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Broken Products, Broken Brands

I've read two interesting pieces lately about coffee, beer, and the struggling brands behind them. The first is this post from Doc Searls on Starbucks' announcement to offer free wifi at all of its stores (in case, like me, you haven't been in a Starbucks recently, apparently they still do not offer free wifi). The second is Eric Felten's article in the Wall Street Journal about how light beer sales have been sluggish lately, even despite the recession, which theoretically should boost sales of such products.

(from Flickr user Man in a bowler hat (Epzibah)...)

What both of these situations have in common is that the products are broken. Starbucks coffee is not good; light beer is not good. Yes, many people do and will continue to buy both of these things, but just enough people have stopped buying them that the balance is being tipped in the opposite direction. So even if you write these people off as snobs who are being haughty, losing them as customers is really hurting these businesses.

The other aspect that both of these situations have in common is that the brands are attempting to remedy declining sales with marketing and PR that don't address the root problem. Light beer commercials have never really had anything to do with beer, but these days they seem particularly pointless. Free wifi at Starbucks locations is something the company should have done long ago, but it does nothing to address the quality of the coffee.

I kind of like Eric Felten's suggestion. Wouldn't it be something if these brands pulled a Domino's Pizza and admitted that the quality of the product has suffered, but that they are committed to fixing that? It won't happen though. At least not by a long shot.

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