Starbucks is something of a sensation in marketing circles … mostly due to the fact that they have successfully built a global brand with very little advertising.  Despite the lack of paid advertising, few would argue that Starbucks are masters of branding and word of mouth marketing, to a degree.  Fighting Starbucks may seem like a futile exercise for many, but over the past few days I’ve seen two great examples of competitors getting smart about using the online medium to counter Starbucks dominance in different ways. 

The first is the news published today in MarketingVox that Caribou coffee is trying to take advantage of Starbucks’ misstep last week of retracting a promotional coupon to Atlanta staff that went viral nationwide.  Caribou, in response, offered consumers the chance to redeem these coupons at their stores, further embarassing Starbucks and offering them a very smart way to try and get some current Starbucks customers to switch.  The second is an engaging Google text ad I came across yesterday:

Up all night blogging?
A shocking secret big coffee 
co’s don’t want you to know.

The ad is for a small coffee company that has taken an interesting approach to selling coffee by focusing not on flavors or regions that beans are sourced, but rather on the freshness of beans.  In an obvious reference to the general bitter flavor of Starbucks coffee, the site notes:

"How do you know if coffee is stale? Simple test: If it’s bitter or flat, it’s too late. Coffee is actually known by connoisseurs as a ‘sweet’ beverage. But shush… you’re not supposed to know that. And who doesn’t want you to know? Coffee companies who make their living on convenience. And yes, believing that freshness is as simple as ‘burping’ air out of a coffee container, is convenient."

In using this language, the site brilliantly positions it’s coffee as the antidote to an overcaffineated world of Starbucks drinkers.  While it’s too soon to tell how much of a dent either of these competitors will make against the global phenomenon of the Starbucks brand – there are still some smart lessons here for little guys trying to take on large brands that dominate the market in a particular industry.  As most marketers would agree, if you can take on Starbucks, you can take on anyone.