Profile: Brian Waring, vice-president of marketing and category for Starbucks UK & Ireland

 Brian Waring, vice-president of marketing and category for Starbucks UK & Ireland
Brian Waring, vice-president of marketing and category for Starbucks UK & Ireland

Starbucks' chief marketer Brian Waring is marketing to a new coffee generation. Interview by Gemma Charles.

Brian Waring, the vice-president of marketing and category for Starbucks' UK and Irish operations, exudes positive energy. He may be an Irishman who has plied his trade in Britain, but working for a US company appears to have rubbed off on him as he talks excitedly about 'emotional connections'.

He can be forgiven, however: his enthusiasm seems genuine, and he works on arguably one global brand that a marketer can get truly excited about.

There is good reason for Waring's exuberance. As we report in our news pages this week, he is involved in rolling out a fresh global creative direction for the brand that will run in the UK across cinema, print and online, introducing the strapline 'You & Starbucks. It's bigger than coffee.'

Starbucks is also celebrating its 40th year in business and launches its updated logo in the UK this week. While it has been tweaked before, the 2011 iteration is riskier. Gone are the words 'Starbucks Coffee', leaving the siren figure standing alone. This will be used in all consumer-facing activity, from store-fronts to mugs. Importantly, it also paves the way for the brand to move into categories beyond coffee.

Waring is part of the company's global marketing team, a select group drawn from marketers across the territories in which it operates, and has been intimately involved in developing the new look. Some consumers have complained that it looks too commoditised and has lost any quirkiness, but Waring brushes such criticisms aside.

'You don't change a logo lightly,' he says. 'Early on, we engaged brand experts in the UK and US to make sure we were gauging their reaction. We went out through the Starbucks website and shared the new identity because we wanted to have a conversation about it. Some people were struggling with the change, but overwhelmingly the response has been positive.'

Where Starbucks goes next has exercised many people since chief executive Howard Schultz announced his plan to extend the brand in January. Waring says that in the UK, where Starbucks launched 14 years ago, there is still great potential for coffee. When pushed, however, he mentions ice cream and tea - already available in other Starbucks markets - before stressing that there are no immediate plans to roll out these lines here.

Waring joined the company in 2004 as head of marketing after spells at what was SmithKline Beecham, then Virgin. While he found the drugs company a 'fantastic training ground', there is a sense that he enjoyed his time at Virgin more. 'There was a high degree of autonomy. It was such a change of pace. Everything happened so quickly, it felt really entrepreneurial.'

He then went on to study full-time for a masters degree, but the pull of marketing drew him back. Waring missed being part of a team but wanted to join somewhere that accorded with his values.

The extensive Starbucks staff selection process sounds like something of an ordeal. Nonetheless, Waring enjoyed it. 'It's a bit of a love-match,' he says of the experience. 'You meet a series of people - I think I met about 12. The meetings felt more like conversations than interviews; while capability was important, it was also about culture fit. It was about me deciding whether this was a company I wanted to join as much as it was about Starbucks choosing me.'

Since then he has been with the company through highs as well as lows. Having over-expanded, Starbucks found itself exposed when the recession hit. The then-chief executive, Jim Donald, was ousted in a management shake-up three years ago, which led to Schultz returning to the helm.

Looking back at this tumultuous period, Waring says: 'There has been a significant change. When Howard returned it really started the transformation agenda. We recognised there were certain things where we weren't good enough. So we have put a rigorous focus back on the core of our business, our coffee, our (employees), our communities - and that has remained.'

In meetings now, when the company is making a decision, he says there is a conscious attempt to see things from the customer's perspective. Indeed, the popularity of social media means that customers are, in effect, forcing their way into the meeting room. Waring says research once meant gathering insight, then acting on it. Now, he can get minute-by-minute insight via Facebook, where Starbucks has 400,000 fans in the UK and 20m globally. 'I can see what they're saying about a new promotion or beverage in real time.'

He insists that this isn't a daunting prospect, however. 'We want to get their feedback to make sure we're building and developing in the right way.'

While Starbucks has had success with its Via ReadyBrew instant-coffee brand, it is now looking to the other end of the market. This week it rolls out a premium brand of fresh coffee called Starbucks Reserve, available to buy in select stores prepacked or freshly made.

Each cup is made by hand using a theatrical 'pour over' method, which is said to make coffee in its purest form. Beans are ground to order and each cup is poured through a single filter. Baristas serving the coffee have been specially trained and selected for their expertise.

Waring says this is the first in a long line of innovations planned to launch this year. One to watch out for could be a UK version of the Starbucks Digital Network. This launched in the US in October and features a Yahoo!-branded content portal that allows customers using the in-store wi-fi to access news and lifestyle content. The Starbucks website also relaunches this week - an overdue refresh, as the existing site felt out of step with a brand so in tune with digital communication.

'Our customers expect a high standard from us as a brand and our site (was) not good enough,' says Waring. He does not spell out that the revamp presages a UK launch of its Digital Network, but adds: 'The website will be more interactive, which will give us the foundation to build in the area of technology.'

While Starbucks is now the second-biggest coffee chain in the UK - Costa has more outlets - it has at times faced a backlash from people worried about its effect on independent coffee shops.

Waring, however, insists that the brand is generally loved by consumers. 'I know this from the number of Facebook friends we have,' he says. 'I see the letters we get from people who are so passionate about us. Someone even asked whether they could get married in their local Starbucks.'

Weddings may not be on the agenda as a potential extension, but Waring seems to offer a safe pair of hands for whichever areas Starbucks does enter next in the UK.

INSIDE WORK

1989-1995: Various roles, rising to marketing manager, SmithKline Beecham Consumer Brands

1995-2002: Various roles, rising to brand director, Virgin Entertainment Group

2002-2004: MA in consulting to organisations and freelance marketing consultancy

2004-present: Head of marketing, rising to vice-president of marketing and category, Starbucks Coffee Company UK and Ireland

OUTSIDE WORK

Lives: South London with partner

Hobbies: Film, theatre and the arts

Last film: True Grit

Favourite restaurant: Cecconi's, Mayfair

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