Beyond Commodities Into Brands: Starbucks and Burberry


All brands are born as commodities. Around the world there are many cups of coffees, pairs of running shoes and computer chips, but only some are recognized as being Starbucks, Nike and Intel. For commodities to grow out of the Low Respect / Low Love quadrant, they must be associated with ideas; ideas which are often translated into a purpose or a vision. These ideas must provide the commodity the opportunity to create emotional connections with its audience. If the purpose is flat and inward looking, the company has no chance of becoming a Lovemark.

Let’s look at how Starbucks and Burberry moved from manufacturing commodities to becoming brands.

Few people know that the first Starbucks was opened in 1971 in Seattle, Washington, by two teachers and a writer – Jerry Baldwin, Zev Siegl and Gordon Bowker. At that time Starbucks was known for the commodity it sold – a cup of coffee. It was good coffee, but it was only one supplier of coffee out of many in the area. It was not until after 1988, when the chain was sold to Howard Schultz, that Starbucks would become known as the brand it is today.

So what did Schultz do that moved Starbucks from being known for a commodity to standing out as a brand? When travelling to Italy to study the coffee culture, Schultz noticed how people used coffee shops as a social environment, a “third place”. He knew that there were many places in the US that served good, and even better, coffee, but consciously building a brand based on how people felt about and used a space was an innovative approach. By doing this, Schultz move the focus away from coffee (the commodity).

In 1856, Thomas Burberry manufactured hard-wearing outdoor apparel in Hampshire, England. By being the choice of attire for famous explorers and adventurers, the company became well-known and respected. Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole with Burberry clothing and tents. Ernest Shackelton wore Burberry on his journey in Antarctica. Burberry aviator suits were worn on the first non-stop transatlantic flight in 1919. The mystery, icons and stories gave Burberry an allure that its competitors did not have. Their clothing was a part of some of the great moments in human history, and laid the foundation for its journey to become a Lovemark.