September 27, 2018 Coffee follows the path of least resistance


I am a HUGE Starbucks fan… not necessarily because I’m addicted to caffeine (ok, maybe a little bit) or the “big box” approach to coffee shops, but because it has genuinely become part of my life and morning routine. Every day, I wake up and get ready for work, then I decide which Starbucks I am going to stop at on my way in.

  • Do I use the mobile app to order ahead and pick up?
  • Do I use the drive-thru?
  • Do I walk in and order in person so that I can see my favorite barista and also use my reusable cup/ save the environment?

Truth be told, I’d always rather have my Nitro Cold Brew from Starbucks.

The Starbucks brand has a solid presence on my social media platforms, mainly Instagram. Through their Instagram stories, I am able to see CSR stories such as how and where the company sources their “fair trade” coffee beans, as well as featured “human interest stories” from influencers or employee highlights. Beyond that, they use IG as a tool to advertise “deals of the day” or “happy hour” events that are coming down the pipe that week. Coupled with bright beautiful images and/or short video clips, this type of social media advertising is quite catchy.

One unique instance in which Starbucks used social media was when they recently came under fire for alleged racial profiling and insensitivity in a Philadelphia store location. As a result of the incident in Philly, the company decided to shut down all stores one afternoon in May for “racial bias training” and were very upfront and transparent about it through their social media platforms leading up to that day. I found this to be a unique way to reach their customer base directly (rather than through traditional media channels) about something so heated and sensitive, outside of your normal every day Frappuccino advertisement. All things considered, I think Starbucks handled the incident quite well; they never dodged blame or made excuses, they simply said “we screwed up”, apologized, and immediately implemented new policies and employee training guidelines to remedy any similar situations moving forward.

I use the official Starbucks app to pay for my purchases and track my rewards. Likewise, Starbucks uses the data collected from the app to track how and when I visit their stores, which specific stores I visit most frequently, and which beverage and food items I am most fond of at any given point. As a result, I notice that the offers pushed out to me directly through the app are typically an invitation for bonus reward stars if I purchase more of the same items I already consume anyway. Through the app, I am also able to see what song and artist is currently playing over the store speakers, as well as my full purchase history and card balance/ reloads. It really does function as a “one stop shop” in terms of purchasing and consumer facing branding efforts.

Their overall social presence and strategy seems to be timed with the seasons, as I’ll see ads for light and airy lemonade drinks during the summer, and of course start to see them push the pumpkin spiced latte come fall (#PSL). Sprinkle in a few well-timed CSR initiatives, and the overall feel is that I am being immersed in their brand and culture, rather than being sold to in an outright solicitation of product(s).

According to a 2013 Google study, “69% of consumers expect businesses to be within 5 miles or less of their location, and over half of consumers want to make a purchase within an hour of conducting research on their smartphone. Further, 93% of people who use mobile to research go on to purchase a product or service. Most purchases happen in physical stores.” (Lipschultz, pg. 141) By meeting people “where they are” in the everyday hustle and bustle of today’s modern world, Starbucks is able to use their mobile app, Instagram, and other social platforms to streamline customers’ path to purchase ability.

All-in-all, Starbucks does a good job of utilizing social media across a varying range of topics and messaging. In a world where competition for market share and consumer loyalty is so fierce and always changing, Starbucks has done a great job in attracting and maintaining customers by continually innovating their products and keeping technology at the forefront of their brand experience.

As the saying goes: “Water follows the path of least resistance.” I’d say in this case, coffee also follows that same path.


Harris Lipschultz, J. (2018). Social Media Communication: Concepts, Practices, Data, Law and Ethics. [E-Reader Version]. Retrieved from

Johnson, L. (2016). Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Lattes Are Killing It on Instagram. AdWeek.


Johnson, K. (2018). Starbucks ceo: Reprehensible outcome in Philadelphia incident. Starbucks Newsroom.




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