Failed Starbucks Via Challenge

Today I took the Starbucks Via challenge, and I was disappointed.

First of all, I could tell the difference. I did not know which was which, but I could tell the difference… and I did not like Via. The regular brew had a cleaner taste. So, the challenge did not sway me to buy Via.

However, I learned something about Via – it could be instantly dissolved in cold water, or cold milk! Imagine the possibility in the summer! But, wait.. it is only 50 degrees out.. I do not need a cold coffee… So, that is an irrelevant message to me. However, I believe that Starbucks would launch a cold Via campaign in the summer. But of course, the problem would be how to differentiate this against the bottled Frappacino Starbucks already have.

Toward the end of the demonstration, I learned something even more exciting about Via. I learned that Starbucks designed the most nifty travel mug for Via. It is a regular travel mug, with a twist off cap that allows easy storage of the Via packages. Now, why is that not the focus of the campaign?

I understand that Starbucks is about taste, but Via is about the on-the-go lifestyle Americans have. In addition, a quick survey online would reveal that many could taste the difference between Via and the fresh brew. I am not alone in this. So, by solely focusing on taste, the Via campaign is missing the opportunity to truly address what the product brings to the lives of today’s consumers. The product proposition for Via should not be built on taste, something people already expect from a Starbucks product. Of course, people would wonder if Via could deliver on taste, but it is not a problem, unless Via really could not deliver. People would not buy Via because of taste. They buy Via because it is convenient! They buy Via because they would not have to make a coffee stop. They buy Via because they would not have to wait in line for a coffee. They buy Via because they could save two minutes in the morning!

Now, let me also give you the context of how this demonstration went. The barista was very diligent in focusing on the taste message. However, being a coffee addict and a marketer, I was particularly interested about this product launch. So, I stuck around and chatted with the Barista a little. It was after I was given the coupon, and the other couple that was also at that particular demonstration had left, that I learned about the cold brewing and the travel mug. Now, imagine how many people never knew about those two really cool facts about Via. How much potential sale lost…

Photo credit: Starbucks Via travel mug, originally uploaded by mhaithaca.

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