I was running late, it was pouring rain, I was dying for some coffee and just couldn’t bear walking the two extra blocks to my favorite coffee shop La Columbe, so I begrudgingly stepped into what I remembered to be the old, rundown Starbucks in Soho on Broome and Crosby and was completely prepared for a “not so great, but get the job done” coffee experience.  But I was bolted out of my un-caffeinated zombie-like trance the second I walked through the door. Little did I know I was about to see first-hand how an updated brand experience can completely transform one’s perception of a brand.

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First – the decor.

The old, worn out floor had been replaced by shiny dark floors made from reclaimed wood. The corporate-commissioned artwork had been replaced with what looked like one-of-a-kinds. The uncomfortable and worn out looking furniture had been replaced with sleek, yet cozy-looking chairs and stools. I felt like I was in a fashionable art deco library, not some corporate cookie cutter coffee shop. It felt…nice.

Next – the coffee line.

Suddenly a tall young gentleman appeared at my side with one of those little microphone ear things, asking me what I’d like to order. He must have either been a trainer or the superstar of his training class, because after I stared, stunned, at him for a few seconds he smoothly began to explain who he was and why he was asking.

He was amazingly eloquent, taking his time to explain this store location as Starbucks’ new downtown flagship. Not only had they renovated, they had also implemented significant operational improvements deeming them LEED-certified at this location. WOWOW! (LEED certification means that the interior was redesigned using strategies that improve environmental impact across all the metrics that matter: energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.)

I was shocked they had made this kind of investment.  It can’t have been cheap, and really says something about their environmental conscientiousness.  I’m really listening now, and I can actually feel my non-plussed attitude towards Starbucks changing, right then and there.

Me: “I’ll have a tall coffee.”

The perfectly groomed, articulate employee with all the answers says, “OK. Would you like to try our new Clover coffee?”

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He then went on to explain the new Clover machine, and French-press like filtration process.  “Its innovative design lets you discover new layers and dimensions within a coffee’s familiar aroma, flavor, body and acidity. The result is a deeper experience – one that’s carefully prepared and made to order, one cup at a time.”

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Starbucks new $11,000 Clover Coffee machine.(BTW photographs of this machine are strictly forbidden – but you saw it here first!!)

The Clover coffee WAS made individually for me.  The barrista took me through the importance of each one of the steps. He also told me how to drink it, and how NOT to dress it with milk, etc. which would water down the magnificence of its flavor.

I could not believe how drastically my perception of this tired and corporate brand was continuing to change before my very eyes.

Summing up the experience…

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The Clover Coffee WAS amazing.  I would (and will) recommend it to anyone.  The efficiency of the new pre-order line help was impressive (my coffee was actually ready at the time of payment).  The updated, LEED certified decor was inspirational.

I walked out of that Starbucks feeling amazed. Here is a brand that I’d previously considered so tired, corporate and predictable, that I actually avoid them now. But after that immersive, uplifting experience I walked out of the store actually feeling  EXCITED about  Starbucks again.

And that’s the golden ticket isn’t it?  No amount of money spent on an ad campaign could create something like what I just personally felt at Starbucks.  Humans are experiential learners – our knowledge of the world changes most drastically through personal experiences, not through 30 second commercials.

I wish all companies could understand how powerful a positive brand experience can be in updating and transforming consumers’ impressions of a brand.  Advertising can always build on and enhance consumers’ impressions, but if the impressions are based on a real-life, positive experience, the learning will be real, and consumers themselves will do the advertising!