Packaging New Ideas
It's 1984, and Howard has a dream.
On a business trip to Milan from Seattle, and first time in Italy, he falls in love with Italian coffee culture. More specifically, the espresso bar: a hive of activity and connection.
Howard returns to Seattle with the idea of importing it. He has suburban commuters in mind, picking up a coffee on their way to work. A luxury experience combining convenience with community.
He's dreaming of not just one location but hundreds, and to do that, he needs investment to trial one store, which he gets.
Before launch, he returns to Italy and visits nearly 500 espresso bars, taking notes and photos, observing menus, interior design, and brewing techniques. He captures the ultimate Italian experience to recreate in Seattle.
Good, not great
When Howard launches the first Espresso Bar, which he names Il Giornale, customer feedback is good, and word of mouth spreads. Business is going well enough to secure funding for a further two locations, but Howard was hoping for explosive growth, and it wasn't there yet.
According to customer feedback, the Italian experience Howard had recreated was too 'foreign'. There was no seating, menus were in Italian, staff wore white shirts and bow ties, and the stores played nothing but opera.
So, he modifies the next two bars.
He introduces tables and seating, changes the menus, the staff uniform, and the background music. He embraces the discovery that U.S. customers want Italian espresso culture with an American twist.
A few years later, a local and popular coffee roasting business is put up for sale, and Howard raises further funds to buy them out for the brand reputation as much as the roasting facilities.
He drops Il Giornale in favour of this more American-sounding brand for a localised Espresso bar. Starbucks.
The U.K.'s national dish
Absorbing cultural products and modifying them for local tastes isn't unique to Starbucks.
If you haven't visited Britain in the past thirty years, it may surprise you that a South Asian dish is officially the U.K.'s favourite meal.
But this is a South Asian dish that was invented in Britain.
Legend has it that a customer in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow complained that his chicken tikka was too dry, so the chef threw together a yoghurt-based tomato sauce to accompany the meat.
This invention became Chicken Tikka Masala and would go down well in a nation with a taste for Campbell's tomato soup and Heinz Ketchup.
New Idea, familiar packaging
Howard Schultz was right to think that Americans would love espresso bar culture.
But new ideas need to be anchored to something familiar. Simply dropping an Italian espresso bar in downtown Seattle wouldn’t work for the mass market. It was too 'alien' to anyone that didn't like 'alien' things (which is most people).
The idea took off when the core concept (Italian espresso and community) was packaged in something familiar (Starbucks).
Sure, this doesn't apply to the innovators at the start of the adoption lifecycle. These folks seek out products that look alien.
But for everyone else, the following is true:
New ideas only sell when they come in familiar packaging.
So, why exactly do prospects want something familiar, and how do you deliver that with innovative tech?
Check out the answer in my article on The Underlying Power of Familiarity