How many times have you had an idea that you thought was remarkable–an obvious and clear winner–but in the end, it didn’t work? If you’re a normal human being chances are . . . hundreds of times. It may have been a “great promotion.” Or a “killer product.” It may have been a “great customer service initiative.” Or an “awesome party idea.” It could have been a “date of all dates” to take the breath away from your loved one. Or it could have been a new “WOW” service. However in the end, it didn’t work as planned. It wasn’t remarkable. Why?

Well, in some cases it just may have been a bad or ordinary idea. But, far more frequently, it wasn’t that the idea was bad, it was that the implementation wasn’t remarkable. In other words, no matter how remarkable an idea might be, true remarkability is ultimately all about implementation. If the menu reads well, but the food doesn’t taste as great as the menu suggests, it’s not remarkable. In other words, as far as a customer is concerned, remarkability is all about the execution of an idea.

And when it comes to execution, few do it as well as Starbucks. In an a recent article in Business Week (April 9, 2007), Burt Helm wrote a great article about the convergence of strategy and tactics (though I don’t think that was his intent), at Starbucks.

On the strategy side, he wrote about how Chairman Howard Schultz is currently on a mission to take Starbucks back to its roots. In other words, the remarkable idea behind Starbucks wasn’t just coffee, it was coffee as story (i.e. you don’t pay $4.50 for coffee, you pay $4.50 for being part of a story). In addition, he wants people to think of coffee like they think of wine (another strategy decision). So how do these two strategy decisions play out?

Well, one tactic would be what Starbucks calls, “Geography as Flavor.” To implement that, they changed their packaging on their coffee grounds to a clean white package so they could identify the region of the coffee by using a colored ring around the middle (all of a sudden their new bag design makes sense, doesn’t it?). They also began organizing their menus by by geography. They’ve created in store promotions to highlight different regions. They’ve sent teams of researchers into the regions where the coffee beans they use are harvested. And they’ve worked to find ways to highlight a particular region with, let’s say, a coffee mug design from a local artisan from that region or a poster from a local artist from that region. Why? Because they’re trying to tell us a story. And their story wouldn’t be very remarkable, if it didn’t possess this kind of authenticity (and attention to detail).

Or, you can observe their skill at implementation when they’re trying to devise a new coffee drink for their menu, like the new Dulce de Leche. Some of us would think, “An ordinary drink like that, which is a regular drink in the Central American region, ought to be easy to design and get on the menu,” but it’s not. This one drink alone took eighteen months to develop for Starbucks. Their design group wrestled with various ratios of caramel, cooked milk, coffee and “sweetness notes,” for months. Then for the big in house test, they created three different versions, which over one hundred randomly selected Starbucks employees tasted and rated–and then they repeated this process two more times–before launching this new drink. Think about that. One and a half years of development to get the right taste of a typical Central American coffee drink so that every barista in every Starbucks in every area of the world can get it right every time. Any way you add it up, that’s pretty remarkable.

So as you look around at all of the ideas you have for your business or ministry or company or association or division, how well do you do at implementing them? Would you be willing to spend eighteen months perfecting a new flavor of coffee for your menu? I hope so. Because at the end of the day, it’s not just your idea that makes something remarkable, it’s the implementation of your idea that does.

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