What Starbucks Teaches About Marketing Commodity Products Create a unique selling proposition around your customer's fantasy buying experience and your company benefits.

By Perry Marshall

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Monica Dipres

It's been a while I know, but try to think back to 1992 (or ask someone who can remember), coffee was a 65 cent item that came in a Styrofoam cup. It tasted like Folgers and there was nothing romantic about it.

But some people got all jazzed up about coffee and said, "Hey, if someone were to have a fantasy about coffee, what would that be like?"

Great question. Brilliant, actually. What did that question produce?

Seductive art-deco boutiques. Five kinds of espresso. Egg Nog Latte during the holidays. Americano, Cappucino and Mocha. Flavored syrups like Vanilla, Hazelnut, Almond, Amaretto and Irish Cream. Barristas instead of clerks or waiters. A comfortable atmosphere where people could sit and talk and read. A multi-billion dollar juggernaut industry.

Related: 7 Steps to Defining Your Niche Market

Starbucks had a very, very clear vision -- to make the $2 cup of coffee the luxury that everyone could afford. Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, reasoned that if Larry Lunchbox can buy a $2 hamburger at McDonalds, then he can also buy a $2 cup of coffee -- except that a hamburger is just lunch (ordinary) but that cup of coffee is a luxury (extraordinary).

And today there are millions of Larry Lunchbox people who take an extra 15 minutes on the way to work every morning to give themselves a special treat at Starbucks.

In 1992 if you wanted to write an ad for coffee there probably wouldn't be that much to say. But companies like Starbucks dramatically increased the value of a commodity item by re-inventing it. Now there's a lot to say.

This re-invention of a commodity to create an extraordinary experience is what I call "widget making." Creating a "widget" with your product naturally creates a strong Unique Selling Proposition, or USP.

Related: Why Serve a Niche Market?

Once you have a USP, it suddenly becomes easy to market yourself, to tell your story. If you don't have a USP, you're just another guy with so many dollars per pound of coffee grounds.

So here's a question for you: "If someone were to have a fantasy about your product, service or business, what would it be like?"

Fantasy is always a relative term. For our purposes, it's probably not nubile young women. In the case of people you and I deal with, it's more typically a guarantee of delivered performance or satisfaction, from someone who actually keeps his promises. Combined with you doing two more things:

  1. Go the extra mile to conveniently package things together so your customers don't have to go through a bunch of hassles just to do business with you; and
  2. Tell them about those things. Tell them that your product already comes with that special cable they need. Or make sure the person on the phone offers to upsell it to them, tells them how convenient it will be to not worry about that too.

Tell them in detail how your extra attention to the little things saves them time and money. This becomes part of your sales story.

Related: Amending Your Marketing Strategy to More Effectively Reach a Changing America

And remember this, someone who's mired in an ugly situation with some vendor who can't or won't make things easy for him really does fantasize about what it would be like to deal with someone who makes it simple. Even if it's just wire terminals he's buying.

When you create a USP that's centered around your customer's ultimate fantasy buying experience, your business literally becomes the middle kingdom between fantasy and reality.

People will read your ads because they pander to that fantasy, and they'll buy your product, too. Because if you really can fulfill a fantasy at a reasonable price, who can refuse that?

Wavy Line
Perry Marshall

Author, Sales and Traffic Expert, CEO and Founder of Perry S. Marshall & Associates

Perry Marshall is the president of Perry S. Marshall & Associates, a Chicago-based company that consults both online and brick-and-mortar companies on generating sales leads, web traffic and maximizing advertising results. He has written seven books including his most recent, 80/20 Sales and Marketing (Entrepreneur Press, 2013), Ultimate Guide to Facebook Advertising (Enterpreneur Press, 2014), Ultimate Guide to Google AdWords (Entrepreneur Press, 2014), and Ultimate Guide to Local Business Marketing (Entrepreneur Press, 2016). He blogs at perrymarshall.com.

Editor's Pick

A Father Decided to Change When He Was in Prison on His Son's Birthday. Now His Nonprofit Helps Formerly Incarcerated Applicants Land 6-Figure Jobs.
A Teen Turned His Roblox Side Hustle Into a Multimillion-Dollar Company — Now He's Working With Karlie Kloss and Elton John
3 Mundane Tasks You Should Automate to Save Your Brain for the Big Stuff
The Next Time Someone Intimidates You, Here's What You Should Do
5 Ways to Manage Your Mental Health and Regulate Your Nervous System for Sustainable Success

Related Topics

Business News

'Do You Hate Me?': High School Teacher Shares Wild Emails He Receives From Students

Jordan Baechler teaches high school students in Ontario, Canada.

Business News

After Being Told They Could Work From Home Forever, Employees Made Major Life Changes. Then, a New CEO Ordered Them Back to the Office.

Farmers Group CEO Raul Vargas is facing backlash for the change, but he says being in the office brings more "collaboration" and "innovation."

Growing a Business

Do You Say 'Like' Too Much? Don't Worry! I'm a Sociolinguist, and I Like 'Like.'

The modern use of the word is denigrated through and through. But it may be doing more communicative heavy lifting than we give it credit for.

Life Hacks

The Top 5 All-Time Best Productivity Hacks You've Never Heard Of

Want to combat chronic procrastination? Use these top five productivity hacks to put an end to this debilitating nuisance.