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Starbucks' new content arm: Do we really need more brand-led content?

Starbucks' new content arm: Do we really need more brand-led content?

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Starbucks has unveiled an in-house production hub Starbucks Studios to produce and tell original stories that spark conversations. According to the company, this initiative aligns with the company’s belief in the power of creativity and storytelling to foster human connection and joy.

Starbucks is teaming up with Sugar23, a multimedia production and talent management organisation with the goal of moving culture through entertainment. Together, Starbucks Studios and Sugar23 will amplify stories with the power to bring people together and spark moments of delight.

Don't miss: Starbucks unveils production studio to bolster storytelling offerings

While the move to in-house storytelling comes amidst the rise of social content being a core part of brands’ strategy, according to industry players, many forward-thinking brands are increasingly revamping their marketing teams to function more like content studios.

“Brands are starting to realise that their audience is spending more time on social media and watching short-form videos,said Melissa Laurie, director of content firm Oysterly.

She added that for brands such as Starbucks to deepen its connection with the audience and strengthen its community (which is a significant factor for Starbucks), it needs to create social video content that genuinely inspires, educates, or entertains.

“Our brains are hardwired to stories, and when a brand can tell a compelling story through its content, it captures the audience's attention and creates an emotional connection. This emotional connection not only fosters loyalty but also encourages customers to become advocates for the brand, sharing their positive experiences with others,Laurie said.

Agreeing with Laurie is Sagar Paranjpe, former MD of Bonsey Jaden and ex-brand lead from Malaysia Airlines who said thatEven cheap production isn’t as cheapanymore. Hence, giving out work to production houses, no matter the size isn’t as sustainable as an expense and puts pressure on P&Ls.

“If Starbucks says that storytelling is a part of who it is, videos are the best form of storytelling and will continue to be so, in some format or the other, for a long time. This move makes sense for an organisation as large as Starbucks,he said.

But that is not to say the venture is cheap either. Paranjpe added that the partnership with Sugar23 makes sense givenSugar23 likely has the infrastructure for video production.From the way I see it, the brand, product, corporate and social media videos for Starbucks will be at a cost, which will be covered by the revenue they will then cover from the premium entertainment business,he added.

Can Starbucks even stand out in this golden era of content?

Undoubtedly, there’s a lot of content being produced in the world right now – from premium to UGC and branded. So, what’s the need for another platform which is shouting out about content?

Paranjpe said that while there is a fair bit of good content out in the world, the gap is in the brand-led content.This generation of social natives see right through you; hence they prefer real people, real emotions, real inclusivity and real sustainability,he said. Irrespective of whether a brand has a private studio or not, brand videos are competing with no-budget content creators that are real. He added:

Starbucks will have to keep an eye on this as most of its production will not need to be of high production value, but of high social value.

Laurie seconded the sentiment that when it comes to brand-led content, very few are doing it well with a lot of hard selling going on. For Starbucks to truly stand out, the brand must apply, what she callsmagic touchesto their content.

What are the magic touches?

Firstly, every social video must have an opening hook to stop viewers from scrolling, and the first frame needs to create tension in the viewer’s mind.I would argue that the first few seconds of their videos will be the most important,Laurie said.

From there, the content must provide value. For example, it should entertain, educate, or shock.Additionally, Starbucks can use lo-fi video styles and techniques to connect with their audience in a way that feels as genuine as a friend sharing a video with another friend,said Laurie.

Syahriza Badron, general manager of FCB Shout also added that while having an in-house production team is beneficial, it can potentially lead to a one-dimensional point of view over time. Without external input, there's a risk of falling into a pattern of cookie-cutter work where everyone thinks alike.

“Collaboration with a creative agency brings diverse perspectives and constructive challenges to the table, fostering creativity and ensuring that the final product resonates deeply with the intended audience. Additionally, managing the production process can be overwhelming; partnering with an agency can ease this burden,she added.

Nonetheless, she added that the move not only signals a commitment to quality and creativity but also positions Starbucks to respond more swiftly to market demands.

Not a good move – at all

Having a different point of view Jay Soo, CEO of production agency Moving Bits doesn’t believe the move will positively impact Starbucks’ revenue.

“Almost all original content produced by big boys or independents lose money and Hollywood operates on a slate of films where maybe one or two succeed brilliantly and pay for all the other eight that didn’t sell,he said.

He added that if Starbucks is indeed following the footsteps of Amazon Prime, focusing solely on developing exceptional content, and not just using it as a platform to promote their coffee, then this move could be a stroke of genius. Otherwise, there might not be that much of a benefit for the brand.

He said:

To stand out, Starbucks must not only go out and discover some of the best storytellers but also produce high-quality, credible narrative content that sets a new standard in the industry.

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