Growing bigger by acting smaller

The marketing principles that lead to the meteoric rise of Starbucks and Whole Foods will be revealed when former marketer John Moore visits Madison May 23.

Getting people to buy delicious coffee beverages or great-tasting healthy foods doesn’t sound like such a tough sell.

Helping turn those sales into the building blocks for two powerhouse businesses — Starbucks and Whole Foods — is another thing entirely.

John Moore played an instrumental role in the marketing that transformed Starbucks into a global icon and served as the director of national marketing for grocery powerhouse Whole Foods Market. He understands the drive and discipline it takes to become a high-growth brand.

On May 23, Moore will be in Madison for the first-ever IB Presents: Grande Growth to break down the branding ideas and ideals that fueled Starbucks’ dramatic growth, and he’ll explain why small businesses need to look bigger and big businesses need to act small in order to achieve the “grande growth” that Starbucks has experienced.

Moore shared some of his own story and expert marketing insights with IB in advance of his visit.

“I can’t tell my professional story without first sharing one side to my personal story,” notes Moore. “I stutter. It’s on the mild side these days but it’s still there. When I was a 20-something, my stutter was strong. Despite having two college degrees in hand, I struggled to find an employer that would look past my stutter and hire me. My part-time job as a Starbucks barista turned into a full-on career when Starbucks hired me as a marketing specialist working in the Dallas regional office. From there, my professional and personal life changed and I haven’t looked back.”

Most of Moore’s eight-plus years at Starbucks were spent in the corporate marketing department in Seattle. As a marketing manager, he was responsible for developing and implementing in-store promotions. All the signage you see inside a Starbucks store promoting coffee drinks and such is part of a bigger strategic marketing initiative he helped create that’s designed to move the business forward.

After living in the Pacific Northwest, Moore longed to get back to Texas and be closer to family, so he took a job with Whole Foods as the company’s director of national marketing in Austin, Texas.

Toward the end of his time at Whole Foods Moore says he felt an urge to share with businesses everything he had learned from working at two world-class companies. “That led me to starting a consulting practice, writing my first business book — Tribal Knowledge: Business Wisdom Brewed from the Grounds of Starbucks Corporate Culture — and to speaking at business conferences. It’s been a fantastic ride that hasn’t stopped yet!”

According to Moore, business marketing hasn’t changed over the course of his career. “It’s still about designing marketing activities to deliver on the vision of the business, all while being smart, savvy, and authentic. It’s still about treating consumers as being everyday explorers who seek to be interesting and interested. It’s still about having a strong point of view that showcases the personality of a brand.”

What has definitely changed are the ways in which businesses can connect with people, notes Moore. The internet and social media now make it easier to directly connect with and market to people. Also, digital marketing democratizes marketing.

“Mom-and-pop shops can use the same digital marketing tools (Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, etc.) that the big boys use. That’s a massive change that helps to level the marketing playing field.

“The skill set needed most by marketers today is empathy,” continues Moore. “Consumers are increasingly expecting businesses to care about them as people and to communicate with them in friendly and helpful ways. Empathy has always been needed in business but with today’s level of expected transparency from consumers, businesses driven by empathy will have a competitive advantage.”



One branding ideal that companies can follow is “pricing tells a story,” explains Moore. To charge a premium price, a business must deliver a great story. “Starbucks competes on higher prices and the company tells the story of how, say, a simple Pumpkin Spice Latte improves one’s life because sipping that drink brings forth so many positive emotions.”

Another principle, albeit not necessarily a branding one, is “the employee experience matters.”

“Starbucks, for example, recognizes competitors can replicate products, but they can’t replicate people,” Moore says. “That’s precisely why the company focuses so much attention on the employee experience, because it is employees who create meaningful connections with customers. Many marketers view employee relations as a job solely for human resources — they see employees as tools. But employees — happy, rewarded employees — can work wonders for the company’s marketing efforts. There is no better spokesperson for a company, product, and brand than someone who is happy with his job and respected by his employer and peers. A happy employee will, in turn, make customers happy.

“Howard Schultz, the visionary behind what Starbucks has become, would say, ‘Our biggest challenge is to get big but stay small,’” continues Moore. That’s a challenge every business faces to grow bigger as a business but without losing what truly made the business special when it was smaller.”

It’s critical for small businesses to look bigger in the eyes of consumers, Moore notes. A “bigger” business is one that designs flawless customer experiences, responds quickly to customer issues, and continues to be there long after the sale. Unfortunately, he says, too many small business act “smaller” by not doing all the things needed to earn confidence and devotion from customers.

“With all the technology and know-how available today, it’s easier for smaller businesses to get big but stay small by delivering exceptional customer experiences while maintaining personal connections with customers — and employees — as a business gets bigger.”

Moore will further discuss marketing strategies for businesses of all sizes and the idea “growing bigger by acting smaller” on May 23 at the Madison Marriott West from 8–10 a.m. Tickets are $45 each or $300 for a table of eight, and breakfast is included.

Register today at Ticket sales end May 17.

IB Presents is sponsored by WPS Health Solutions and Edgewood College.

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