This is Why We’re Still Mad About Starbucks


APRIL, 2018

Brand Story

I want to share with you why my bruised feelings (and probably yours too) will remain even after the Starbucks smoke clears.

So it’s been about a week since the Starbucks incident and I’ve gone through ALL of the emotions! From denial to anger and now acceptance, I’m at a point where I can clarify my thoughts and perspective on this BRAND DISASTER.

Despite CEO Kevin Johnson’s apology and his scheduled 8,000-store shutdown for training on implicit bias, the bitter taste of two innocent arrests still lingers.

We, as customers, coffee addicts, and community, are very much in fact still mad.

We’re still appalled, still offended, and still heartbroken by the fact that people can be arrested in their neighborhood Starbucks for doing what WE ALL DO when we go to Starbucks – chill, wait for our friends, order coffee – now, later or never.

This is NOT what happens at Starbucks. It’s supposed to happen in that movie that takes place during the ’60s in rural Alabama or maybe in some ignorant corner of rural Alabama today. But, at Starbucks – the brand with the diverse staff of baristas that know your name, the coffeehouse that assimilates into the neighborhood with its music and decor, the shop that the entire community comes to in the morning to wake up and again at noon to meet up – nah, not here.


As customers, our expectation of the chill environment, personable service, and community feel was not something we created from thin air; this expectation was established by the brand.

Our ideal of coffee and community utopia exists because that’s what Starbucks vowed to us in its brand promise: 

“To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.”

This promise is what the brand is built on. It’s what you buy into when you order your caramel macchiato, or your multigrain bagel with cream cheese, or those overpriced espresso chocolate beans. It’s why the baristas try to learn your name so that they can greet you personally the next day. It’s why there are tables and chairs to sit and enjoy your coffee or just sit and enjoy your company until you decide if you even want coffee.

This brand promise is what has subconsciously sold you into spending your time and money in overcrowded corners on overpriced lattes.

So when this promise was so brashly violated, it shook a community of (not just Black) people and brand enthusiasts who felt the betrayal of a broken promise.

That’s why we’re still mad.


Despite their best PR efforts, the promise of “inspiring and nurturing the human spirit – one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time”  now feels like a lie.  Sadly, some of the Starbucks brand values do too: (1) Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome; (2) Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other; (3) Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect; and (4) Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for results.


“Brands are incredibly fragile and complex, yet shockingly simple to create.”

Like in all relationships, Starbucks now faces the challenge of rebuilding trust and belief in the relationship between brand and customer.

Now, it must really hold itself accountable to recreate that coffeehouse ideal that has been publicly contradicted.

My graduate school professor once said,

“Brands are not at all what most people think they are. They are incredibly fragile and have little to do with products, services, logos, CEOs, or identities. A brand is something much more complex to continue, yet shockingly simple to create:

A brand is a promise, kept. “

.      .     .

Ask yourself what your brand promise is and if you’re doing everything that you can in your business (from operations to marketing and even in your hiring) to uphold yours so that the same brand irony Starbucks is experiencing never falls upon you.


Need help mapping out your brand promise or your brand values? Book a 60-minute BRANDSTORM session with me here!  We’ll create a plan to bullet-proof your brand from Starbucks-like debacles and get you on the right track toward keeping your promise to your customers.

Written by: Amber Williams
Master Brand Storyteller & Founder of PunkyFlair