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Calling Starbucks just an innovator in the premium coffee industry is misleading; the company actually has created an entire Starbucks lifestyle. Part of its brand image derives from the music that sets the mood in stores for its customers, and now it is using that image to become one of the first companies to market music.

Starbucks-owned Hear Music record label puts out music by different artists—including Paul McCartney, the iconic former Beatle and first artist to sign directly with the label. In a synergetic relationship for Starbucks and McCartney, 45 million Starbucks customers will hear his music playing every time that they enter a store, and McCartney offers a strong sense of credibility and pop culture history.

Music distributed through brands may be new, but it is going to be big. Starbucks’s music sales have been successful because they reflect its core concept and complement the wider atmosphere. Other brands that decide to distribute music similarly must be strategic in their choices, because some artist connections could diminish brand images rather than enhance them.

Music now sells through far more untraditional channels than ever before. Customers who purchase music at Starbucks often do so to extend their experience, which means more to them than just the song itself. In a win–win proposition, artists can commit to new markets, and brands can define what they want to be even more precisely.

Discussion Questions:

1. Is selling music good for Starbucks’ brand management?

2. Is it good for artists to co-brand their music albums with Starbucks?

Kirstein, Richard, “Music Marketplace: Brands as Music Moguls,” Brand Strategy, June 12, 2007.

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