A Study on Starbucks’ Sales Strategy Through the Sinaweibo Platform
1.1 Introduction & Background
Dahl (2018) defines social media as online platforms that enable users to interact, network, and share user-generated information with others. Consequently, social media and digital marketing refer to the use of community-aligned internet platforms that are freely accessible by users to promote products and services. Social media marketing empowers organisations and individuals on the use of online platforms to market their goods and services to a pool of a large community. On the other hand, traditional marketing refers to the application of the old offline strategies and channels to promote their goods and services (Shareef et al., 2019). Such platforms include the use of fliers, billboards, print media (such as newspapers, journals, and periodicals), radio, and television among others.
As stated by Shareef et al. (2019), the choice of marketing strategies is a key determinant of an organisation's sales success. Marketing should aim to identify channels that will reach as large populace as possible. As reported by Liu et al. (2019), changes in communication channels triggered the innovation of new ways to reach a large population of customers. The invention of the internet and the corresponding development of internet-based communication application and platforms have ushered new ways to reach consumers (Dahl, 2018). Sales and marketing teams target areas and channels where their communication will reach the largest population possible. The growth in popularity and use of the internet provided an alternative for business marketing from tradition marketing methods. Consequently, social media websites and platforms are the most used digital marketing tools due to their popularity (Smith, 2019).
China is ranked as the world’s largest user of social media platforms (eMarketer, 2018). Consequently, digital marketing is highly used in China by business to boost sales, promote offers and campaigns, and interact with consumers. Among the most popular digital channels used for product marketing in China includes WeChat, Sina Weibo, Douban, Baidu Tieba, and Tencent QQ (Liu et al., 2019). The analysis further notices that China is fond of developing their versions of globally used digital applications (Go-Globe 2019). A case example is the Sina Weibo versus Twitter and WeChat versus WhatsApp. With their concentration to Chinese users, these applications are, therefore, highly significant for marketing products targeting the Chinese market. The effectiveness of their application in product promotion in China has obtained significant research attention and is still worth exploring since different companies utilize varying strategies (Olivia, 2016).
According to Starbucks China (2020), the firm started operations in the country in 1999 with one store in Beijing, 28 years after the company was founded. Currently, Starbucks China has a presence in more than 150 cities in mainland China with over 4100 stores and a workforce exceeding 57000. In between, the company has recorded significant achievements both in the expansion of its operations, social responsibility, and profitability. Among these milestones, as listed on the company's website, includes the establishment of Starbucks University in 2012, best employer award in 2017, 2018, and 2019, and other CSR projects (Starbucks, 2020). In addition to this, Chuang (2019) remarks the various partnerships Starbucks china has entered with key players such as Alibaba and Nestle for improved customer experience. Starbucks China has a substantial record of using digital platforms to market their products. Remarkably, the company developed a social media campaign “Say it with Starbucks” on WeChat in 2017 and Alipay in 2018 (Johnson, 2019 and Starbucks, 2020). The investigation of how these and other digital marketing strategies have impacted Starbucks operation in China considering its current competitive advantage is an imperative research endeavour. Moreover, analysis of their success compared to traditional marketing methods is equally significant.
The conduction of the present research will provide an analysis of Starbuck’s digital marketing strategies on social media platforms. The data collected and analysis of results will be significant to the management of Starbucks in their development of strategies to increase sales volume using social media marketing channels. More specifically, Starbucks will get access to information relevant to understanding the applicability of utilizing the Sina Weibo platform as a marketing strategy for its products in China. The study results will also be significant to Starbuck's competitors in applying the marketing strategies, learning from the identified strengths and weaknesses, and learning of the management model of Starbucks.
The conduction of the present study will aim at evaluating Starbuck’s sales strategy through the Sina Weibo Platform and evaluating the influence of digital marketing on traditional marketing.
1.3 Research objectives
To effectively achieve the study aim, specific research objectives were established as highlighted below.
RO1: To describe Starbucks' social media marketing strategies using the Microblog.
RO2: To identify how successful these social media marketing strategies have been, and who they were targeted towards.
RO3: To analyse why these strategies were successful, and why they were appropriate strategies compared to TV or print media.
RO4: To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies and suggest ways Starbucks could build upon them.
Chapter 2 Literature review
Starbucks sustenance of a synonymous coffee brand in China is accredited to its use of effective marketing strategies. As pointed out by Marszałek (2018), for the two decades it has been operating in China, Starbucks has extensively utilized social media platforms and word of mouth to market their products and services. Reducing promotion costs of advertisements and running commercials enables the company to utilize the finances in developing their brand. The analysis of the Starbucks’ sales strategy on social media platforms, as well as the influence such practices have on traditional marketing, requires a significant review of past literature. The present chapter provides a review of literature on digital marketing strategies through Sina Weibo, how successful these strategies are, as well as the advantages of the strategies compared to traditional marketing strategies. The analysis will be conducted to provide information relevant to the achievement of the set research objectives. In this regard, the present chapter will be arranged in sections of each of the four research objectives. Literature relevant for the achievement of each independent objective will be reviewed, critiqued, and their strengths and weaknesses analysed under their respective research objective.
2.2 RO1: Starbucks' digital marketing through Sina Weibo
Advancements in technology have resulted in the development of modern marketing strategies through the use of online platforms to reach consumers. With the preference of digital marketing strategies to populous channels, social media platforms have gained significant utilization by companies to promote their products (Shareef et al., 2019). In the Chinese market, selected social media platforms have recorded consistence increase in their use by companies to further their marketing strategies. Among the most common social media platforms is QQ, WeChat, and Sina Weibo. Wang et al. (2014) report that microblog platforms are currently the most used advertisement platforms by Chinese brands. Their study defines microblog as social media platforms where users utilise the ‘follower’ tools to share real-time information in a broadcasting-type network. Sina Corporation’s Sina Weibo follows under this category.
According to Marszałek (2018), Starbucks China utilises digital marketing methods to promote their products. The company is known for lack of advertisements through developing commercials in the mainstream media. Various methods and practices have been used by Starbucks which have ensured their market share and popularity among consumers remains high. As pointed out by Wang et al. (2014), Sina Weibo allows corporate users to start and run campaigns that help boost their products among the selected target consumers. Starbucks has extensively utilised this feature to maintain its brand image in China.
As stated by Chan (2013), Starbucks through their contracted marketer, BBDO Shanghai, developed a Sina Weibo and QQ campaign in 2013 labelled “Let’s Meet Up”. The campaign entailed customers sharing their experiences at Starbucks stores and in return earn discount coupons. According to Chan (2013), millions of customers devoted their commitment to the campaign leading to increased sales and brand reputation. The article also notes that the campaign launch coincided with the release of a report by CCTV against Starbucks on overpriced products. The campaign impact neutralised the impact of the report through increased customer attention and brand loyalty. Wang (2014) also notes that despite the coincidence, such digital marketing strategy in a social medial platform are effective methods of gaining customers’ attention and reaching more than the number of followers in their timelines.
Starbucks also uses frequent posting to keep their followers informed and engaged. Through such posts, the coffee giant asks questions, advertises their products, or fun activities. With unlimited ability to post and share content through Sina Weibo, this strategy helps Starbucks to keep its company page busy through posting of alternating posts to ensure the balance of client engagement (George, 2018). Similar management and application of digital marketing strategies in their WeChat and Weibo pages impact increased customer experience and collective improvement of their brand reputation. A case example is the emoticon campaign launched in 2012 following the release of a new product, Refresha, in the market. The campaign leads to an increase in Weibo followers by 9% and 130,000 friends on WeChat. Liu et al., (2019) points out that successful management of a particular social media platform has the potential of impacting positively their performance in sister digital accounts. The online presence strength achieved through this strategy is an effective digital marketing skill.
2.3 RO2: Success of these strategies and targeted towards
The success of digital marketing strategies can be evaluated through the analysis of how companies get avenues to communicate with their consumers and promotion of purchase influence on customers (López García et al., 2019). The sharing of user-generated information by organisations to users of various social media platforms is meant to promote their products, brand image, customer experience, and increase in sales (Bennett, 2014). As argued by Roll (2017), increase in interaction between a company and social media users enhances the satisfaction of the latter which boosts their confidence in the company products. Without significant interaction, there are minimal hopes on the efficiency and effectiveness of shared content in promoting a company’s products and impacting their sales positively. In this regard, Ashley and Tuten (2015) argue that the success of such marketing strategies should be dug deep on their effect on improving an organisation’s profitability.
Different frameworks and methods have been devised and used by past literature and organisations, respectively, to assess the success of their marketing strategies. As stated by Wang et al. (2014), these frameworks and methods core aim is to evaluate how the application of certain marketing methods assists in enhancing the competitive advantage of a company’s products by increasing their sales. In addition to this, Ashley and Tuten (2015) cite the importance of using an organisation’s corporate social responsibilities activities as strategies to improve brand reputation. Their study claims that conveying such information helps in developing a focus on customers’ trust and emotions which enhances their attitudes towards an organisation’s brand. Wang et al. (2014) also claims the effectiveness of digital marketing in enhancing a company’s trustworthiness, interactivity, and visibility through the utilization of effective social media marketing strategies. In the case of microblog platforms such as Sina Weibo, Wang et al. (2014) advocates on the use of tags as they are effective in locating targeted potential customers among the population of users.
Starbucks China has applied various social media marketing strategies that their ability to reach the targeted consumers and produce specific impacts in the company has been evaluated by different research and articles. Starbucks successfully identified the impact of utilizing cultural norms in China by introducing marketing strategies that effectively enhances the community values (Ravi, 2018). A case example is the 2017 social media campaign “Say it with Starbucks” which enabled their followers to send vouchers for redemption at Starbucks stores nationwide. It fostered the culture of togetherness while developing a platform for positive brand association. Another milestone achieved by the strategy was the acquisition of approximately 1.2 million customers who received gift vouchers from their friends (Rijt, 2017).
Starbucks strategy to use Sina Weibo to market their products is an effective strategy to reach its target category of consumers. As put by Rijt (2017), Starbucks aims at selling their products to the middle-aged class of average income earners. This coincides with the largest percentage of users on the Sina Weibo platform. As illustrated below, people aged between 18 and 30 years, who constitute Starbucks’ major target population, comprises more than 70% of Sina Weibo users.
Figure 2.1 2018 Sina Weibo users by age group
Source: (Statista, 2019)
Application of marketing strategies on Sina Weibo by Starbucks China has also resulted in increased revenue generation. According to the company’s financial performance history, their commencement to using Sina Weibo impact positive performance from 2010 as illustrated in the annual and quarterly revenue figures below.
Figure 2.2 Starbucks Annual and Quarterly Revenues 2017 – 2019
Source: (Macrotrends, 2019)
2.4 RO3: Advantages of these strategies over other marketing strategies (such as TV or print media)
To overcome the strength traditional marketing strategies had in the corporate world, digital marketing instilled new insights towards product promotion and expressed many reasons for their utilization (Chaffey and Ellis-Chadwick, 2019). With its establishment and growth in its application for product promotion, digital marketing has acquired substantial research attention where numerous studies have been conducted to evaluate what advantages these strategies pose to organisations compared to traditional marketing. Todor (2016) argues that the use of digital marketing is cost-effective to organisations compared to traditional marketing. The study notes that it is cheaper to develop and maintain websites which organisations can create traffic for free. On the other hand, creation and maintenance of social media platforms only require internet connection unless one desires to run customized ads (Kirtiş and Karahan, 2011). This is cheap compared to running commercials on mainstream media or the acquisition and distribution of print media.
With traditional marketing channels there lack of interaction with the audience which also eliminates the guarantee of whether the information conveyed reached the targeted audience (Durmaz and Efendioglu, 2016). These challenges were contained with the introduction and application of internet-based marketing channels. With social media marketing, companies can interact with consumers and have control of choosing the duration of interaction (Tiago and Veríssimo, 2014). Consumers have the platform to express their opinions regarding a company’s products which is useful in improving their services. In addition to this, firms have the ability to tracking audience reach by an individual post unlike in traditional marketing. The adaptability nature of digital marketing allows companies to easily change published content based on the feedback they receive from users (Todor, 2016). Constantinides (2014) also notes the infinite audience reach of digital marketing as an additional advantage the method enjoys over traditional marketing. Nevertheless, with digital marketing, companies can choose the nature of consumers they target with their posts and ads which is difficult to achieve in traditional marketing.
With the collection of user data by digital platform owners such as Google Analytics, digital marketing channels can categorize their users based on key features significant to organisations (Tiago and Veríssimo, 2014). These data are then applied in development and broadcasting of personalized feeds to consumers based on their profiles, preferences, and behaviours (Todor, 2016). Other key advantages digital marketing offers to the corporate world include lack of limits on what to post and share over digital platforms, information shared online is available permanently unless deleted, and the provision of the posted content on an ongoing basis to whoever is online. Yasmin, Tasneem, and Fatema (2015) analysed the differences between traditional and digital marketing providing their results in tabular form. While the comparison aimed at identifying the key differences between the two methods, it is more of a comparison of the advantages of digital marketing versus disadvantages of traditional marketing as illustrated in the figures below.
Figure 2.3 Comparison between digital marketing and traditional marketing
Source: Yasmin, Tasneem, and Fatema (2015)
2.5 RO4: The future of Starbucks’ digital marketing
Towards the continuous use of digital marketing strategies, Yasmin, Tasneem, and Fatema (2015) argues that organisations need to review the various challenges they face in their efforts to achieve marketing goals. Research studies on the variations between digital and traditional marketing provide substantial analysis of the various challenges corporates bodies should expect to face in their utilization of digital platforms to market their products. As pointed out by Todor (2016), there is a lack of physical experience of products before consumers can make their purchase decisions. According to the review, this challenge makes it hard for companies to influence potential customers through digital advertisements. In addition to this, the use of digital platforms limits the audience reach to consumers connected to the internet.
Constantinides (2014) also points out that internet marketing limits reaching out to the category of customers who do not embrace the use of digital platforms. This is a critical challenge to firms with products for the conservative class of consumers. On the other hand, Todor (2016) reports that cash on delivery is a widely used system the digital marketing which has resulted in companies recording losses from making deliveries to false identities. There is also the lack of guarantee that the ordered products will meet client requirements, especially with first-time customers. Moreover, the presence of numerous cases of online frauds scares consumers from trusting products sold over digital platforms or even using such platforms to make payments on goods and services they have not received. Nevertheless, the use of digital platforms is a promising product promotion channel if these setbacks can be avoided or their impacts controlled.
The future of digital marketing for Starbucks rests on its ability to identify the key aspects that challenge the achievement of targeted marketing performance and developing ways to counter the same. The previous sections conducted analysis on the digital marketing strategies used by the company, the advantages of digital marketing over traditional marketing, and the challenges affecting companies on the use of digital marketing. With this information, the present review conducts an evaluation of Starbucks’ strategies to identify strengths, weakness, and recommend ways towards the future of the company’s presence in digital marketing.
There are no significant issues identifiable with Starbucks China marketing strategies on digital platforms. However, Kirtiş and Karahan (2011) point the need for a company to utilize digital and traditional marketing methods concurrently. Starbucks, therefore, should consider using some traditional marketing channels to reach consumers who do not have an internet connection, social media accounts, or do not trust online products. Developing innovative ways to control the copyright of their content and products online will help in building trust among their customers hence improving the effectiveness of digital marketing in the future.
Starbucks can also consider incorporate payment methods that enhance perceived consumer protection from fraudulent online payment option while maintaining the privacy of their financial information. Mang (2015) notes the example of secured payments framework, Trade Assurance, as used Alibaba on online purchases. Nevertheless, Durmaz and Efendioglu (2016), emphasizes on the development of a strong product image which will reduce consumer fears on possible low-quality products delivery. These strategies, if well utilized, will be significant in shaping Starbucks's future in digital marketing.
Marketing strategies are frameworks used by organisations to make their products known by potential customers. The methods used depend on the goals to be achieved as well as the nature of the targeted consumers. Despite this, the urge to develop interaction and maintain a healthy relationship with customers requires the choice of all-around efficient marketing strategies. With the increasing use of the internet and the popularity of social media platforms, the present literature review conducted a critical review of its effectiveness in product promotion. Past literature reports digital marketing as an imperative method for product promotion based on its cost-effectiveness, unlimited audience reach and content hosting, adaptability of information sharing, interaction with users, 24/7 content exposure, and simplicity in measuring results. From the literature review proceedings, the study concludes that digital marketing is an imperative strategy to achieve marketing and sales targets compared to traditional marketing.
A review of Starbucks China digital marketing strategies was conducted with an evaluation of their strengths and analysis. The reported marketing strategies were reviewed and their impact assessed to evaluate their success. Starbucks choice of digital marketing strategies was considered successful in increasing sales and obtaining new customers. Towards the application of digital marketing in the future, the analysis recommended the review of challenges experienced by Starbucks. A simple way to identify these challenges is by taking note of feedback from their online customers. In addition to this, the development of innovative ways to control setbacks of social media marketing as illustrated above is crucial towards successful application in the future.
Chapter 3 Research design and methodology
The ability of research to achieve the set objectives optimally depends on the suitability of the choice of research design and methodology (Chih-Pei and Chang, 2017). Following the analysis of literature as conducted above, the identification of research questions provides a guide to research design and methodology. In this regard, the present study seeks to collect data and conducts analysis for the provision of solutions to the following research questions.
1. How often do people use social media software and watch TV and newspapers?
2. What age group are social media users mainly distributed in?
3. What are customer evaluations on the Starbucks’ digital marketing strategy on Sina Weibo?
4. Whether do consumers agree that digital marketing will replace traditional marketing in the future?
The choice of data collection, analysis, and presentation techniques were guided on how well they assist in the achievement of the research objectives as well as the provision of solutions to the above research problems. This study explores the influence of digital marketing on tradition marketing with a focus on Starbucks China sales strategies through Sina Weibo. The study therefore, was conducted using a case study research strategy. This approach puts research questions in real context, which makes research findings easy to be understood (Yin, 2013). Case study can collect qualitative and/or quantitative data (Ridder, 2017). As results, by collecting qualitative case study data in this research helped researcher gain more insights on the use of digital marketing in China.
Zefeiti and Mohamad (2015) present three choices of research methods; primary, secondary, and mixed methods. Primary research methods involve the application of raw information or data customised to suit the study needs. With this design, popularly used methods include interviews, surveys, and questionnaires. On the other hand, secondary research incorporates the application of second-hand information and/or data for analysis. The choice of such sources depends on whether there are enough secondary data can answer researcher questions and whether these secondary data is up to date sources to show current situation of this research questions.
With mixed research, a study combines aspects of both primary and secondary research methods. Mixed research was suitable in the present study to collect information on Starbucks sales strategies on Sina Weibo and the respective customers’ evaluation. It was easy to find some secondary data of Starbucks sales strategies on Sina Weibo, but secondary data may not be able to effective understand customer’s evaluation and feelings (Saunders et al, 2012). Thus the choice of primary data was also facilitated by its ability to incorporate participants’ perceptions and experiences in the findings and the provision of analysis between qualitative findings and quantitative results (Opoku et al., 2016). The following sections illustrated the primary and secondary research aspects as used in this study. The succeeding sections presented the choice of techniques and procedures on data collection and analysis.
3.3 Secondary research
The choice of these sources depended on how well they articulated the aspects of focus in each research objective. The search of these sources was, therefore, not limited on their types as efficient of content was regarded more important. Popular sources to be used in searching secondary sources of information include company websites (Starbucks China, Sina Weibo), review sites, Google Scholar, Google Books, and Journal articles databases (such as Jstor, Science Direct, and Research Gate). The following listed sources indicate examples of secondary data collected under each research objective.
RO1: To describe Starbucks' social media marketing strategies using the Sina Microblog.
- SMITH, K. (2019). 15 Reasons Why Marketing Through Social Media Should Be Prioritized.
- Roll, M. (2017) The Secret to Starbucks' Brand Success.
RO2: To identify how successful these social media marketing strategies have been, and who they were targeted towards.
- Statista.net. (2019). China: Sina Weibo user breakdown by age group 2018.
- Macrotrends (2019) Starbucks Revenue 2006-2019
RO3: To analyse why these strategies were successful, and why they were appropriate strategic compared to TV or print media
- Choudhary, V. (2019). The Transition from Print Media to Social Media Marketing.
- Chan, J (2013) Starbucks China says “Let’s meet up”
RO4: To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies and suggest ways Starbucks could build upon them.
- SinanSoft Blog (2019). Advantages and disadvantages of Digital Marketing.
- Marszałek, W. (2018) Can Starbucks Remain China's #1 Coffee Brand? A Review of Past Successes and Future Challenges
- Smart Insights (2017) Digital Marketing in 2020: A glimpse into the future.
3.4 Primary research
With primary research Chih-Pei and Chang (2017) cites that there are various data collection methods studies can utilise with the primary ones being questionnaires, surveys, observations, and interviews. The researcher used interviews to collect primary data. As stated by Evans and Lewis (2018), interviews offer researchers with maximal flexibility of what to enquire from respondents even though they are costly and time-consuming.
10 Starbucks customers to participate in data collection were obtained from their social media platforms. Convenience sampling was used to recruit participants. According to Etiakn et al. (2016), convenience sampling is significant in drawing respondents from a population that is already accessible. Semi-structured questions were developed for interviews since they facilitate interaction, accommodates open-ended questions and responses (Evans and Lewis, 2018). The researcher conducted 20–30 minutes interviews with each of the identified respondents by digital including
The following questions were used to provide a basis for the conduction of interviews.
1. Which platform are you likely to find Starbuck’s advertisements, is it social media or traditional media?
2. How did you become a follower of Starbuck on social media particularly Sina Weibo?
3. How do Starbucks conduct its marketing on Sina Weibo?
4. Do you think Starbuck use of Sina weibo has helped to promote their products and increase sales to the targeted audience? Please explain
5. How has Starbuck use of Sina Weibo helped in customer experiences?
6. In what other ways do you see the use of Sina Weibo has helped Starbuck in its target audience?
7. What are some of the traditional forms of marketing that Starbuck has been applying?
8. In comparison with traditional marketing, what are some of the advantages of the use of Sina Weibo by Starbuck?
9. In your opinion, what are the strengths of the use of Sina Weibo by Starbuck?
10. What weaknesses do you see in the use of Sina Weibo by Starbuck?
11. What suggestions can you give Starbuck to make in its digital marketing in the future?
Data collected from interviews was analysed to provide meaningful information for use towards solving research questions and objectives. Thematic analysis was used to analyse data collected using interviews. Thematic analysis is an efficient technique for analysing qualitative data hence its selection (Evans and Lewis, 2018).
3.5 Research ethics
Ryen (2016) states that studies collecting primary data should check their adherence to set community and institutional regulations on the collection and handling of confidential information. The present study collected primary data from Starbucks China customers. There is, therefore, the urge to provide and strategize on the use of clear frameworks to ensure that inclusion of human subjects in this study does not compromise ethical standards (Doemeny, and Knerr, 2019). The researcher provided participants with consent prompt where those who will not confirm their consent into participating in the study will be blocked from participating in the online survey. In addition to this, the respondents were provided with detailed information regarding the importance of the research, their participation, and how the information provided will be handled. The researcher protected collected data from third-party access and did not collect personal information to enhance anonymity.
The development of research methodology provided the foundation on which research studies are conducted. In the present chapter, the research design, frameworks, and methods to be used in the present study were identified. The choice and identification of these elements were substantially justified using research findings on methodology.
Chapter 4 Data Findings
In this chapter, findings on the data collected from interviews are presented. The presentation is aligned with the objectives stated in the first chapter. The analysis of the interview transcripts is done using thematic analysis. The research participants include 10 Starbuck customers accessed on the company’s Weibo fan page. The findings and analysis are then summarised in the last part of this chapter. Table 4.1 below presents the profile of the interviewees.
Table 4. 1 Interviewees’ profile
Number of Years as Starbuck Fan
From table 4.1 above, there were equal number of women and that of men participating in these interviewees. This was deliberately done by the researcher to ensure equal representation of both genders. The number of years each has been a fun of Starbuck is also indicated and as shown, there are participants who have been a Sina weibo fan for at least a year as well as those above five years. This is the same case with the age range where the majority were between 18-30. Only two of the participants were aged above 30 years. This again reinforces the assumption that most people accessing Sina Weibo are those in their youthful years.
4.2 RO 1: To describe Starbucks' social media marketing strategies using the Microblog
Theme 1: Starbucks Social Media Strategy
Question 1 asked the respondents to state the platforms in which they were likely to find Starbuck’s advertisements. As attested by interviewees, Starbuck uses both social media and traditional media, although it is more prominent on social media than traditional media. As expressed by the respondents, a part from the use of social media including Sina Weibo, the company also places advertisements on local TV channels, print media and even outside broadcasting. These views are well represented by interviewee D who expresses that “I find their advertisements on both Social Media and Traditional, but much of it is social media”
Theme 2: How Starbuck attracts followers to its Social Media Page
Question 2 further required respondents to explain how they came to follow Starbuck on Sina Weibo. Accordingly, most of the interviewees accessed Starbucks page on Weibo through sponsored content, regular advertising posts, reposts and Weibo stories by Starbucks and even referral by friends or colleagues. There were also those who were seeking reviews and customer assistance through their page and they ended up becoming fans. These sentiments are better represented by interviewee F who says “I got into contact with them through a promoted post feature by the brand” on the other hand, interviewee G says “I was referred by a friend when I was looking for their products”.
Theme 3: Starbucks marketing approaches on Weibo
Question 3 required the participants to state how Starbucks undertakes its marketing on Sina Weibo. From the responses provided, Starbuck’s approach on Weibo is the use of tweets, messages, uploads videos, and interactive sessions with their fans. Apart from regularly updating their accounts with information about their brand and service offerings, the company also uses the platform to respond to the customers’ queries, seek more fans through referrals or reposts, try to influence customers into buying their products, informing them of the new product offerings, entertaining customers, as well understanding their fans and customers as they gather data about them. This is better represented by the statement by interviewee C who says:
“Starbucks is quite engaging on its site, Sina Weibo. You can regularly find blog posts on this site, photos of various events, videos, and interacting with fans through discussions, replies to queries and comments”.
There is also the use of hashtags and hyperlinks which are embedded in their posts as attested by interviewee D:
“Apart from posts and updates about their programs, launch, services and products, I also find the use of hashtags and hyperlinks embedded on its posts across the platform”.
This finding from the interviewees resonates with the finding of Smith (2019) who also notes that approximately 97% of marketers are using social media to access their customers. This confirms that most marketers are orienting themselves towards the use of digital media in promoting their brands more than traditional media. Similarly, Roll 2017 found out that Starbuck’s brand success is largely attributed to a focus on social media and digital marketing practices. What is more, George, (2018) also observes that Starbucks uses frequent posting to keep their followers informed and engaged. In these posts are also questions, answers or replies to user’s comments, advertisement of their products, or just entertaining activities.
4.3 RO 2: To identify how successful these social media marketing strategies have been, and who they were targeted towards
Identification of whether the social media strategies deployed by Starbuck were successful was also part of the objective of this research. In this regard, the researcher prepared questions in the interview that sought to retrieve the data related to this issue. These questions are indicated in questions 4, 5 and 6.
Theme 1: Consumers feelings towards Starbuck’s use of Weibo
Question 4 asked the participants to express their feelings regarding Starbucks use of Sina Weibo. From the responses, the impact has been positive and worked to achieve the objective. In particular, Weibo has many followers and hence; brands such as Starbucks are able to access this potential market. In addition, the company has massive exposure especially to the specific customer segments. Interviewee B who reiterates:
“Of course yes, I do feel that Starbucks use of Sina Weibo is working for their own good. Personally, I find it easier to access customer service through this platform while I can order or seek for services simply by contacting a representative on this platform. I also see the company interacting with a lot of customers posting and responding to comments on their pages”.
Theme 2: How Weibo has improved customer experience for Starbucks
Question 5 asked the respondents to explain how customer experience in Starbuck has improved through Weibo. The observation from the responses is that indeed, customer experience has improved to a great extent. This is because a part from being able to get information about the product/services they need, they are able to interact with the company representatives on their queries, go through reviews of other users, register their concerns, and get access to a variety of the products they need.
Interviewee B clarifies it like this; “As I said earlier, as customers we can now have our queries addressed more easily through just posting them on the Sinoweibo platform or through private message. Furthermore, we are also able to find reviews from other users about the services they intend to use, thus ascertain the credibility and reliability of the same services”.
Theme 3: Other ways Weibo has improved customer experience for Starbucks
The question 6 required the respondents to state the other ways they saw Weibo helped Starbuck in its target audience.
Among the notable responses is more exposure to existing and potential customers, increasing social interaction between the brand and fans, creating a community of fans, ability to make more sales, analyzing the characteristics of their customers and tailoring their message, and ability to communicate with customers faster, in real time and in a cost effective way. Interviewee G puts this in a better perspective, “I do find most of the contents and messages from Starbuck on Weibo resonating well with my regular lifestyle, tastes and preferences and I am positive about these messages”.
In agreement with this finding is Wang et al. (2014) who observed that the utilization of effective social media marketing strategies could enhance a brand’s trustworthiness, interactivity, and visibility/exposure. On the same note, findings from the secondary obtained from the statistica report prepared by Statista (2019) reveal that many users prefer social media due to a number of factors including ease of use, convenience, interactivity, and popularity. Furthermore, Macrotrends (2019) noted a rise in Starbucks revenue as a result of increased exposure, more customer reach and more sales attributed to use of digital media.
4.4 RO 3: To analyse why these strategies were successful, and why they were appropriate strategies compared to TV or print media
The third objective of this research was to establish on why Starbuck’s Sina Weibo strategy was successful and why the company considered it appropriate as compared to TV or print media. The questions that sought to address this are question 7 and 8.
Theme 1: Traditional Media Channels for Starbuck and their success
Question 7 specifically required the respondents to state some of the traditional media forms employed by the brand in its marketing. Accordingly, it is established that apart from extensive use of social media, the company also employs a bit of TV, print media and outside advertising, although not to the level as that of social media. In other words, it focuses more on social media than the identified traditional media. Interviewee C puts this clear: “Apart from social media, I see their advertisements on traditional media like the local dailies, TV adverts. It is also common to see even full-page newspaper ads about Starbucks philanthropic programs and products”. It can thus be said that the company uses a mix of advertisements, both digital and traditional media but with an emphasis on digital one. However, this statement is inconsistent with the observation by Marszałek (2018) who says that Starbucks China utilises digital marketing methods other than use of traditional media to promote their products. According to the author, the company does not advertise through the mainstream media.
Theme 2: Advantages of Weibo Marketing over Traditional Media
Question 8 asked the respondents to compare the advantages of Sina Weibo to traditional marketing channels. Respondents pointed out ability to post updates and news about its products, programs, events and or developments instantly, ability to interact with customers and address their queries, customer analytics, and the ability to study customer attitude on the platforms as some of the advantages. Evidently, this is not possible with the use of mainstream media. Interviewee B expresses: “I normally post my feelings and attitude towards a given product or service on Weibo and the representative is able to respond appropriately. You cannot do so over TV or radio”.
Furthermore, Weibo facilitates interactive ads where users are able to click, share, comment and inquire. This is advantageous for the company as it is able to generate more fan base, attract referrals and even sales. This is reiterated by interviewee D: “The website focuses on interactive ads, where people are urged to click, comment, share and inquire more”.
Theme 3: Will Digital Media Replace Traditional Media?
Question 9 in the questionnaire required the participants to state whether they agreed that digital marketing will replace traditional marketing. Accordingly, many of the respondents agreed that indeed, it will be possible in future for a complete replacement of digital marketing with traditional marketing. Respondent E affirms; I think as time goes by, traditional media channels will become obsolete due to evolution of technology” This opinion is supported by many respondents taking part in this study.
Findings from Choudhary (2019) report on this variable indicates that digital media is becoming a lifestyle for many people, thus making it a popular tool for marketers to reach their audiences. This popularity as observed by Chan (2013) has made it possible for companies such as Starbucks to reach a wider market base in a cost effective manner. Tiago and Veríssimo, (2014) agrees that with social media marketing, companies can interact with consumers and have control of choosing the duration of interaction. The authors observe that with social media, consumers have the platform to express their opinions regarding a company’s products which is useful in improving their services.
From the secondary data, Smart Insights (2017) also agrees that digital media is a future to recon as organizations and individuals shift towards the platform. Similarly, Marszałek (2018) finds that with the high rate at which the internet is developing, companies such as Starbuck will definitely face a marketing challenge due to internet disruption especially if they fail to leverage and align these strategies towards this development.
4.6 RO 4: To evaluate the weaknesses of these strategies and suggest ways Starbucks could build upon them
Question 10 required the interviewees to state the weaknesses they saw in the use of Sina Weibo by Starbuck.
Theme 1: Weaknesses in Starbuck’s use of Weibo
In light of the responses generated, these weaknesses range from failure to access potential clients who may not be in the platform, the fact that Weibo only uses Chinese language, thus blocking those unable to understand the language, the risk of negative publicity if something goes wrong regarding the culture or customer satisfaction, or through just users with malicious intentions, creation of fake accounts and pages by unscrupulous people, slow response by representatives, and the focus by Starbuck on official content only. Interviewee H states; “Since Weibo only uses Chinese language in communication, what about customers who don’t understand the language?”. Interviewee I also notes; “Sometimes, I can wake up and find a content posted which does not resonate with the users preferences, drawing backlash in the comments section”. Interviewee J observes; “the major weakness I see is that the ability for any user to comment or publish on their page could ruin or be damaging if a user has ill or malicious intentions towards the company. One can just wake up in the middle of the night when the support is sleeping and post negative comments or allegations. By the time the support wakes up to rectify it, the implications could be far reaching”.
Theme 2: Ways on how Starbuck could improve its digital marketing
The last question in this category, question 11 asked the respondents to provide their suggestions on how Starbucks can improve its digital marketing. Among the major recommendations provided include making sure their representatives are well trained on the local culture and company products to provide authentic solutions and posts, ensuring that the chat center and customer service on these platforms work round the clock, be active on multiple social media channels rather relying only on Weibo, and align with the Weibo marketing trend including extensive use of humor in its contents. Interviewee J expresses; “The brand needs to train its representatives on weibo to make sure they are knowledgeable and articulate on whatever they post or respond to. They also must ensure that those representatives work 24/7 to deal with any negative comments”. On the other hand, interviewee G also advices: “Starbucks needs to follow the trends and protocol of Weibo in order to capture the attention of even more users. They need not be too formal or official when relating with fans in the social media channel”.
According to sinansoft.com (2019), aside from the myriad advantages posted by use of digital media in marketing and promotions, the platform is also marred by several weaknesses. Among these are privacy and security issues, dependability of technology, and ability to ruin reputation in a very easy manner.
In general, the study finds that Starbucks employs extensive use social media including Weibo and to some extend traditional media channels. In particular, Sina Weibo has boosted the brand’s exposure, interaction with users, fast and real time communication and even analyzing its target. Equally, customers experience has also improved and range from ability to get information on the products/services they are seeking, asking and being answered queries, evaluating reviews on the products/brands, interacting with the community and even comparing services/products. However, to improve this experience, suggestions have been put forward accordingly.
Chapter 5 Conclusions and recommendations
This chapter is set to conclude the findings and analysis generated in the previous chapter (chapter four). These conclusions are drawn from the objectives outlined in chapter one. After these conclusions, the recommendations are also presented in line with the findings. This is followed by the ethical statements, self reflection and research limitations.
5.2.1 To describe Starbucks' social media marketing strategies using the Microblog
Concerning this objective, this study notes that Starbucks is at the forefront of using social media and particularly Sina Weibo to reach its customers. Although it has been attested to use traditional forms of marketing such as the TV, print and outside advertising, the extent is lower as compared to the use of digital media. To encourage more followers, Starbuck certainly used paid promotional tactics, e-WOM referrals, use of seasonal coupons, being responsive on customer queries and providing quality and appealing content. What is more, the company is also found to use even paid advertisements, while also undertaking user analytics so as to tailor their products and messages accordingly.
5.2.2 To identify how successful these social media marketing strategies have been, and who they were targeted towards
Pertaining to this objective, this study has observed that Sina Weibo had indeed helped Starbucks in promoting their products, as well as increasing sales to the target audience. This impact has been positive and worked to achieve the objective. In particular, Weibo has many users accessing it on a daily basis and hence; brands such as Starbucks are able to access this potential market. In addition, the company has massive exposure especially to the specific category of customers. Concerning customer experience, Sina Weibo has actually being significant in enhancing the user’s experience. This is because a part from being able to search and find information about the product/services they need, they are able to interact with the company representatives on their queries or any other assistance, go through reviews of other users, register their concerns, and get access to a variety of the products they need. Other notable ways through Weibo has helped Starbucks is facilitation to more exposure to existing and potential customers, increasing social interaction between the brand and fans, creating a community of fans, ability to make more sales, analyzing the characteristics of their customers and tailoring their message, and ability to communicate with customers faster, in real time and in a cost effective way.
5.2.3 To analyse why these strategies were successful, and why they were appropriate strategies compared to TV or print media
Regarding this objective, this study has noted that, the use of social media and particularly, Sina Weibo has been advantageous for the brand due to its ability to post updates and news about its products, programs, events or developments instantly, ability to interact with customers, receive their feedback and address their queries, review customer analytics, and the ability to study customer attitude on the platform. Alongside these is the ability to create interactive ads, where users are able to click, share, comment and inquire. This is advantageous for the company as it is able to generate more fan-base, attract referrals and even make more sales. The target audiences are the youth and users who are in their middle aged years.
5.2.4 To evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these strategies and suggest ways Starbucks could build upon them
Regarding this objective, the study found out that there are indeed, a number of strengths associated with the use of Sina Weibo to market products over traditional media channels. These strengths ability to collect data about their fans and users, ability to generate leads and more traffic to their pages, ability to reach a wider audience and target market, more leads through reposting and sharing of content, increased brand awareness/exposure, and the general popularity of Weibo among Chinese users which reinforces brand exposure. In addition, it is also possible for users even those not following the page or company account to like, comment on and even share posts. However, a number of weaknesses have also been identified with regard to use of Weibo by Starbuck. Alongside these are: the slow response by representatives and the focus by Starbuck on official content only.
As it regards to the strategies deployed by Starbucks, the company need to diversify its market approaches to include even more other social media channels such as QQ, Tencent, Wechat among others. This is important in capturing the audience who may not be in the Weibo platform. It is also crucial that the company considers training its staff to understand the local culture and company products/services in a higher level so that they don’t cause any anomaly when interacting with their customers. Sina Weibo is a good strategy to use but from the finding, the company need to align with its culture and standard. In other words, they require incorporating some form of humor in their posts and content. This will work towards capturing the attention and creating appeal of even more people who are using this platform. This owes to the fact that most of those using Weibo are already conversant with the channel norms and so will expect casual communication or some of humor injected in the discussions or content uploads. In this regard, the company should avoid maintaining the formality, as this will make the post monotonous and users will tend to avoid such posts.
Evidently, Sina Weibo has increased the brand exposure for Starbuck as well as customer experience. Therefore, to reach even more customers, the company needs to work on motivating referrals through providing coupons and rewards to existing users. By offering rewards for referrals especially those culminating into sales, the company will be encouraging even more people to sign up, like their pages and become part of the fanbase. This is a sure way of attracting audience and even creating loyalty among the existing ones. In addition to these is also leveraging on their leads and traffic generation programs. These entails even use of third parties and experienced traffic and lead generators who can do the job with some agreed price. Although this arrangement could cost some money, this could be worthwhile in attracting even more people, some of who will turn out to be customers. In addition to these is the embedment of their hashtags and hyperlinks in their posts. Although it has been noted from the study that the company has been able to do this at some extent, it can actually do more by increasing their degree and presence in their posts. These hashtags and hyperlinks will not only help in attracting more referrals but will also help in expanding the existing communities.
As much as is actively interacting with its fans on Weibo and allowing the public to comment or post their views on this platform, the company need to be so concerned about people who may be having malicious intentions like posting negative content or replicating their pages for ill intentions. In this regard, they can make sure that there pages are monitored on a regular basis to ward off any negative postings before it escalates. It is also crucial that Starbuck considers limiting the type of users who are able to post on their websites, social media pages. In particular, the posting should be strictly for those who have joined, liked or followed the pages. Furthermore, the company representative should also have the capability to delete a user or his/her comments, remarks, or views if they pose a risk to the company reputation. However, due to the kind of the services it offers, the company need not neglect other forms of media in advertising and focus solely on social media. This is because if it does so, then there is a high probability of missing out from some potential customers who may not be on the Sina Weibo platform. Basically, this research believes that use of a mix platform in advertisement will even generate better results than focusing on a particular medium.
To enhance Starbucks performance on its social media, the company is advised to consider training its representatives on cultural issues, company protocols, products and services so as to provide authentic solutions to customer needs. In addition, it is important to consider placing representatives all round the clock so that users do not hang when requesting for any kind of assistance. Furthermore, Starbuck need to align with the Weibo marketing trend including extensive use of humor in its contents so as to attract and appeal even to more users. These suggestions if incorporated can help the brand in enhancing its digital marketing through Weibo.
While undertaking this project, I had to deviate from the protocol, although to a smaller extent from the original proposal. For instance, I had initially envisioned about using a mixed method in data collection as well as using only 5 five interviewees to complete the data from questionnaire. In-fact, I had even prepared a questionnaire for that purpose. However, I had to change my decision while in the process and decide on using the interviews due to its associated advantages. I simply came to the realization that by resorting to the interview, I will be able to gain detailed and first-hand information and be in a position to better address the objectives as compared to the use of questionnaires. Therefore, I presume that the responses from the interviewees are much better compared to what could have been acquired from the questionnaires. More so, this decision was arrived at after considering the level of work and effort that would be needed analyzing questionnaire data.
While compiling this report, there are a lot of things that I have learnt. First and foremost, my knowledge regarding social media and especially Sina Weibo marketing has expanded to a great extent. I have not only learnt about its benefit and effectiveness to marketers but also its weaknesses as well as how these can be leveraged. What is more, I understood the need for a careful planning process to successfully undertake and complete a project and the need to seek guidance from seniors in areas I am not good at. In other words, it is not wise or possible to succeed without consultations with others especially in undertaking a major activity. Rather, people would always need support and guidance from others. Alongside these is the need to be very keen with word usage as well as the use of outside resources in my work. Precisely, I have to ensure that all the contents used are appropriate and relevant to the context while also making sure that information from outside is useful, applicable and up-to-date.
5.5 Limitation and Suggestion for Future Research
The major limitation of this research is the reliance of interview as a data collection method. Considering that the process is costly and time consuming, the research can only collect data from a defined number of interviewees, thus hindering replication and generalisation of the finding to the target audience or industry. Therefore, future researchers can consider using a questionnaire with a larger sample size so as to obtain a more representative data. Furthermore, this research can further be improved if there is teamwork rather than an individual researcher.