What a Dumb Accountant Learned About Branding

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It’s 4:45 AM. I’m sitting here, not far from my gate, inside the restricted boarding area of the Winnipeg airport, where there happens to be a Starbucks.

The airport is quiet, the Starbucks even more so. I’m lounging in a comfortable corner, and there’s Dylan—a more obscure, less recognizable version of Dylan—coming over the loudspeakers.

The music at Starbucks is always soft, usually tender—a catalyst for quiet reflection. For some reason, the white noise in the background only adds to, never diminishes from, the mood. I can hear the subtle bustle of the servers brewing a cappuccino, they’re talking, softly to each other, and to their customers. The whole thing makes for a pleasant experience. A curious one too, because today’s visit makes me realize that this is why I come to Starbucks. Not for the coffee. Not really. More so for the atmosphere, essentially for the mood, and especially for the music.

And even if it is, for me, about that wonderful background music, the funny thing is, as a music lover, most of the time, Starbucks is playing stuff I don’t know. I seldom recognize the artists; I rarely clue in to the music that’s playing. And I don’t want to know either. It’s as though the enigmatic nature of the music just adds to the magic of the experience. There are times, you know, when one should simply not pursue the ingredients of a perfect moment.

Starbucks, wherever I happen to be, and especially early in the morning, is a place I seek out—a relaxing place. A place that invokes memories of, well, other Starbucks. Like the one on King Street West, in Toronto; a location tailor-made for Flipboarding and people-watching, on a really rainy, really early, quiet morning.

That’s why I go to Starbucks. It’s a known entity. The environment is comfortable, the coffee consistent, and the staff helpful and pleasant.

Then it hits me. That word, that awkward word, the one that I, a clueless accountant, could never truly understand. That word that sounds oh-so-trendy, and so impossibly clichéd. That word that all the consultants and marketers use. That marketing term they called “branding”.

Is my Starbucks experience a result of branding ? Setting expectations, establishing a predictable, consistent message. Creating a mood. Is that what branding is all about?

It’s about Identity, isn’t it? Corporate identity. One that’s authentic and meaningful. That’s what it is, isn’t it?

Then I shake my head. Why didn’t they just use that word—Identity? Everyone, even dumb accountants like me, understands that word.

And then I shrug. I lean back a little more, and listen to the music at the Starbucks inside this quiet Winnipeg airport. And I go back to Flipboard. Sometimes, some things are better left un-pursued.