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iPhone App Marketing Lessons from Starbucks

January 7th, 2011 Jeremy Jeremy


Starbucks makes lots of bucks. But they don’t spend a dime on traditional billboard/banner/TV advertising. Are there marketing principles we app developers can distill from Starbucks’ success? I think there are.

Starbucks’ marketing success stems primarily from one technique: they connect their brand with a pleasant and memorable experience. When you go to Starbucks, you receive a competently-crafted coffee that gives you a caffeine high and tingles your taste-buds; at the same time, the warmth and comfiness, the stylish but pleasant post-modern decor, the soothing and romantic notes of La Vie en Rose or L’Ora dell’Addio, the bubbly chatter of human beings around you produce an almost therapeutic ambiance. Thus, the next time you see a Starbucks logo all of those sensations (experiences) of warmness, fuzziness, caffeine high, pleasant taste, romantic music, etc. all converge upon you, compelling you to repeat the experience. This is the marriage of brand and experience.

Apple, like Starbucks, markets by engineering delightful experiences. 37signals have written about how Apple does this with their “designed by Apple in California” label. The Apple Store also exemplifies Apple’s obsession with experience: there’s an employee for almost every customer, ready to help and explain; and the employees, after helping you, can swipe your credit card information on the spot, allowing you to quickly purchase things without waiting in any line. Eliminating the scent of bureaucracy, Apple produces an intensely personal experience, treating the customer as if she were a princess.

In their book, The Experience Economy, B. Joseph Pine and Joseph H. Gilmore argue that the consumer of the future will increasingly expect and demand not merely goods or services, but experiences. They contend that the successful companies of the future will deliver goods and services in an experiential gift wrap. The advantage of an experience-based marketing strategy is that it allows you to manufacture a viral effect.

Starbucks’ engineers a pleasant experience; and gets them both customer loyalty and the viral effect. Each Starbucks customer becomes a Starbucks marketer and the effect snowballs as more people are sucked in.

Thus, as iPhone developers and marketers, it is imperative that we not merely focus on “features” or even social media marketing. Rather, we must pay much attention to engineering an overwhelmingly delightful experience in and around our apps (In his article, “The iPhone is not Easy to Use,” Fred Beecher argues that the future of UX design is “delightfulness”).

The experience of using the app must be delightful. In addition, our customer support, blogs, and other points of contact with customers must be similarly delightful. In my next post I will apply, in detail, the principal of experience-based marketing to iPhone apps.


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