How Starbucks Turned A Weakness Into A Strength

You’ve probably seen examples even if it hasn’t happened to you personally. Starbucks baristas are notorious for their poor spelling. Customers post photos Starbucks cups with names hideously misspelled across social media.


Joshua is written “JOSHAWA”, Christina is “CHERISHTINA”, Annie is “ANY”.


I’ve seen the photos and laughed. Maybe it was started by a prankster barista who wanted to make his customers smile. It would be a practise worth noting for that reason alone.


But thanks to Kendall Baker’s tongue-in-cheek investigative reporting at The Hustle, I’ve realised these spelling ‘mistakes’ might actually be encouraged by Starbucks’ HQ.


Kendall notes that the photos don’t just show up on individual’s social media feeds, but are highlighted by celebrities and influencers in front of millions of fans, online articles and tumblr pages.


It seems as though Starbucks recognised that customers enjoyed sharing the #spellingfails with their friends and decided to embrace it. Here is an innocuous fun invitation to their tribe to share photos of their branded with their friends. The photos are funny, encourage engagement and are a form of social proof that “I’m a Starbucks customer.”


The corporates at the coffee company’s headquarters could have taken a different position. They could have put in place processes to fix the ‘problem’ of poor spelling. Spelling tests at job interviews perhaps, or offering remedial spelling classes for employees.


Instead –

  • They noticed an aspect of the brand that appealed to people’s sense of humour.
  • They realised that it is something that customers want to share and talk about.
  • They made it a feature of their brand.
  • They amplified it.


We could all take a lesson from this story and ask the following questions about our own company, organisation or personal brand.


Which aspects of our brand really connect with the people around us?


When do people feel so strongly about their interactions with us that they’re inspired to share it with others?


Is our tribe, audience or network noticing strengths that we haven’t even thought to embrace?

  • If yes – how can we amplify and leverage these strengths to reach and impact more people (or have an even deeper resonance with our existing audience)?
  • If no – we need to reconsider where we can spark joy in our interactions with the people around us. Where can we make them smile, laugh, feel appreciated or be empowered?
Share This