Starbucks Experience and Tim Hortons Taste

There are two general attitudes toward creating an addictive customer, the kind who will come back and buy your product repeatedly. On the one side, we have the creation of an experience, on the other, the creation of a good product. To make this easier to relate to, I’m going to compare two large coffee chains, and their attitudes toward their own product.

Starbucks Experience

I’m not a regular customer at Starbucks, because I don’t like their coffee. I find it to be overly strong, as if it were roasted too long. As I’m into my coffee (I often roast my own at home), and I drink coffee for its wakening effects, I’m not going to frequent a shop that serves a product I don’t like.

Others, however, will continue going to buy their coffee at Starbucks, despite the fact that they readily admit that the coffee is not great. They return, however, for the experience. At Starbucks, the ordering, serving, and drinking the coffee is about the culture, the environment in which it takes place. The product itself will take a back seat to the experience, and there are certainly people who will pay for that.

Several years ago, before I got married and I was dating frequently, I became familiar with the various shops, and realized that when entering a coffee shop for social reasons, the experience is much more important than the product. (I also learned to order tea instead of coffee.)

Tim Hortons Taste

The other chain that contrasts well with Starbucks is Tim Hortons. Personally, I don’t think their coffee is wonderful, but I have been to several cafes, and what I noticed to be so remarkable about Tim Hortons is the consistency in the taste of coffee. No matter when I’ve gone in, whether it’s the shop near the office, across the border, in the airport – it always tastes exactly the same.

In early June, the National Post ran an article detailing how Tim Hortons produces such a consistent product. A fascinating read, it outlines the process that the company follows to achieve consistency. They are not aiming to be the best coffee, or the best experience. They’re aiming to be the most reliable coffee. When in doubt, drink a cup of Tim Hortons coffee.

What This Means to You

You may or may not be working with coffee. But you do work with either a product or a service. You have two ways to convince customers to come work with you, to buy from you. Either you can provide them with a great experience, or you can provide them with a consistent product. Neither way is more right than the other, but it is important that you determine which route you want to go.

Then you need to figure out how to go out and do it, and to be successful at it.

  • Lydia Jackson

    Hmm… interesting correlation, but shouldn't businesses strive to be both reliable and a good experience?

    For that matter, I almost feel that experience is slightly more important than a reliable product…

    If you have a reliable/good product, but your customer service is non-existent and your staff is rude, why would I bother to come back? As a consumer, I would rather be treated with respect and made to feel as though I am important to the businesses I frequent.

    If you have an amazing experience, friendly staff and great support, but offer a slightly less reliable product, I may be more willing to come back (assuming that your post-purchase customer service is equally a pleasant experience).

    As a marketing strategy, I agree that picking one thing to represent your brand would be a good idea, since it is hard to give complex messages effectively in marketing. So deciding to associate your brand with either A. luxury, experience, service or B. reliability, consistency, integrity (at least as its main point), would set the stage for a consumer's loyalty.

    Just my two cents :)

    Nice article Elie! 😀

  • Elie

    Thanks for the feedback!

    First, this is why I said there is no right or wrong answer here, merely a choice. You prefer the experience, I prefer reliability and consistency. So whichever choice you make, some people will think you made the right one, and others will disagree.

    Does that mean you should ignore the option you didn't choose? No – because it will cost you eventually if you do. But your focus, and your image, should be consistent with the choice you made. As you say, trying to market a complex thought is extremely difficult – so most of what I've written applies more to the marketing aspect of a business than to the implementation aspect.

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