How Starbucks Uses Email Marketing to Gain Customer Loyalty

Does the term “PSL” mean anything to you?

If it does, then I can probably assume that you’re a frequent Starbucks customer and your order rarely changes no matter what season it is.

I’m guilty of this so much so that I might as well live there!

Starbucks is such a well-known brand around that world that it’s hard to imagine that it was on the brink of financial failure in 2008. One of the largest contributors to that had to do with the company’s focus on continued expansion. This direction inadvertently caused them to pivot away from being customer-focused.

When the company brought back Howard Schultz as CEO, he put to work the ideas and strategies that would help get Starbucks back on track. Many things contribute to Starbucks’ current standings, but one of the standout strategies the coffee company masterfully handles is their email marketing.

Today we’ll look at some of the ways Starbucks uses email to foster customer loyalty and grow the community that has led them to their current success.

And some takeaways to apply to your own email strategy!

1. Foster Community By Rewarding Your Customers

A vital move Starbucks made in 2009 was re-establishing a loyalty program that rewarded customers for purchases. If you study many successful product-based companies closely you’ll notice these type of loyalty/rewards programs are usually at play.

Why? Because they have a “you scratch our back, we’ll scratch yours” attribute about them that creates a sort of infinite marketing loop to keep customers coming back.

While My Starbucks Rewards is a part of a broader marketing strategy, they use email to continually redirect awareness back to this revenue-driving program.

You'll notice that nearly every Starbucks Rewards email you’ll receive is different in both the headlines and the layouts.

However, the purpose of these emails is usually to increase awareness about an upcoming offer or promotion within the program so that you can take advantage of the reward if you participate.

Key Takeaways

Consider establishing a rewards program you can point your emails to

While the program itself isn’t strictly email based, there is substantial evidence that using email in tandem with a rewards program can drive customer loyalty and revenue.

There’s a lot to consider and set up to implement something like this in your company, but once you have that side of it done you can automate many of your emails.

For example, you can set up a welcome email to trigger when someone signs up!

Or if they click through from your rewards email to your site but don’t purchase, you can trigger an email to remind them about it.  

Either way, these two pieces of your marketing strategy working together can have a big impact on your revenue.

Keep your promos short and sweet

One thing you’ll notice Starbucks does is they keep their promotional emails on point. The copy within these emails is just enough to tell you the what, when, and how of a current promo and usually nothing more.

Even without a rewards program, you can take a note here about your promos in general. Don’t overthink it or make them too glamorous.

Sometimes, simple and to the point is all you need!

2. Email Marketing Basics Are Never Overrated

Starbucks uses what most consider the basic framework for email marketing. But, they customize it to fit their goals and what works best for them.

Taking a closer look at what they send, you can see how they use some of the fundamental email types to keep their audience engaged and coming back for more.

Welcome Emails

From our research, Starbucks has two main email lists:

  • The My Starbucks Rewards list is for those who are members of the program, and
  • A sort of catch-all list where contacts receive Starbucks news, announcements and promotions

Each of these lists sends an automated welcome email. The list for overall news and promos is a rather straightforward and simple email just letting people know they’re on the list.

The one for Starbucks Rewards has more to the email itself as it dives into how to gain rewards to fuel that caffeine addiction we’re so happy to give into.

They could skip this, but they don’t. Welcome emails are important because they’re part of a conversation and nurture the start of a relationship that they don’t want to fall through the cracks.

Company-Wide and Rewards Member Promotions

No matter which email list you’re on, you’ll notice that Starbucks makes use of promotional emails. Depending on the promotion, the layout, design, and copy will generally change.

But Starbucks makes smart use of repurposing content too.

Like many other brands, Starbucks brings back successful promotions and when they do they tend to reuse much of the content that worked for them previously.

In the images above you’ll notice the dates and offers are different. However, the headings, titles, colors, and design are all very similar. This is a good lesson for every marketer:

Do you have content to repurpose and reuse? Then take Shia Lebeouf’s words of wisdom and just do it.  

You’ll save yourself time and other resources in doing so.

Announcements and Content Awareness

You may be surprised to know that Starbucks creates a lot of content across multiple branded sites.

Sites such as Starbucks Reserve, Starbucks Channel, and their Newsroom, just to name a few. But no matter what site it is, Starbucks makes sure to use their email marketing to get eyes on all their content.

For example, the image above is an email that links directly to the Starbucks Reserve site which contains articles relating to that product in the Starbucks ecosystem.

And while some companies shy away from too much transparency, Starbucks uses emails to send other news including this open letter from the Chairman about an incident they admitted was “reprehensible” and “disappointing.”

Personal feelings on the matter aside, the quickness and openness to accept blame for something that should never have happened was a far better approach than avoiding the subject altogether.

Key Takeaways

When lost, go back to basics

Trends and fads in marketing can create a “shiny object” syndrome where we’re chasing the latest and greatest new thing in areas like email marketing.

While we wholeheartedly approve of testing new ideas, sometimes things can get off track and email stats may start to dwindle.

Obviously, you want people to open, read, and click-through in your emails. That’s how we get them coming back and staying interested in what we’re sending them.

When your email metrics are off, it means we need to perk up and pay attention.

If that happens, just remember: go back to basics.

If you need some help in this area, we have plenty of content to get you back on track. Here are a few articles you may want to save for future reference:

Repurpose Content That Works

Reuse. Recycle. Repurpose. Whatever word you prefer, make like Nike and Just Do It™

Not everything you have can be repurposed, but if you go through your emails and other marketing materials you may find you have a stockpile of things you can go back to and reuse.

Here are a few things you may be able to reuse or repurpose:

  • Success emails with good open and click-through rates.
  • Sales promotions.
  • Successful PDF downloads on your site.
  • Ad campaigns that hit your goals.
  • Colors and design assets.
  • Branded materials.

Repurposing content can mean taking something like a successful blog post and turning it into a video or vice versa. Reusing content could be something like using the same design assets you used last year for the holiday promo this year.

Whatever the case, look through your marketing materials and content. Find what’s worked well for you and collect that stuff into an area you can easily access.

When the time comes to work through parts of your marketing strategy, go back and review this content to see how you might be able to use what you already have to move forward in your business.


3. Stay True To Your Brand

The Starbucks brand is one of the most recognizable and admired brands in the world. While the logo itself has undergone some design changes as well as the overall design aesthetic, Starbucks and their green lady siren are well-known to nearly everyone.

When it comes to branding and design, Starbucks has a lot of moving parts. Each promo, whether seasonal or product-based, has its own seemingly unique design to it.

These two examples are just to show how different the email design has been for the company. The magic here, though, is that none of it feels “off brand” in any way which is thanks to a great cohesive branding strategy.

In going through our own Starbucks emails, we noticed various fonts, design assets and color schemes being used again and again. Even the emails above have the same body font and green color.

Since Starbucks has a lot of products, many of those products have a branding style all their own. However, they manage to make everything work together really well.

This is because a brand is more than a logo and color palette. A brand is also about how you make people feel and should embody your goals or aspirations.

As a brand, Starbucks’ corporate mission is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.” And their vision is to “establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles while we grow.”

These goals and purpose drive everything they do, including how they follow through in their brand design.

This is part of why their emails, while changing in aesthetics from time to time, still feels cohesive:

They stay true to their brand as a whole.  

Key Takeaways

Know your brand and carry it through in your emails

Your overall branding strategy will play a big role in your business.

And though you may go through a visual rebrand down the road, the important part is to carry your brand throughout all of your marketing, including email.  

Starbucks has a few different logos they use for themselves and their products, but no matter what — a logo is used. This builds recognition and cohesion across their marketing. You can take this small lesson and use it in your email marketing.

Perhaps you can have a few versions of your logo made, or have branded logos from various initiatives within your company that can then be used in every email you send.

Another thing Starbucks does is stick to a consistent but unique body font. It’s a small detail, but it’s something to keep in mind. If in one email you’re using Helvetica and in another, you’re using Arial then you’re being inconsistent.

Instead, you should know the main design attributes that act as your base for each email type. Things like images, colors and heading font may vary, but your body font and use of a logo should be constant in your emails.


Love Them First, And They Will Love You Back

The mission and vision of Starbucks drives all they do. As a brand, Starbucks is doing better than most when it comes to sticking to their guiding principles and carrying that through to their customers.

With a heavy focus on building better customer relationships, Starbucks' email marketing has also shifted to one that brings customer interests to the center. Their Rewards emails continue to drive loyalty and brand love across the world.

Very few people can claim to have a brand as well-known as Starbucks, but we can all learn a vital lesson from them:

Be innovative, but don’t neglect your customer relationships.

What points did you take away from this article and plan to use? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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