Brand mastery, like leadership, means taking a stand and sticking with it.
Howard Schultz, the founder and CEO of Starbucks, has taken such a stand with his new "Race Together" campaign.
Even though it has generated much controversy.
Even though experts in the branding community have slammed it.
With his insistence on following a singular vision that is true to the brand -- not politics, not popularity contests and not opinion polls -- Schultz shows once again that he is the definition of a brand master.
What people don't understand, but should, is that Starbucks is a vision of community.
It is Schultz's world to build. A world of conscious capitalism.
In this world, as in every well-organized system of production, profits come first - they have to.
But the relationships among people dominate the conversation always.
From Schultz's point of view, when the gulf in our community is so great that people can no longer talk with one another, the brand is in danger.
If he made a mistake, and I think he did stumble a little bit here, it was to have the baristas be the brand ambassadors for race relations.
Instead he should have confined himself to affixing "Race Together" to the coffee cups; selling a book on the subject; or perhaps donating profits to a worthy related cause.
The mistake was, really, to go against the brand by dehumanizing the baristas. It's counterproductive to try to turn people into mouthpieces for your personal agenda -- even if it is a good one -- unless they sign up for that.
Overall though, Schultz is on the right track by once again reinventing the brand to stay relevant, and taking it to a higher ideal.
Howard Schultz is a man on a mission. If it's a major, divisive social issue, he will not stop till we talk about it.
Preferably over coffee.
All opinions my own. No federal agency or any other official commercial endorsement expressed or implied. Photo by K. Johansson via Wikipedia.