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Inside a Starbucks store

With so much confusion about retailers closing, then reopening, then re-closing, it’s difficult for the industry to stay top-of-mind with customers. Indeed, companies across industries are challenged with how to talk about COVID-19 without pandering or repeating what’s already been said a hundred times.

Previously, I wrote about how Charles Schwab sent customers an empathetic email acknowledging the uncertainty in the financial markets and how customers were apt to feel apprehensive. The brokerage firm’s answer was a series of useful resources to help navigate the market’s volatility – exactly what a customer would want from their brokerage firm.

So what would customers want from Starbucks, besides of course their favorite beverage and the ability to return to that “third place” with friends?

The coffee giant recently sent an email to customers offering a unique resource that is perfectly applicable for today’s stay-at-home world: downloadable virtual backgrounds featuring real Starbucks stores.

“No matter where you are, you can feel like you are at your favorite Starbucks anytime with a new collection of virtual backgrounds for your next video meeting,” the email read.

The collection, which ranges from “First Cup of the Day” (pictured above) from Jonesboro, Ga., to a store in Japan that has a ceiling design made from more than 2,000 wooden sticks, to a view of outside seating at a store in Seattle. There are even video backgrounds of Starbucks Cold Brew and Nitro beverages.

As a large number of workers have settled in working from home and using Zoom or another videoconferencing service every day, many want to show some personality by customizing a virtual background. While most services come with a few pre-loaded backgrounds, it’s fun to personalize the experience. Starbucks saw that as an opportunity to participate in a different yet familiar way in its customers’ lives.

The campaign is brilliant in its simplicity. It fits perfectly with the Starbucks brand and is fun without being intrusive or salesy. It successfully taps into the emotions people are feeling right now, among them the desire to return to “normal.” And it likely wasn’t costly because Starbucks already owned all of the images.

What can your company do to connect with customers during this unique time? First, find something that resonates with your customers at an emotional level. It has never been easier to show empathy to customers, because we know exactly what they are going through – the same thing we are. They’re stuck at home, they miss their family and friends, they’re fearful of contracting the Coronavirus or of infecting others. We all should be able to relate to that.

Next, make sure that the concept connects back to your brand. Schwab offering virtual backgrounds of its bank branches or Starbucks offering stock market advice probably wouldn’t work. Find something that is quintessentially your brand.

Finally, have fun! Everyone is looking for a little release from the stress of the past few months, something to shake things up a bit. Now is a good opportunity to gather some of your most creative (and funny) employees and brainstorm ideas for capturing your customer’s hearts – and wallets.