Starbucks: We’re creating the digital Third Place

starbucks logo on wall

By Brady Brewer, chief marketing officer, and Adam Brotman, advisor

While the “Third Place” has often been described in physical terms — a place between home and work — the essence of the Third Place has always been the feeling of connection and belonging it provides. But in the hyper digital era that we live in, the community connection that Starbucks has always created is equally powerful as we extend the Third Place Connection wherever customers experience Starbucks.  

  • What if Starbucks could create a new, global digital community – a community defined by collaboration, experiences, and shared ownership – all centered around coffee to start, and then perhaps expanded into the many of the areas Starbucks has played in over the years as a coffeehouse; art, music, books and beyond?
  • What if we could create a new model of what it means to be connected to the Starbucks community?
  • What if we could create an accretive business – adjacent to our stores – that ultimately benefited our partners, community and business?
  • What if we could do so using technology that supports our commitment to sustainability?

Emerging technologies associated with what is commonly called “Web3” now enable this aspiration in a way that extends who Starbucks has always been at our core. Web3 refers to many things in the blockchain space, but the particular technology that has captured our imagination is NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

Many people see NFTs as a new form of ownership of digital art, often traded in a highly speculative way. While that’s been true on some level in the early days in the space, we are fascinated by how NFTs allow people to own a programmable, brandable digital asset, that also doubles as an access pass.  

We believe NFTs have broad potential to create an expanded, shared-ownership model for loyalty, the offering of unique experiences, community building, storytelling, and customer engagement. And, while doing so also being a source of accretive business that can benefit a number of stakeholders in the process, while creating a new type of digital ecosystem to complement Starbucks current digital platform offering.

We plan to create a series of branded NFT collections, the ownership of which initiates community membership, and allows for access to exclusive experiences and perks. The themes of these collections will be born of Starbucks artistic expressions, both heritage and newly created, as well as through world-class collaborations with other innovators and like-minded brands.  

Over our 50-year history, we have amassed a treasure trove of assets that we can bring to bear in such an ecosystem – such as our rich heritage of coffee art and storytelling, our nearly 27 million active Rewards members in the U.S., a long line of store designs and Starbucks card art, and other fun ways to bring digital communities and experiences to life in the digital realm.

Starbucks also has a history of taking leading edge technology, innovating and making it accessible and approachable for mainstream audiences. Our history with loyalty, mobile payment, mobile ordering and Wi-Fi has taught us how to engage customers at scale to unlock opportunities. Here too, a Starbucks Digital Community Web3 platform has the potential to pioneer the combination of an approachable, widely accessible front-end, backed by the right blockchain technologies that are fast and inexpensive. 

Our approach to blockchain technology – while ultimately likely to be multi-chain or chain agnostic – will certainly start with collections backed by blockchains and infrastructure that is consistent with our multi-decade commitment to sustainability.

We plan to take a phased approach here, willing to move fast, experiment, learn and collaborate. We plan to start with our first NFT collection, membership and community later this year, based on coffee art and storytelling. It will come with a host of unique experiences and benefits, worthy of a genesis NFT collection from Starbucks. And this first collection will form the core digital community and backbone against which we hope to build future collections and collaborations – all building on the same new ecosystem. 

thumbnail for Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas

Starbucks names first North American Barista Champion: Darcy Todd of Texas