If necessity is the mother of invention, then perhaps we can say longevity may be the mother of re-invention. In an era of vast attention deficits and a constant barrage of the new new things, how on earth do you keep your business, your brand, heck, your own identity fresh, year after year?
Well, it may not be "like a virgin", but Starbucks has quite a lot in common with that pop-icon goddess, Madonna. Both have been around for decades and yet somehow manage to retain an element of cool. Admit it, even when you think, "It's so over, small house brew is where it's at," or "I'm with Beyonce now," you still find yourself now and again, quietly creeping back to the comforts of a Tall Bold and little bit of "Into the Groove". Why? Because you know what to expect and you like it.
Here are the Top Five lessons for long-term survival, courtesy of Starbucks and Madonna.
- Sex Sells. Well, obviously. But it's particularly helpful, when launching something new, to use a little bit of shock value, of the sexual variety. For Madonna, it was writhing on the floor in a wedding dress, under a crucifix, singing about having sex and feeling virginal. Not an easy mix but it was certainly memorable. For Starbucks, it was the image of an unrobed mermaid as their first logo. The company would later stylize the lovely siren with a discreet covering of long hair hanging down over her womanly parts.
- Unleash Your Latin Side. From "La Isla Bonita" to "Papa Don't Preach", Madonna, whose father was Italian-American and mother was French-Canadian, seriously worked her Italian style. And sometimes her Spanish style, why not? Similarly, Starbucks, hailing from a not overly diverse neighbourhood of Seattle, was inspired by the coffee bars of Italy. Hence, the introduction of espresso drinks for which baristas became famous. Today some Starbucks look downright ethnic and rootsy, playing up their Guatemalan and Costa Rican blends. And who can forget the short-lived but delicious Mexican drinking chocolate, the Chantico?
- Pay Attention to What the Kids Are Doing. Madge has mentored many a young artist, from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan and most recently Adam Lambert of "American Idol" fame. The Queen of Pop has always surrounded herself with young ones who keep her sensibilities current and she is not adverse to working with someone hipper, younger and faster. At the age of 50, she collaborated with Justin Timberlake and Timbaland on the critically acclaimed "4 minutes", hitting #1 on the charts in 21 countries. Now she is working with the cast of Glee. Similarly, Starbucks launched its own music label, Hear Music in 2007, with the goal of fostering emerging artists while encouraging established artists to "take risks".
- Be Spiritual. From its mission statement "to inspire and nurture the human spirit - one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time," to its Shared Planet™ commitment, and its Shared Values Blog, Starbucks is not shy about its belief in being a force for positive action. Similarly, Madonna has quite publicly embraced the principles of Kabbalah and in 2004, changed her name to Esther in honour of her conversion.
- Stay on Trend. Africa is hot? Go to Malawi. Adopt a kid. Tea is healthy? Try a Tazo Chai Latte. When people craved protein, Frappucinos begat Vivanno Smoothies. Rock a new hairdo, freshen up the logo. The key here is to add, innovate, build on, without abandoning your original identity and the qualities that attracted people to you in the first place.
Finally, a last bonus bit of advice to take from both Starbucks and Madonna - take your one idea and make it big. Neither of these global phenomena has introduced any particularly radical innovations. Madonna wanted to sing and perform for the masses. Starbucks wanted to bring good coffee to the masses. Not rocket science, but rock it, they did.