Special Report | September 2011 | By Blair Chancey

Seattle’s Best Pres. Eyes Market Left by SBUX

Michelle Gass will explain to Dine America attendees how she’s grown the company’s “touch points” ten fold.

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Here’s a statistic that may surprise you. Starbucks controls less than one-tenth of the coffee consumed in the U.S.

Despite its seeming domination of every city corner and suburban strip mall, Starbuck’s market control leaves room for others to profit off America’s obsession with a good cup of joe.

One of those companies is Starbucks’ own Seattle’s Best Coffee, and it’s president Michelle Gass plans to leverage that remaining 90 percent of the market to the brand’s advantage.

“The opportunity that Howard [Schultz] gave me was to give me a huge white space, a blank sheet of paper, and to grow it into a billion-dollar opportunity for the company—and there are no rules,” Gass says.

Gass will be presenting her strategy for turning premium coffee into an accessible reality for recession-strapped consumers at the Dine America conference next month in Atlanta.

Gass’ aim is to create an entry-level coffee brand that consumers can enjoy at a variety of store locations but also at places she calls “touch points.”

Touch points are places like Burger King, Subway, AMC Movie Theaters, book stores, and airplanes where Seattle’s Best coffee is served. Gass has grown the number of these locations ten times from 4,000 touch points in 2010 to 40,000 this year.

“It is creating a new brand for an incremental consumer for the Starbucks Corporation,” she says.

“It is about accessible premium coffee, and everything from our logo to our look and feel to our brand voice has been redesigned to appeal to the incremental customer.”

To capture those consumers, Gass has created a Level System, which focuses the brand on core attributes like how the coffee tastes and how strong it is.

Unlike Starbucks’ emphasis on global sourcing, Seattle’s Best focuses on the basics along with ease of accessibility.

“It is helping people move up from what I call mainstream coffee into premium coffee by removing that intimidation,” Gass says.

In hopes of removing the barrier to premium coffee, the company launched its first integrated, multichannel advertising campaign in January, debuting the brand’s “Anywhere Great Coffee is Needed” strategy.

Three 30-second spots use humor to depict consumers in unexpected situations that are a metaphor for the many places where great coffee is needed.

The campaign also features outdoor and digital ads that use a 10-foot high sculpture built from brightly colored coffee mugs that mirror the vibrant colors of the new Seattle’s Best Coffee Level System packaged coffee. 

In addition to the planned media placements, the films can be found on the company’s website, You Tube site, and Facebook.

“This campaign truly brings to life the fun and optimistic nature of the new Seattle’s Best Coffee brand and for the first time shines a national spotlight on this brand,” Gass says.