Starbucks’ Mission Statement Writers May Have Had One Too Many Venti Peppermint Mocha Twists

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The design community is abuzz with yesterday’s launch of the modified Starbucks logo into the real world.
The visual vocabulary is clever and innocuous even if it is a little too now to be timeless, but what’s behind this new look?
To answer this question, we look at Starbucks’ mission statement.
Our mission: to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.

Mission statements don’t have to be utter corporate drivel. In fact, we believe they can be incredibly powerful tools (both in terms of the process leading to their creation and their actual use to an organization and its stakeholders) in defining an organization’s goals, culture and personality. Starbucks appears to think so too, and has avoided the usual “to provide the best quality; to be the leading provider; blah blah blah.” We see two good points about this mission statement:

  1. Clearly, the mission statement provides logic for removing the word ‘coffee’ from the logo. Even though it references a cup, the explicit omission of the word coffee is important, and it’s aligned with Howard Schultz’s strategic vision for the company.
  2. The mission statement promises a local and even individual approach to business, which aligns with Starbucks’ talk of interactions rather than transactions, and its increasing attempts to recognize its patrons as individuals. (see the video on the Starbucks.com home page for an example)

But does this mission statement go too far? Even allowing room for a bit of aspiration, doesn’t the idea of Starbucks inspiring and nurturing the human spirit actually inspire and nurture peals of laughter? Corporate mission statements are an easy target because they’re often devoid of absolutely any meaning, but they can be better. Here’s Apple’s:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OSX, iLife, iWork, and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and has recently introduced its magical iPad which is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices.

While it’s largely retrospective, its plain-spokenness doesn’t inspire ridicule, and it lets internal and external readers know that Apple thinks big as well as different. And here’s Nike’s:

To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world. If you have a body, you are an athlete.

Inspiration works for Nike because the company puts it specifically in terms of athletic pursuits. Who doesn’t want to be inspired to get off the damn couch? We don’t hate Starbucks’ mission statement, but as positive as the idea of inspiring and nurturing the human spirit  must have made everyone around the boardroom table feel when it was presented, we believe the statement is actually a missed opportunity to define and cement the less abstract (but still very meaningful) relationship that people have with Starbucks, and a blown chance to galvanize employees into continuing to build those relationships. It’s not that we can’t think of ways for baristas to nurture our spirits. It’s just that we don’t expect them to do so for 4 bucks.

Now It’s Your Turn
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  • Rob
    Mar 14, 2011

    Thanks for the link!

    I don’t hate this statement either, but only because I’ve seen so many that err so egregiously on the other side. It does strike me as a little too vague to be useful, and a little too romantic to be taken seriously.

    And not sure where they got “inspire.” It makes so much less sense than “nurture.”

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