Is Starbucks the Most Dangerous Competitor to Facebook?

Today’s post is a collaboration with Clinton Bonner, community connectivity expert, futurist, and blogger at Everything to Everything.

Starbucks is not only offering free Wi-Fi in all stores come this fall, but also unveiling their Starbucks Digital Network that all in-store web and mobile users will have the opportunity to enjoy (it’s a partnership with Yahoo!). Why would Starbucks need their own digital network? What impact could Starbucks’ brand of wireless connectivity have on consumer behavior? Plenty.

Imagine a customer-only network chock full of ‘In Network’ freebies that you can ONLY get while on ‘location’ (in this case at a Starbucks). Free access to premium news sites such as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, free iTunes downloads, and for the kids free access to Nick Jr. games that typically require monthly fees.

Does this change how you might browse the Web, with your physical ‘branded’ location determining how and how much you pay for premium online content? Does this change where you might go to get your next cup of coffee and how you come to discover music and other consumer products?

Working Together to Remove Money From Your Pocket

What used to be content intended for all end-users to access the same way is now possibly just a piece of the marketing puzzle to properly equip cross-brand, cross-vertical collaboration and integration. What was once ‘the end’ purchase: a physical newspaper, a cup of coffee, or a digital song download is now a key cog in the greater scheme of getting the consumer to fork over more dollars, more consistently. Here’s a post from Clinton all about the band No Doubt and their successful shifting of the meaning of ‘end content’.

In the Starbucks case, it’s even more powerful. The consumer might frequent the Starbucks more, spend more money and/or time, or might really enjoy having full access to USA Today and become a converted, paid member. All of this marketing and purchase value is delivered under the cloak of giving you a new, richer experience. And it does indeed, which is why it’s so powerful. We’re willing accomplices in our own marketing funnel.

What’s Next (Potentially)?

Imagine a Starbucks patron is reading a review in the free version of the New York Times about a Chardonnay and suddenly their iPhone buzzes. A text coupon arrives in your mobile inbox and you are offered $5 off a wine purchase of $20 or more from a local wine purveyor. The coupon has a timed code and expires in 3 days, nudging you to act. The era of the hyper-relevant advertisement is upon us. And that example is just scratching the surface.

The means to deliver the right branded message, via the most influential medium, in the exact right moment is coming VERY soon. Starbucks could use their SDN to reinvent themselves as a key member of any local community, and not as a coffeehouse, but as the best-possible advertising platform available in every city and town in the country. Because of the commerce potential (subscriptions, coupons) a Starbucks local ad network (possibly empowered by Yahoo’s sales force) might even be a revenue share, making it even more efficient for marketers than Google Adwords or Facebook ads.

It’s capitalism and marketing at its most brilliant. Unapologetic intrusiveness, warmly invited by the customer because the perceived value is high.

If you were Starbucks, how would you take advantage of this new network?

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