Starbucks Coffee recently found themselves in the position of revoking a coupon they distributed to employees in the Southeastern US, as it was redistributed beyond the “original intent” after spreading far and wide in cyberspace… as offers usually do on the web. I’m frankly befuddled as to Starbucks’ inability to foresee how an offer like this distributed via email would NOT become a huge viral item.
Although the damage has been done, Starbucks can still learn from this experience (and must learn from it if they hope to engage their customers successfully in our real-time marketplace):
Understand the medium & your message, anticipate the worst and strategize to mitigate it – i.e. anticipate that an offer like a free iced coffee, with a web-based coupon, will be shared outside of the small circle of friends and family you initially planned for and ensure you recognize what you can do to contain it, or not. If the potential costs outweigh the benefits, don’t do it.
Technology is your friend. Why not build a self-serve contest/ content management app for all Starbucks regions to use for their own promos? Set parameters for the offer and send out an email to employees directing them to the website to send the coupon to a friend. Starbucks could set the parameters for instance, to only allow 10 coupons to be available per employee and institute a unique bar code for each that can be scanned and verified at the Starbucks location. More cost to set up than just sending an email, but if Starbucks is so concerned about freebies getting out of control, it may be a worthwhile investment in the long term. If Starbucks is willing to invest in podcasting (which ironically is aimed to bring back consumers to the coffee chain, which the coupon was succeeding in doing), then they really should be using the very basic strengths of the Interactive medium in their daily business… bells and whistles are nice, but basics like honouring offers mean more in the everyday.
Your competitors will take advantage of your mistakes and that will spread across cyberspace in real-time as well. Caribou Coffee in a great move will accept the coupons on Sept 8th from noon-close at all locations. I’m sure they’ll win a few converts, if not new employees from this maneouver… and a lot of positive word of mouth as well. Was that potential cost factored in to the decision to revoke the coupons?