Brand management experts say that Starbucks has a very narrow window to respond decisively to the public outrage after two black men were arrested at a Starbucks store in Philadelphia last week. As soon as the viral video of the arrests hit the internet, the #boycottstarbucks hashtag began trending as protesters convened on the Philadelphia store.
According to experts, this is a difficult situation and it’s very important for the company to get ahead of the story as soon as possible. Starbucks has already responded to the matter. On Saturday, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson publicly apologized for the incident calling it a “disheartening situation.”
Experts say that the apology was an important first step but the company still needs to do a lot more. Tim Calkins, a branding expert at Northwestern University says that we live in very charged times. What may look like a small incident at first can spark a massive controversial movement against the company.
Starbucks came under fire for what many protesters called racial profiling after two black men waiting for a colleague at a Starbucks store were arrested by the Philadelphia police. The manager of the store had accused the two men of trespassing. However, it’s not uncommon to hang out at a Starbucks store without purchasing anything.
Branding experts argue that the accusations against the company go against its values. Moving forward, the company must make sure that there’s a visible commitment to maintain those values and to ensure that this incident doesn’t happen again. Starbuck has already announced that it will be closing down all its stores in the US for one day in order to train staff on “unconscious racial bias.”
Starbucks has been part of many progressive causes in the past. The company has developed an image as a brand that believes in progressive politics. Starbucks was criticized last year after it revealed that it would be hiring 10,000 refugees over the next five years. In fact, President Donald Trump banned the entry of refugees shortly after through an executive order. The company has also been a strong supporter of marriage equality and LGBT rights in the US.
With this image, Starbucks doesn’t seem to contravene the values of progressiveness. However, the racial incident in Philadelphia will surely cast a shadow of negativity on its brand but as many branding experts agree, so far the company is doing fine handling the situation.
Starbucks confirmed that Philadelphia store manager who called the police has been fired from the company. The police were also slammed for how they responded to the situation. However, police commissioner in the city Richard Ross defended the conduct of his officers saying they did nothing wrong.