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Marketing strategy


The market place is awash with products, some remarkably similar, some serving the same function, some very different, some very cheap, and some very expensive. All of these products have one thing in common; they are vying for the attention of clients, who will spend money to purchase them. Managers of firms in a free market have to think of ways they can position their products so that they not only win a share of the market, but also retain it (Hodgetts & Hegar, 2008).  In addition, consumer preferences are dynamic and transient, meaning that firms have to come up with effective strategies to ensure that they remain relevant to the market. Even within a relatively homogeneous market, the preferences for products may vary from one sector of the market to another (Jensen & Hansen 2006). Therefore, it is incumbent upon firms to ensure that they have the relevant market intelligence that can help them to decide on the strategy to use for selling their products in each niche. When selling products, firms must communicate to the consumers and provide the necessary information that will enable the customer to be aware of the product and be swayed to purchase.

To achieve brand and product visibility, a firm needs to market itself, its products, and this needs a marketing strategy because a strong brand attracts clients (Yaseen et al., 2011). Before a firm can decide on the marketing strategy that it shall employ in its business, the managers must first define the business goals because they form the foundation upon which the marketing strategy will be built. A marketing strategy can be defined as a model or process that enables a firm to effectively use limited resources on the best opportunities that will lead to sales increase and achieving of a competitive advantage (Doole & Lowe, 2008). Development of an effective marketing strategy is an arduous process, which requires all the stakeholders in the firm to ensure that a cohesive strategy is formulated and implemented. Other than identifying business goals, development of a marketing strategy includes market research, profiling potential customers and competitors, and developing a strategy that will support the marketing goals (Kotabe & Helsen, 2008). This essay shall look at the marketing strategies of Starbucks and Apple with a view to explore the inherent differences in each company’s approach to marketing.

Company Background


Starbucks is one of the most recognizable specialty coffees not only in the U.S. but also around the world, where the company has spread its operations. This is a remarkable achievement for a company that was a small specialty coffee in Seattle just a few decades ago (Isidro, 2004). The phenomenal growth of Starbucks is a testament of an effective marketing strategy that has enabled it to attract and retain millions of customers. Starbucks operates in the hospitality industry, where competition for clients is extremely stiff and most companies find it difficult to survive. However, despite the difficult operating environment, Starbucks has not only survived but also positively thrived, growing to be a leader in the coffee business in the world. The company now sets stands in the coffee beverage sector, and the products of all other firms are judged against its products. Starbucks success has been so big that the company now has a strong influence in world coffee prices and has began a scheme to ensure that the poor coffee growers in developing countries share in its prosperity. The company is now one of the most valuable and recognizable brands, and continues to grow having embarked on an expansion drive within the US and abroad.


Apple is a company that operates in the technology sector and as Starbucks, it is known around the world as a producer of cutting edge consumer electronics. Apple was founded by three friends and incorporated in 1976 when it began producing personal computers under the brand names Macintosh and Apple. The 1980’s saw a growth in the company’s fortunes, as its computers proved to be a hit with clients, which helped to drive sales, growing the company’s revenue and profitability. However, in the 1990’s, the company’s fortunes began to deteriorate as increased competition led to the erosion of Apple’s market share and by the late 90’s, the company was in danger of failing. The new millennium saw an improvement in the company’s fortune with the introduction of the iPod, which took the market by storm, enabling the company to create the iTunes music store for its players. This made it a market leader in the digital music industry. The introduction of the iPhone and iPad was a game changer for apple and these products catapulted the company to the forefront of the consumer electronics industry. Apple is currently the most valuable technology company by market capitalization and a recognized leader in innovation, an achievement that is truly remarkable because the technology industry is extremely competitive, and it is not unusual for giant technology companies to quickly become redundant. For example, Research in Motion, the manufactures of Blackberry and Nokia, are two formerly leading consumer electronics companies that are now seriously struggling to catch up and stay afloat in an unforgiving environment.

Differences in Marketing Strategy


The profile of the modern customer is changing due to awareness of the responsibility to hold companies accountable for their business practice, and to interrogate not only the price of the product but also how the product got to the market place (Brink, Odekerken-Schro¨der & Pauwels, 2006). Therefore, companies must ensure that they engage in ethical business practices in addition to providing value for money if they are to be relevant in the modern market and avoid backlash from militant consumers (Maignan & Ralston, 2002). Starbucks is rightly considered as one of the most ethical firms in the world, setting standards on the fair treatment of its suppliers around the globe. The company is a founding member of the fair trade initiative, which seeks to commit coffee buyers to guarantee a minimum sum at which they will buy beans from farmers. The initiative also encourages farmers to use good farming practices and produce their coffee ethically in return for an assured premium. These initiatives spearheaded by Starbuck have shown a human face of the company, and this has touched consumers who support the company through continued purchase of its products.

Apple on the other hand has been accused of engaging in unethical business practices in the process of getting its products on the shelves for consumers. Like many electronic companies, Apple has outsourced its manufacturing operations to Asia in a bid to cut production costs and manufacture its products efficiently. However, most of the Asian countries that Apple has outsourced some of its manufacturing operations have extremely lax or non-existent labor laws to protect the workers in Apple’s factories. Consequently, the workers are underpaid, have no job security, and are often forced to work excessively long hours with minimal compensation in a bid to meet production quotas. Apple was aware of these inhumane practices but chose not to proactively ameliorate the workers’ working conditions. Apple marketing strategy is based on providing consumers with cost effective gadgets, and hence it looks for means of exploiting the system to drive production costs as low as possible. The company only took reactive steps when the working conditions of its contracted workers were exposed by the media in the West. The scandal damaged Apple’s image and standing in the eyes of the consumers and cost it some customers who found it unconscionable to associate with an unethical company. In conclusion, Starbucks treats its contracted suppliers ethically, while Apple is more interested in reducing production costs whatever the consequences.


Starbucks is a company that deals with food and therefore the scope for innovation in terms of product range is limited. The company has concentrated on basing the best in the coffee roasting business and ensuring that the beans that are used in its outlets are of the highest quality. The company ensures that its employees are trained in the art of customer care so that they can serve customers with a smile and listen to them patiently, even when the customers are infuriating. The coffee makers are trained in the art of making and tasting coffee, and can lead customers through different coffee flavors that Starbucks offers. The company has concentrated on ensuring that service to customers is prompt and efficient, and that the customer experience within a Starbucks is standardized across all its outlets.

Apple, on the other hand, has based its growth on innovation and being ahead of the competition by several steps. Although the company was not the first in the smart phone market, it has overtaken most of the players who had been in the market for long. The company does not produce products that merely satisfy customer needs and preferences. Rather, it defines customer preferences by producing products that are far beyond customer expectations that they define the customer experience. New product launches for Apple have now become huge events because customers want to have the latest gadget to discover what new things it can do, and not if it meets their expectations. This ability to give customers a new experience has been invaluable in making apple the leading consumer electronics company and buying an apple product is now like making a statement that one is abreast of the digital revolution. In conclusion, Apple has a marketing strategy driven by innovation, thinking out of the box and being ahead of the curve vis-à-vis the competition. Starbucks, on the other hand, has a strategy built around being the best in doing ordinary things.


Despite its considerable financial clout, it is interesting that Starbucks does not aggressively advertise its products in the mainstream media. For a long time, Starbucks relied on word-of-mouth as an advertising strategy rather than going out in the media and informing people about their products. This strategy worked very well for the company because satisfied customers spread the word about the company, and new customers kept streaming in, enabling the company to grow exponentially over the years. Starbucks has continued with its peculiar non-advertising policy even in the digital age, where it is possible to load a lot of promotional material in a company’s website or social networking site. A visit to Starbucks Facebook page shows that it is loaded with information that is more beneficial to the consumer than to Starbucks, items, such as Starbucks’ cards options, consumer polls, and employment opportunities. There is hardly any bombardment on the merits of buying the firms’ products, with most of the posts on the page done by consumers who use the site as an online community for sharing Starbucks’ experiences. This low profile to advertising has worked wonders for Starbucks because the brand is recognized around the US as well as the globe.

Apple frequently advertises its products in the mainstream media and usually holds spectacular product launches whenever it is introducing new products in the market. The company, however, has a minimalist approach to advertising and its ads tend to make a single point rather than trying to bombard consumers with unnecessary information. This strategy has also worked for the company because by giving consumers only that information that they need to make a purchase decision, they help to sway consumers towards buying their products. Apples online advertising has been very aggressive and the company often interrupts consumers browsing to show ads. The company also has developed tracking software that enables it study consumers’ browsing data that will enable it to target consumers with ads in addition to running its own app store where consumers interact with apple software. In conclusion, the two companies’ advertising strategies are diametrical with Starbucks using low profile advertising while Apple uses a more aggressive online and offline advertising strategy.

Loyalty Program

Starbucks believes in rewarding its loyal customers as a means of thanking them for their continued support as well as retaining them for the long term. Consequently, the company has developed an elaborate loyalty program that allows its customers to redeem loyalty stars at its stores. The company has designed its loyalty program in such a manner that it encourages consumers to spend in the stores so that they can accumulate stars and not lose what they already have. The target system of the loyalty program ensures that those consumers who are interested in redeeming their stars in the future continue to spend in Starbucks’ stores in the present. The program also allows for the categorization of clients, which gives them different privileges. The need to move to a higher category can be a motivator for people to spend in the stores so that they can earn sufficient stars to move to the next level. Starbucks’ rewards to its consumers have contributed significantly to the company having a loyal customer base that has enabled the company to grow sustainably and profitably.

Apple does not currently have a loyalty program like Starbucks’, and has plans to institute a loyalty program for the company’s shops soon; the company having introduced its own payment system. However, the company’s products are designed in such a way that they lock customers to the company through the purchase of software and accessories. The company runs its own app store, which is the only store that iPhone and iPad users can access if they wish to buy apps for their gadgets. As a means of keeping consumers loyal to the brand, the company provides free iOS updates that allow consumers to upgrade the operating system of their gadget. Free updates are useful in increasing the efficiency of older gadgets whole and encourage consumers to buy newer gadgets because not all features of new operating systems are compatible with older gadgets. In addition, Apple accessories can only be purchased from specific vendors and hence the company is able to keep in touch with consumers even after they have bought their products. In conclusion, Starbucks has based its marketing strategy on the rewarding of its loyal customers through the redemption of earned loyalty stars. Apple’s marketing strategy, on the other hand, is based on the design of its products and the operation of a virtual store, which allows it to keep in touch with consumers.


Both Starbucks and Apple are leaders in the sectors of hospitality and technology respectively, and are leading companies in the US and around the globe. The companies have been very successful in their business strategy as evidenced by their market value and profitability. Their successful business strategies implies that the companies have had very effective marketing strategies because they will not have grown their market share without a marketing approach that makes the public aware of, and willing to buy their products. However, an analysis of their marketing strategies shows that the two companies have a divergent approach to marketing. While Apple has maintained brand visibility in the mainstream media, Starbucks has taken a more low profile to brand visibility with little or no presence in the traditional mainstream media. The successes of these companies despite the differences in approach implies that the there is no one size that fits all marketing strategies that can be used by companies. Rather, companies can have their own different mix of strategies within the overall marketing strategy. Depending on whether they get the mix right, the strategy can work for the company.


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