In the mid-1980s, Howard Hughes found himself immersed in the coffee world as a manager at Starbucks. However, his perspective and vision for the company took shape during a transformative journey through Italy. Witnessing the rich culture of espresso bars, experiencing the nuances of coffee rituals, and observing the intimate interactions between baristas and customers left an indelible mark on Hughes.
Inspired by his Italian sojourn, Hughes envisioned Starbucks evolving beyond its role as a seller of coffee beans. He believed in the potential for Starbucks to become an espresso bar, offering a more immersive coffee experience. However, this vision clashed with the preferences of Starbucks founders, who were staunch in their commitment to selling coffee beans exclusively. The idea of transforming Starbucks into a coffee-serving establishment, akin to the espresso bars Hughes admired in Italy, faced resistance.
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Undeterred by the initial reluctance, Hughes persisted in advocating for his vision. Faced with the founders’ unwavering stance, he made a bold decision — to depart from Starbucks and venture into his own coffee enterprise. This marked the inception of Il Giornale, a coffee store designed to replicate the authentic Italian espresso experience.
In a surprising twist of fate, just two years after Hughes established Il Giornale, the founders of Starbucks found themselves seeking to sell the company. Seizing the opportunity, Howard Schultz stepped in and acquired Starbucks. Now at the helm of the iconic coffee brand, Schultz faced a pivotal decision regarding its identity.
The dilemma lay in whether to maintain the distinct identity of Il Giornale or to consolidate operations under the well-established Starbucks brand. To brand all stores as Il Giornale or Starbucks? Both names carried their own history and connotations. Il Giornale, with its Italian charm and espresso-focused approach, symbolized the vision and success of Hughes’ independent venture. On the other hand, Starbucks is a recognized and respected brand in the coffee industry.
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When the crucial moment arrived to decide whether to stick with the name Il Giornale or transition to the more widely recognized Starbucks brand, Howard Schultz found himself in a challenging position. The emotional investment in Il Giornale ran deep, not only for Schultz but also for his dedicated teammates who had tirelessly contributed to building the brand’s identity. The prospect of parting ways with this labor of love was undoubtedly painful.
However, in a testament to Schultz’s leadership and business acumen, he recognized the need to set aside personal attachments and focus on the long-term success of the business and the brand. This marked a pivotal life lesson — the ability to step back, detach emotionally, and objectively evaluate what is truly best for the company.
In this introspective moment, Schultz urged his team to envision a scenario where a new CEO, devoid of any emotional ties to prior decisions, was brought in to lead the company. What decisions would such an impartial leader make? This perspective encouraged everyone to adopt a fresh, unbiased approach to the decision-making process.
To facilitate this critical evaluation, Schultz engaged everyone in a comprehensive decision-making process that involved weighing the pros and cons. Schultz, known for his inclusive leadership style, ensured that every voice was heard in this deliberative process.
Schultz sought the expertise of Terry Heckler, the creative mind behind the original naming of Starbucks.
Terry’s insights were clear and pragmatic. He articulated that Il Giornale, while charming and rooted in Italian authenticity, posed practical challenges. Its spelling, pronunciation, and ease of mention over the phone were hurdles, particularly in a U.S. business landscape. Despite two years of operation, Il Giornale lacked widespread recognition, with its association predominantly tied to Italian espresso culture.
In contrast, Starbucks carried a unique allure. Its simplicity in pronunciation, spelling, and mention over the phone made it a practical and recognizable choice. Heckler emphasized the magic inherent in the Starbucks name, citing its ability to pique curiosity and its established aura around Seattle. Importantly, Starbucks felt distinctly American, contributing to its broad appeal. In this light, Starbucks emerged as the clear winner — an easy, relatable name that customers could effortlessly say, write, recognize, and remember.
Despite the close-knit Il Giornale team’s emotional investment and the fear of losing what they had diligently built, the team removed Il Gironale's name from stores and replaced it with Starbucks.
This pivotal decision, while emotionally charged, showcased a commitment to the long-term value of the business and a dedication to providing customers with a brand name that was not only iconic but also easy to engage with. In this strategic move, Howard Schultz and his team demonstrated a profound understanding of the importance of customer-centric thinking in shaping the identity of a brand.
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The story of transitioning from Il Giornale to Starbucks provides valuable insights into naming a brand with a customer-centric approach. Here are some suggestions based on this story:
Ease of Pronunciation and Spelling: Choose a name that is easy for customers to pronounce and spell. Avoid complex or unfamiliar terms that may create confusion. Starbucks, compared to Il Giornale, exemplifies this principle.
Cultural Relevance: Consider the cultural context in which your brand operates. Schultz recognized that the Italian-themed Il Giornale faced challenges in the American market. A name that resonates with the local culture can enhance brand recognition.
Customer Recognition: Aim for a name that customers can quickly recognize and associate with your brand. Starbucks had already established a level of recognition, contributing to its widespread appeal and allure.
Curiosity and Interest: Select a name that piques curiosity and generates interest. Starbucks, with its unique and memorable quality, sparked intrigue. A name that stands out can contribute to a brand’s magnetic appeal.
Ease of Communication: Ensure that the name is easy for customers to communicate verbally, especially over the phone. Starbucks, being simple and clear, passed this test effectively.
Scalability and Global Appeal: If you aspire for global expansion, consider a name with universal appeal. Starbucks transcended cultural boundaries, making it a recognizable and relatable brand internationally.
Inclusivity in Decision-Making: Involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process. Schultz engaged his team and sought external input from Terry Heckler. Inclusive decision-making can lead to a name that resonates with a diverse audience.
Long-Term Vision: Look beyond immediate preferences and consider the long-term vision for your brand. Schultz prioritized the enduring success of Starbucks over personal attachments, showcasing a strategic and forward-thinking mindset.
Adaptability and Flexibility: Choose a name that allows for adaptability and flexibility as your brand evolves. Starbucks seamlessly integrated elements from Il Giornale, showcasing a willingness to adapt while maintaining brand continuity.
Customer-Centric Thinking: Always prioritize the customer’s perspective. Consider how the name will be perceived, remembered, and communicated by your target audience. Customer-centric thinking ensures that the brand resonates with its intended consumers.
By keeping these principles in mind, businesses can approach the naming process with a strategic focus on customer connection and long-term brand success.