THE BLOG
11/12/2013 05:59 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

The Starbucks or McCafé Crowd: Who Counts More Politically?

Over a month ago, McDonald's announced with great fanfare that it was adding pumpkin-spice lattes to its McCafé menu items to lure the Starbucks crowd and increase traffic.

Starbucks claims to have sold 200 million pumpkin-spice lattes since it introduced them about a decade ago, so McDonald's was counting on capturing a portion of that customer base. Whether the company succeeded is unclear, but at least it tried by offering a 16-oz. latte at a relative bargain for $2.89, compared to the steeper Starbucks price tag of around $4.55.

Knowing how these two companies appeal to different socio-economic groups based on their pricing policies and other factors, which one would you say is more closely associated with one political party or another?

Almost half of Starbucks' total business comes from its primary market target of men and women aged 25 to 40. These customers tend to be professional urbanites with relatively high incomes, who are interested in socially responsible and environmentally friendly policies. They also consider the Starbucks logo as a status symbol and want to be associated with it.

Another 40 percent are young adults, aged 18 to 24. Starbucks targets prestigious college campuses and appeals to these students as an alternative place to socialize and study. Although Starbucks boasts of its commitment to diversity, the company is often associated with customers who are upper-middle class, white and college-educated.

McDonald's, on the other hand, conveys a less elitist image. Its McCafé concept does, however, seek to expand the fastfood outlet's usual customer base by enticing others to stop by and taste its more premium-style beverages.

So far it seems to have worked, as McCafé has spread worldwide from its initial launch in Australia to Latin America, South Africa, Europe, Asia and North America.

McCafé's target audience appears to overlap with Starbucks' to some extent: those interested in the specialty coffee market, but at a more affordable price - so perhaps not as high quality.

It also has certain advantages. McDonald's is known to be child-friendly, so moms are more likely to drink a latte there knowing their children are eating and playing nearby. The chain doesn't have the exclusivity appeal of Starbucks, and caters to a larger, more diverse segment of the population that favors convenience, speed and lower prices.

Reportedly, McCafé's strategy is to target 18-35 year olds of every race, and its customers at suburban and regional outlets are primarily female, aged 25-39, many of whom have young families.

Despite this, the distinction between their two markets is not that clear-cut - and similar to the fluidity in voting patterns among certain groups of the electorate.

Although Starbucks customers are known to be loyal to their brand, some would be willing to switch to McCafé if it provides better value - despite being associated with a fast-food chain.

Politicians also try to lure voters from rival camps by offering some form of enticement to them - though so far I haven't heard of any giving away free pumpkin-spice lattes. If they did, should they offer one at Starbucks or McCafé?

Well, that depends. Which group would the candidate want to be associated with more closely? Does the politician represent a constituency where both groups matter equally? What are his or her personal preferences? Would a photo-op in one alienate voters who tend to favor the other establishment?

Yes, political candidates want to be seen as "one of us" by voters, but which one counts more: the Starbucks or McCafé crowd?

My advice would be to try both. After all, one can appreciate a Starbucks beverage and another from McCafé too. Personally, I've tried the two of them. Depends on the mood, circumstances and time of day.

The point is to be open-minded and flexible enough to realize that one doesn't necessarily mean excluding the other. One can always choose to have both - though perhaps the Tea Party candidates would pass on the lattes.

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