to using deeply emotional story telling to deliver the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise. I’d give the advertising an A+ for pre-2010, C+ since. I’d like to see Tim’s return to doing more ads like this one, a simple story about hockey, but beautifully told about a grandfather visiting the hockey arena to see his grandson play hockey:



  • As for Freshness, the innovation pipeline with Lemonade, breakfast sandwiches, grilled cheese, ice caps, maple donuts and oatmeal all delivering the “comfortably Canadian” brand promise.  Nothing wild, nothing crazy, very Tim’s. In terms of coffee, Tim’s has issues with McDonald’s which has an amazing coffee and a great trial strategy offering free coffee for a week. Tim Hortons vs McDonalds CanadaMost published blind taste tests show that McDonald’s clearly beats Tim’s. But improving the Tim’s coffee might be like changing the Coke formula. I’d rather Tim’s build on the comfortable taste of the Tim’s coffee linking it to memories. I’d give Tim’s an A- on innovation, lots of hits, a few flops.
  • The big gap I see “brewing” (pardon my pun) is the the purchase moment, where I am seeing a huge drop off.  The expansion utilizing the franchise model has created a dramatically inconsistent experience from one store to the next. I’m starting to hear a lot of horror stories from consumers. In my last 10 visits to Tim’s, I received friendly and polite service just once. (a shout out to the Aurora store where you feel good leaving)  Most times, the service is efficient, but completely impersonal. Rarely do you hear “please” and “thank you” from the staff. It’s not as polite as McDonald’s and not as friendly as Starbucks. If you want to deliver the brand promise of “comfortably Canadian” Tim’s needs to step it up on customer service to deliver that promise.  Polite and friendly are always free. Tim’s needs start by setting up customer service values, strategically aligned to the brand promise. They need to create action standards on service to hold franchisees accountable to delivering the brand promise. And they need to create a training program to help staff deliver the service values.  Until we see some improvement, the grade for Tim’s experience ranges from an F to an A+, due to inconsistencies. But overall, I’d give the Tim’s experience a D+.

So the report card for Tim’s looks like my grade 9 report card. A few A’s, a C+ and a stupid D+.  Most business people think “Brand” is what the Marketers do. And Culture should be left to Human Resources.  Everyone is responsible for Brand and Culture. Brand is not just about logos and ads, but is equally important internally where it acts as an internal beacon for everyone to follow. How does Tim Horton’s want their people to show up?  What behavior should be rewarded? If the Tim’s culture is not set up to deliver the brand promise, the risk is it all comes crashing down.  To read more on how Culture and Brand go together read:  Brand = Culture: How Culture can Help Your Brand Win

For the Tim’s brand succeed in the future and stay a Beloved Brand in Canada, they need to take that “Comfortably Canadian” Big Idea down to every part of their organization. There might be signs that the new CEO understands what’s happening at the store level.  He recently stated: “Future battles are not going to be won, in my view, with who has the best strategy or who has the best innovation. The companies that will win will be the companies that can execute flawlessly at the store level.”

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It’s time for Tim Horton’s to step it up on Service

Here is a powerpoint presentation on “What makes a Beloved Brand”  Click on the arrow below to follow:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management.

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution.

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands.

Brand Careers 2016.107

Beloved Brands in the Market

Poll: What’s the Most Beloved Coffee Brand?

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Have your say about your favourite coffee brand.