The debate rages about Starbucks' new instant coffee. I think the debate about the taste actually misses the point. The firm insists that it tastes great. Even if we grant them that point (which some would not), there is still the strategic question. Is this good good for the brand? Eric Felten makes a great point in the Wall Street Journal.
He points out that the instant product is a bit if a contradiction, a mismatch, for the firm, "not because it offends the palate but because it has no romance, it requires none of the effort that demonstrates enthusiasm and passion." In short, Starbucks was always about far more than the taste of the coffee. It was about an atmosphere, an emotion, an experience.
Of course, it's been a long time since Starbucks abandoned the firm's original positioning as a specialty premium differentiated coffee company. It became a mass market coffee company with less and less differentiation from other coffee companies over time. It lost the exclusivity of a luxury brand many moons ago. So perhaps the horse is long out of the barn. At this point there just isn't much that Starbucks won't do in pursuit of growth. Michael Porter argues great strategies require tradeoffs. They become unique by choosing what not to do. Tradeoffs make firms unique and hard to imitate. Yet tradeoffs limit growth to some extent. Many firms violate their original tradeoffs in pursuit of growth. Has Starbucks done that, and in so doing, become far less unique and differentiated?