Is McStarbucks a perception or a reality?

I know I'm not the only one to notice that Starbucks and McDonald's are starting to compete over the same customers. (See my post on this topic from last year.) What's interesting to me is the customer service dilemma Starbucks is apparently facing. Do they continue to appeal to more and more of the same demographic as McDonald's? Or, do they hold firm to their coffee house roots (with the power of a global brand). Is it even possible to be both?

Starbucks announced today they were offering discounts on certain coffee and food combinations. Their press release refers to these as "pairings", which certainly suggests a more upscale value offering. An article that appeared on the San Diego Union Tribune website referred to them as "value-meal pairings". The Union Tribune places Starbucks squarely in competition with McDonald's.

Therein lies the challenge for any organization. You must first decide who you are going to be to your customers and then be the best "you" you can be. Service inevitably suffers if you don't define how you will (and will not) serve your customers. It also suffers if you can't deliver on that promise.

Is Starbucks the next McDonald's?

My take is Starbucks is walking the tightrope between "fast food restaurant" and "corner coffee house" and they are struggling to be both amidst a lot of strong opinions. I think they should ultimately choose who they are (even if it's neither option) and let us all know with much more clarity. Of course, I can also think of a few additional warning signs that might tell us Starbucks secretly aspires to be the McDonald's of coffee.

  • They could offer a small toy with every value-meal pairing. The toys would target adults on the go, such as plastic mood rings, "I love the environment" stickers, and free song downloads (wait, they already do that last one).
  • Starbucks might want to create their own playland, but with an adult theme. Instead of a slide and a jungle gym, they could create a patio-like atmosphere with big comfy outdoor chairs and funky furniture. (oh wait, they already do that)
  • They could save time and money by making liberal use of a microwave to cook their food, just like McDonald's does. (um, I guest they already do that too)

On second thought, I guess Starbucks is already there. Now, they just need to go all in and create their own version of Ronald McDonald. Maybe "Carl Starbucks, the Coffee Clown" or something else that will play well with the kids.