🦃 Starbucks generates (and dominates) cultural relevance with Gen Z
The employee effect, ✨ aesthetics ✨ and seasonal products
hellooo and happy thanksgiving!! the end of this post has a sentimental note for the holidays :)
Today we’re exploring how one of the world’s most talked-about brands builds cultural relevance with Gen Z. Starbucks.
⌛ quick! a 12-second review:
defn: cultural relevance: the ability of a brand, person, or idea to consistently and organically stimulate conversation on and offline.
Why is it important? Cultural relevance drives audience awareness, engagement, and sales ($$$) 📈📈
How is it measured? Through user-generated content (UGC). the sentiment, recency (consistency), and popularity of UGC…aka the GenZ Score. When users put their social identities at stake to share an opinion of a brand or artist, that’s powerful. and influential. that’s relevant 🤳 Through the process and sequence of looking at the data in this way, we reveal the unique insights that informed this piece.
One of Gen Z’s most loved brands; with a killer rewards program, premier convenience, and an ~aesthetic~ unlike any other, how does Starbucks build such a high cultural relevance and stay a top-of-mind Gen Z brand?
Let’s take a brief look at the recency and popularity of Starbucks ’ content.
Searches and mentions on YouTube and Snapchat have net positive momentum (and noticeably higher rates than Dunkin), and the average likes of the most popular videos for “Starbucks” on TikTok is ~1.1M in the last week, which puts Starbucks in the top (1) percentile of all brand-relevant UGC in the last week (more why on this to come). For reference, “Netflix” sits at ~840k average likes for top content last week.
Over the last month, 3 months, and 6 months, Starbucks still holds its average popularity in the top 5% of all brand-relevant UGC.
So what is making Gen Z’ers talk so much about them??
Employee content, aesthetics, and seasonality.
Relevance pt. 1: employee content
A vast majority of content on TikTok is coming from Starbucks employees. Employee content spans anything from humor to POVs to employees dressing up for Halloween (this one too), secret tips from employees + much more. Take a look at a few of the best from this week:
This article shares the following stats for the importance of employee UGC (they are an employee advocacy co., so take this as you will).
In total, employees have 10x (on average) more followers than a brand’s account.
Content shared by employees gets 8X more engagement than content shared through branded channels.
Employee posts get reshared up to 24x more than branded posts.
92% of consumers turn to people they know for referrals above any other source.
93% of consumers find UGC to be helpful when making a purchasing decision.
Consumers find UGC 9x more impactful than influencer content.
90% of consumers say authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support.
70% of consumers place peer recommendations above professionally written copy.
But regardless of the exact numbers, the takeaway is clear; employee-generated content drives awareness unlike anything else. Why? Because it’s just so damn authentic. When Gen Z sees an employee happy, sharing these videos (not being paid to do so) it organically generates trust and improves the brand’s image.
Relevance pt. 2: aesthetics
The other common thread in recent UGC is aesthetic-driven; people love sharing Starbucks content because it’s just soo…pleasing. There are ASMR videos and people literally remaking Starbucks as art mixed into Starbucks content in the last week (and much more prior too).
Starbucks has perfected customization; people don’t just love ordering their own Starbucks drink but love it so much that they need to share it with others. This customization has created what truly seems to be an art form, with many circulating videos just simply vibing with the Starbucks aesthetic. YouTube also has a ton of these vids, along with taste tests of creators’ favorite drinks.
Relevance pt. 3: seasonality
Perhaps one of their greatest strength, Starbucks keeps Gen Z’ers attention renewed and refreshed every season with different drinks that just scream nostalgia and comfort. This week, Starbucks had their Red Cup day, giving away a free reusable red cup with any (and every) purchase. Content, as you may guess, took off.
And yet even with Red Cup day, Starbucks still has yet to hit their peak this year - holiday drinks just came in stores, and as the season ramps up, expect post-Thanksgiving content to continue to boom as the winter seasonal vibes set in.
So what does this show us about Gen Z?
By observing the content that gets shared about Starbucks, we can actually learn a lot about what is driving conversations and engagement around the brand and apply these lessons to our understanding of Gen Z as a whole.
Sure, all of these are great and Starbucks probably spends a ton of money on them. But that’s what is so impactful about measuring UGC: it doesn’t matter how much money a brand spends on a campaign or a new product; they have to resonate with consumers in order for us to talk about it with our communities both on and offline, both intimately and publicly.
Clearly, these 3 things (employee content, aesthetics, and seasonal menu items) drive awareness, engagement, and traffic for Starbucks, and at really high levels too.
We measure cultural relevance through the GenZ Score; an analysis of the recency, popularity, and sentiment of user-generated content. Starbucks’ GenZ Score for November is below (Starbucks is consistently a top 5-10 overall Gen Z brand in cultural relevance).
UGC shows us what gets the people talking; and for Starbucks, there are a lot of people doing a lot of talking. Here are the big takeaways for how Starbucks builds relevance with Gen Z.
Treat your people right and they’ll become your biggest advocates.
Enabling choice + customization = enabling people to build their identities on and offline
Culturally relevant products build culturally relevant brands.
Thanks for reading! if you’re interested in seeing how our GenZ Score is calculated, take a look at our breakdown here.
your quick sentimental note as promised:
Just want to share a big thank you and wish you a happy thanksgiving!! In my journey over the last year in building this company as a young person, I’ve learned (and continue to learn) so much every single day. I frequently look back at the journey still in shock and still surprised at the amount of support I’ve received from people like you…and it truly means the world. And even if that’s just reading our newsletter every once in a while - it does move the needle for me and for us as a company.
So thank you. To us, you’re GZD fam - and to our GZD fam, we wish you a very happy thanksgiving!!