The Utility of Market Research for the Starbucks Corporation

549 words | 2 page(s)

The exact definition of the term “market research” can vary widely, depending on who is creating or touting a given definition. A generally accepted definition is that market research is the application of scientific discovery methods to marketing decision-making. There are as many methods of researching markets as there are researching in general, and different organizations conduct their market research in different ways, depending on both the size of their marketing budget and the nature of the information they hope to find.

Starbucks is a large international corporation founded in 1971 in Seattle Washington. They now enjoy a presence in 62 countries with over 18,00 stores that bear their name. CEO Howard Shultz wanted to emulate the Italian style coffee house he had encountered during his travels. While this primarily focused on creating a social atmosphere in the stores, it also influenced the coffee towards the dark robust roasts often served in Italy.

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Marketing Research, however, suggested to Starbucks that for between 40 and 60 percent of coffee drinkers, the classic Pike Place Roast is too intense (too strong) for their liking. Concurrent research discovered that many people will leave a store empty-handed after looking at coffee beans or ground coffee, because they are unsure what will meet their taste desires in a sea of options (Isobe, 31). Starbucks implemented a packaging scheme that divides coffees into easily identifiable categories: Dark, Medium, and Blonde roast to ensure customers can find what they are looking for easily (Isobe, 32).
While Starbucks used surveys and other types of market research to determine the need for a lighter roast coffee with a different flavor profile initially, they only perfected that flavor through the use of focus groups. A focus group is a type of qualitative research. A company may not get an overarching view of what a whole population thinks, but they have a unique opportunity to engage with their market in a small group in order to see where customers are drawing their conclusions (Calder, 353). Starbucks reported in a press release that they tested over 80 varieties of the new blend before they landed on one that consistently delivered what guests were looking for. Only then did they launch Blonde Roast, and with great success.

The creation of Starbucks’ Blonde Roast, and the implementing of new packaging with Blonde Roast in retail grocers, is an example of proactive market research. Starbucks was not losing market share, their stock was performing well, and they did not have a new major competitor emerge in the beverage field. They simply conducted constant research in order to identify any needs that existed that were not being met by their current product line. After Starbucks identified that a need existed, they created Blonde Roast and used a qualitative measure of market research, focus groups. Their focus groups ensured that the product they were creating would actually meet the need they had discovered in their quantitative research. The success and profitability of Blonde Roast coffee can be attributed, at least in part, to successful market research in all stages of product conception, design, and implementation.

  • Calder, B. J. (1977). Focus groups and the nature of qualitative marketing research. Journal of Marketing Research, 14 (3), 353-364.
  • Isobe, B. (2012). Does a change in logo affect the value of the Brand? The case of Starbucks. CMC Senior Thesis, Claremont University.

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