Starbucks' O'Neil: Our message remains consistent

I recently met with Valerie O'Neil, Starbuck's VP of global communication, about the coffee company's PR strategy amid a tumultous era for the brand.

I recently met with Valerie O'Neil, Starbuck's VP of global communication, about the coffee company's PR strategy amid a tumultus year for the brand.

Starbucks, in some ways, has become the bellweather for the economy. With the downturn, the chain took a hit for its premium brand positioning and had to go on the defensive about its value. There have been several brand roll-outs, including this summer when Starbucks made some of its baked goods healthier. And most recently, it launched an instant coffee product, Via.

Even though the brand has been extended in many different directions recently, O'Neil says its core message remains consistent. "We're about the customer experience and connecting to the customer," O'Neil said. "The message focuses on the customer."

For 2010, the messaging is being developed around Via expanding into grocery stores, as well as into global markets. Its brand and wellness position will become an even greater component of its communications, she added.

"Employee communications is also going to be huge in 2010," she said. "We're going to focus on getting them the information that they need, especially since they're on the front lines with customers."

Integrating a consistent global message is also a priority for 2010. But for now, next week's earnings call is top-of-mind, she added.

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