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Strong Brands Always Have More Brand Credits Than Debits: A Starbucks Lesson

by John Moore  |  
September 19, 2006
  |  23,639 views

The Starbucks Coffee marketing research department is kept busy providing oodles and oodles of insights into the Starbucks brand through yearly brand audits. And take it from this former long-time Starbucks marketer: The company learns a lot from these studies.

However, when it comes to measuring and managing the Starbucks brand on a daily basis, the Starbucks marketing department generally relies on a much simpler method—a brand checkbook.

Just as your personal checkbook has credits and debits, a brand checkbook has credits and debits in the form of brand credits and brand debits. "Brand credits" are business activities that enhance the reputation and perception people have of a brand, and "brand debits" are those that detract from the reputation and perception of the brand.

When faced with determining the appropriateness of marketing activities such as a promotion, sponsorship, program, or special event, the marketing department first determines whether the activity is a brand credit or debit.

To determine the positive impact (credit) or negative impact (debit) of a potential marketing activity, Starbucks marketers ask the following questions:

  • Does the marketing activity respect the intelligence of Starbucks customers?

  • Can Starbucks expertly deliver on all the promises made to customers in the proposed activity?

  • Will Starbucks employees be excited and motivated by the activity?

  • Will customers view the marketing activity as being clever, original, genuine, and authentic?


If the marketing department answered "yes" to three of these four questions, then the activity is considered a brand credit.

On the other hand, if Starbucks marketers answered "no" to more than one question, then the activity would be considered a brand debit. The Starbucks marketing department would then need to discuss the business importance of doing that brand debit activity.

An example of a brand-credit marketing activity is when Starbucks wrestled with the idea of running a sweepstakes promotion.


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John Moore was formerly in marketing at Starbucks Coffee and Whole Foods Market; he now runs the Brand Autopsy Marketing Practice (www.brandautopsy.com) and is the author of TRIBAL KNOWLEDGE: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture (www.tribalknowledge.biz).

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