What Marketers Can Learn From Starbucks' Foursquare Stumble

Is Poor Execution a Necessary Cost of Early Adoption?

By Published on .

David Teicher
David Teicher
Starbucks has a well-earned rep as an outstanding marketer that really does get social media. Which is why it didn't surprise me it was an early adopter on Foursquare. What did surprise me: When I went to take advantage of Starbucks' recently ended Foursquare promotion, neither the barista nor the manager had any idea what I was talking about.

So much for cashing in on my mayorship with a discounted caramel frappuccino. Really, Starbucks? How difficult is it to send an e-mail to your managers outlining the campaign details? Missteps aside, I have a lot of respect for the marketing minds at Starbucks. The company has consistently been first to jump on new technologies and platforms and incorporate them into its marketing strategy.

Take, for instance, the continued success of My Starbucks Idea, last year's unbranded stores in Seattle, and, more recently, the Klout Influencer outreach program. In my opinion, they define the early adopter brand. Unfortunately, inherent in that mentality is the likelihood that the corporate strategists may be, and probably are, more tech savvy than the common employee, especially for a brand with so many brick-and-mortar outlets littered about the country. That said, assuming Starbucks did take the standard actions to communicate the details to its employees, the information may not have been properly understood or conveyed.

For the record, I first spoke with Brad Nelson, known to most as @Starbucks, immediately after the experience. He was incredibly helpful and responsive (after a brief period of initial silence). Brad directed me to a PR rep, who offered no official explanation for the failure to deliver.

Foursquare founder Dennis Crowley and biz dev honcho Tristan Walker were both quick to respond on Twitter and, though I think most would agree they don't share in the fault, the two said they would welcome thoughts on how to keep this kind of thing from happening in the future. In fact, only a few weeks later, this post appeared on the Foursquare blog, in which several issues are addressed, including concerns about redemption.

My first suggestion to Foursquare is an option for users to report issues directly within the application, preferably within the location-aware "special promotion" message. This would then instantly notify Foursquare, the partner brand in question, and other users that a particular venue isn't honoring the offer.

This is where I turn it over to you guys. With so many new, appealing technologies emerging at such an incredible rate, each with its own set of implications and opportunities for marketers, resisting the urge to utilize them is increasingly difficult. So, for all the wannabe early adopters out there observing brands like Starbucks and Pepsi, drooling over the shiny allure of Foursquare and Stickybits, and itching to get in on the Tablet Revolution, as I would be, what recommendations would you make to them before heading down that path, aside from market testing?

Note: Here's the excerpt from the Foursquare blog post attending to the aforementioned issue.

    User experience is paramount to anything that happens within the Foursquare universe. These early experiments are helping us make a better product and ensure that future offers are as easy to redeem as ever. While the ultimate responsibility rests with the merchant, we want to make sure they have the tools and documentation necessary to teach everyone involved about our programs. As technology advances and Point of Sale systems get smarter, this responsibility can move from humans to barcode scans, loyalty card integrations and other means, thus reducing the potential friction.

    As always, we thank you all for the feedback! We will continue to work to build the best product possible for our users and merchants and we welcome the feedback as we continue to iterate the platform based on these early experiments.

David Teicher is social media and event content manager at Advertising Age. He joined from McCann Erickson, where he was social media manager and strategist. You can follow him on Twitter.
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