TicketManager | Starbucks’ Local Partnerships Build Brand Health; Will Other Chains Take Notice?

For many, Starbucks is synonymous with Seattle. But as June Ashley, the company’s senior manager of partnerships, explained during a presentation at last week’s Sponsorship Mastery Summit in Chicago, the coffee chain lost some of that connection with consumers in its hometown as it expanded into a global giant.

Needing to build brand love in one of the top coffee consumption markets in the world, Starbucks established a local partnership program that has established close ties with Seattle’s pro sports teams, the University of Washington, cultural and entertainment properties and more. Each sponsorship is charged with not only aligning the two partners, but with creating social impact and driving meaningful change in the community.

For example, Starbucks’ partnership with the Seattle Kraken includes the year-old Kraken Unity Fund, which at every home game awards a local “Hero of the Deep” $32,000 to donate to a nonprofit of their choice.

In May, Starbucks became the official coffee provider of the Seattle Mariners. In addition to offering its products at T-Mobile Park, the company is enabling six local nonprofits that support housing access to invite families they serve to attend a Mariners game, including free shuttles, ballpark meal vouchers and Mariners and Starbucks merchandise.

Ashley shared internal research results from the sponsorship showing 65 percent of Mariners fans were aware of the relationship with Starbucks, along with a significant positive difference between fans and non-fans across multiple brand health metrics.

Eighty-seven percent of Mariners fans would recommend the brand, compared to 74 percent of non-fans. Eighty-nine percent of fans have Starbucks in their purchase consideration set versus 78 percent of non-fans. And 86 percent of fans expressed love for the Starbucks brand versus 73 percent of non-fans.

Clearly the association with a favored sports team combined with the community impact program has made a positive impact on the brand.

Those results would be worth sharing with the marketers at Darden Restaurants, who would be wise to consider similar partnerships for some of their national chains given comments by CEO Rick Cardenas during the company’s recent quarterly earnings call.

Based on the success Darden’s Olive Garden brand has had with forgoing deep discounts and instead focusing on brand equity, Cardenas said that would be the company’s marketing strategy going forward. While Olive Garden has primarily boosted its brand standing through media advertising, partnerships with sports and entertainment properties could do double duty for Darden’s chains—strengthening how people feel about them as well as serving as a platform for traffic-driving promotions that don’t rely on discounting menu items.

Rights holders with open restaurant categories should consider putting Darden brands on their prospect list. In addition to Olive Garden, the company’s casual dining chains include LongHorn Steakhouse, Yard House, Seasons 52, Bahama Breeze and Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen. Darden also owns fine dining chains Ruth’s Chris Steak House, Capital Grille and Eddie V’s.