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Starbucks is 'best loved' food brand on social media

Starbucks is among the leaders in getting their brand noticed on social media.
Starbucks is among the leaders in getting their brand noticed on social media.AFP - Getty Images

Who do you love? On social media, the answer seems to be Starbucks.

The ubiquitous coffee house chain is the "most loved" of 3,400 food and restaurant brands, according to an analysis of social media sentiment in the first half of 2012 conducted by Digital CoCo, a marketing agency.

Despite being satirized by everyone from Mike Myers as Austin Powers to your cousin's blog, Starbucks routinely scores at the top of the list among all consumer brands, not just food and beverage brands.

One reason is its success in appealing to "super influencers," -- mainly men and women in the 18-49 age range, DigitalCoco said.

But how do you measure ‘love?’ Social media has enabled marketers to track millions of postings and ‘likes,’ said Paul Barron the founder of DigitalCoCo. Facebook is one of 16 social media sites his company uses to feed its database made up of millions of consumers. Their comments are used to rate the food, service and experience at thousands of locations.

“Some consumers really do stand up and tell the world ‘I love it,’” Barron said. “We can measure it.”

To these decision makers the success of Starbucks is not necessarily about the richness of the coffee, says brand expert Debbie Millman, president of design at Sterling Brands and author of “Brand Thinking, and Other Noble Pursuits” who was not involved in the survey.

“We are pack animals, and we feel safer and more secure in groups,” she said.  “There are a few brands that have been elevated by their loyal advocates to actual tribes--the most exalted of groups--Apple, Nike for example—and more recently—Starbucks.”

Another market researcher that recently gave Starbucks a top rating, ClickFox, said the retail chain’s secret is delivering individual attention to a mass audience.

“Starbucks is unique in that it is able to tailor customer experiences and products to a customer’s exact taste,” said Jeff Grossman, vice president of product management for ClickFox, another market researcher that gave Starbucks a top rating. "Despite its huge spread it has delivered a personalized experience across many locations.”

In the DigitalCoCo survey, men were a bit more likely to rate a place for its “good food” than women did. For women, brand choices depend more on “the camaraderie as well as a sense of style,” said Millman.

While McDonald's may more more pervasive, the fast-food chain does not crack Digital CoCo's top 10 ‘most loved” list, which is based on a composite of food, service and brand sentiment scores.

Fashion icons may be seen carrying a Starbucks, but never a Big Mac, Millman notes.

Most of those making the top 10 are, like Starbucks, are among a new wave of retailers who use social media as a ‘secret sauce’ to connect with customers, said Barron. Starbucks offers Web specials for ‘Coffee Heroes’ and apps for paying by smart phones.

“They are fostering a digital lifestyle that is extending the brand experience beyond their four walls,” he said.  Mentions by "super influencers" who use Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media “have a lot of effect on a lot of people.”

In the latest half-year survey, Starbucks scored highest with 72.9, and the rest in order are:

  • Red Mango (70)
  • Panera Bread (62.1)
  • Boudin Sourdough Bakery & Café (62)
  • Peet’s Coffee & Tea (61.5)
  • Bonefish Grill (61.1)
  • Hard Rock Café (60.1)
  • Buffalo Wild Wings (59.6)
  • Noodles & Company (59.3)
  • Chick-fil-A (57.8)

Chick-fil-A's rating does not full reflect the controversy over the company's position on gay marriage, which at least temporarily pushed the chain's index number down to 29.1.

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