Race Together!

Community Organizational culture Respect


Key Point: Culture is about who you are, what you stand for and how you act. Many of you may have caught up with Starbucks‘ latest campaign on race relations. Their intention is to have baristas start a conversation with customers on the topic of “inclusion” by writing, #RaceTogether on the Starbucks cups. Do they really expect this to work while the barista is frantically churning though a line up of coffee drink orders? Why? Apparently this idea emerged from internal company discussions on the recent racial tension in Ferguson, Mo. (and elsewhere). The overall message of course, is one we all know, but don’t always represent; we’re ALL human beings. 

I’m sure Starbucks executives thrashed this #RaceTogether campaign over and over with all their internal and external advisors (advertising agencies, communication/P.R. experts and more) before launching. And guess what? Many in the Internet world have expectedly clobbered them, to the point that their VP of Communications deleted his Twitter account, apparently overwhelmed by vicious abuse and negative talk. “How dare Starbucks do this?” “How trivial!” “How ignorant!” “Superficial!” “Self righteous!” etc. What’s most interesting to me though, is that this conversation is exactly who Howard Schultz is and what the Starbucks brand stands for. Starbucks took a position to pay for all employees health care when many similar organizations ran the other way. They have been vocal about supporting gay rights and are explicitly against gun violence. So this is not about whether Starbucks is right or wrong. It is about being consistent with their brand. And they believe the Starbucks brand stands for conversation, respect and inclusion. You might sarcastically say inclusion means rich, white liberals? Frankly, I’m not writing this blog to argue whether Starbucks is right or wrong (although I personally love their courage and conviction to stand for human equality and respect. And people who know me understand that I’m a big Starbucks customer). What I’m applauding is the idea of genuinely living up to your brand; whatever it is. It’s not that baristas are expected to be experts in race relationships. This is about the conversation… “Good morning sir. Enjoy the Americano. What are your thoughts about #RaceTogether?” Starbucks has always been more about the extension of the family kitchen or living room than simply caffeine, or the best coffee selection. Starbucks has very much been about the betterment and connection of human kind, while also making a ton of profit selling arguably, overpriced java. Yet we go there in throngs around the world because it’s more than just coffee. We go because it’s Starbucks.

Garrett and my blog readers, thankfully represent all parts of the globe and most of you followers know I work for a financial institution. (Garrett’s day job is as a producer/reporter for a news agency’s media department). My company has the “outrageous” belief that it will reinvent banking for people. We want to reimagine all of our products and services in this context. And in the end, we are committed to the happiness of our customers. Cynics may snicker about this… The thought of “bankers making banking work for people? Their happiness? Haha, how dumb!” Well guess what? Just like Starbucks, that’s who we are! And everyone who works for us must believe this and act accordingly.

Character Moves:

  1. Know what your organization stands for and be explicit about what that means. Recognize that phrases like “customer service,” “quality,” etc. are mostly insufficient. If that’s what defines you and your organization, you will be bland.
  2. Be clear about what behaviors distinguish you from every one else, and hopefully better than your competition. Why would your customers pay a premium (like Starbucks) to buy from you? What role do you play in that regard? At Starbucks, it may be the cashier or barista that writes, #RaceTogether on the cup. And yet, as it is with every great company, it takes an entire system of people end to end, to define the culture.
  3. Please remember that most customers buy on emotion and a brand relationship is more than just price. McDonald’s specialty coffees have beat Starbucks on numerous blind taste tests worldwide. Yet, customers flock to Starbucks and pay a premium for their coffee. It’s not because we’re dumb, it’s because we support the brand AND also buy/enjoy the coffee taste/experience.

Race Together in The Triangle,


One Millennial View: I read a compelling article on the subject that essentially argued this: Customers are up in arms that when they’re predictably in a hurry (and btw, in herds that “haven’t had their morning coffee yet”), they would be interrupted by barista-strangers asking specifics like, “how many (insert alternate race) Facebook friends do you have? How many (insert alternate race) people’s houses have you been to recently?” When many may not want to “talk” that morning at all, why would Starbucks expect people would want to discuss these topics? The intention is good, but boy oh boy, how could a P.R. team or marketing crew not predict that droves of trolls would attack this? Unfortunately, the open-ended execution just set this up for a massacre. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong either, but just like many of the #(corporate campaigns) we’ve seen before, they just don’t seem to work yet. They bring out the worst of the disgruntled, the most vindictive of the victimized, and the jerkiest of the instigating crap-starters. Definitely not the Character Triangle types. Starbucks may be all for human rights as a corporation, that’s awesome, but when people can’t even tolerate their names being spelled wrong on a $4 dollar cup of coffee, it might be best not to encourage what they talk about. Just like coffee, sometimes you gotta know when it’s too damn hot to touch. 

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis