Virtual Worlds for Virtual Consumption – Or, how to enjoy a cup of coffee online

Starbucks mocha-frappuccino-blended-coffee

Where can you record a custom soundtrack, visualize a custom beverage, and twitter the results to your best friends?  Starbucks of course.

Build your drink hereRecord your track here.

McDonald's Iced Coffee

Now what does McDonald’s offer?  Tasty coffee, but hardly an interactive, engaging online experience.

 Select your flavor here.

Dunkin' Donuts Coffee

How about Dunkin’ Donuts?  You can watch people walking outside of the NYC Dunkin’ Donuts in Time Square.  Great to know that DD has a NYC store, but what does that mean to me driving to work in Tallahassee?  Two clicks in, a visitor learns that DD uses Fair Trade coffees. 

Watch the webcam hereLearn about the story of DD Fair Trade Certified Espresso here.

Consumables have two challenges they must negotiate as they expand into social media.  First, as consumables brands embrace web 2.0+, they need to think about the relationship between themselves and their customers in new ways.  Perhaps the simplest way to phrase the question, is how can a consumable like coffee BE relevant online?  Second, the competition is these markets is fierce.  How can a company that sells coffee in paper cups obtain a cutting edge presence without the help of the taste, smell or feel of its product?

Starbucks has crafted and recrafted a brand that creatively entices consumers into enjoying the brand, visiting the website, and viewing a coffee as a luxurious necessity of life.  The coffee experience includes fun apps, music DVDs, poetry, and stories.  Starbucks’ social media presence extends from and returns to the stores via Facebook, coupons, the grocery store, and back via twitter to their website.  In 2010, the Starbucks social media team identified 10 elements of their strategy, the core of which is to enhance communications with customers at multiple levels simultaneously assuming, however, that these communications will intersect, enhance, and echo each other (Belicove, 2010).  Integrated marketing across the spectrum of relationships is given focus, according to the team, by understanding that the reality of being relevant is keeping up with the buzz:  as Belicove writes, “If it doesn’t matter on Twitter, it doesn’t matter.” 

Not only has Starbucks weathered a downturn in its profits, it has fended off competition by McDonald’s and Dunkin’ Donuts.  Certainly an upbeat economy helps, as does a unique market position as a specialist in coffee products (Misonzhnik, 2011).  Equally important, however, is that Starbucks is a specialist in coffee culture.  Not content to merely meet competition, Starbucks pushes the boundaries of social media with information, entertainment, and new features.  Their specialization in changing with their audience allows them to beat the competition online and in the ‘real’ world. 

The key to Starbucks’ success, it seems, is that it aligns its social presence across worlds, virtual and ‘real’ and allows customers to move seamlessly from one to the other.  So, how do you enjoy a cup of coffee online?  Go to Starbucks and see for yourself.


Belicove, M. (2010, April 1).  How Starbucks Builds Meaningful Customer Engagement via Social Media.  American Express Open Forum, Retrieved May 17, 2012 from

Find Your Flavor.  McDonald’s, Retrieved May 16, 2012,

Frappuccino Drink Builder.  Starbucks, Retrieved May 16, 2012,

Home Page.  Dunkin’ Donuts, Retrieved May 16, 2012,

Misonzhnik, E. (2011, April 27).  Starbucks Recaptures Its Position at the Head of the US Coffee Market.  RetailTraffic, Retrieved May 17, 2012,

Remix Soundboard.  Starbucks, Retrieved May 16, 2012,

The Espresso Story.  Dunkin’ Donuts, Retrieved May 16, 2012,