Insider lingo, Marketing asset

Starbucks Order

I placed my lunch order at Kokoro:

Small chicken katsu with rice, please.

The fella after me ordered:

Small chicken katsu curry rice.

There’s a small difference between his order and mine – it’s not just the ‘please’ or the ‘curry’.

He was speaking the lingo of a regular – each word of his order meant something specific – dish (Chicken katso), size (small), base (rice), and optionals (curry). Mine was close, but my server had to separately ask me if I wanted curry on top (yes).

His order statement wasn’t just about efficiency, it was also about signalling – that he was a loyal customer, one who spoke their lingo.

Next door to Kokoro is my favourite coffee shop in town, Harris + Hoole. They’re a chain, owned by Tesco, but with a very independent, neighbourhood coffee shop vibe. You place your coffee order any way you want1 and they happily make it for you. You can even walk over to the Baristas and chat about your coffee, any special mods, day’s weather, or anything else that suits your fancy.

Contrast this one of the most successful marketing & loyalty schemes ever – the institutionalised coffee ordering terminology at Starbucks. It communicates loyalty, gives the customer a feeling of being on the ‘in’, is flexible to let the customer tweak and be unique, all the while being extremely efficient at communicating the order to the Barista. By opening up their internal coffee lingo to the customers, Starbucks created a word-of-mouth marketing & loyalty program that money couldn’t buy.

And they insist on getting customers to learn it2 – by repeating your order in the correct manner when you don’t order it in the lingo. So that when you get it right after that 5th coffee, you’ll feel the quiet joy of accomplishment, of finally belonging to the clique. Welcome to Starbucks elite!


Does anyone know of companies / brands outside retail who have created marketing assets out of their insider lingo? Any startups who’ve created, or tried to create customer loyalty by creating a niche clique?


  1. Harris & Hoole have a good smartphone app. If I’m checked in at the store through the app, the person at the counter already knows my usual coffee order, and I can order it without saying a word. If I choose to, I can even order and pay without ever going to the counter, from my phone. I don’t do that – I like to indulge in a bit of idle chatter before I place my order – but I could. The order then goes directly to a touchscreen near the Baristas who make the coffees.
    While this overcomes the ordering efficiency issues, it doesn’t in any way impact customer loyalty, or create the marketing effect that an insider lingo like that of Starbucks does. 
  2. Starbucks goes out of its way to get new visitors to learn its lingo, while many places, like my Kokoro, make no such effort. Yet, both have their lingo, and the regulars know it.
    The Starbucks approach works great as a marketing tool – the lingo is spread wide, and creates a strong association effect. The loyalty effect is not very strong though – a lingo that everyone speaks is not much of an insider lingo.
    The Kokoro approach doesn’t create much of a marketing impact, but is much stronger loyalty tool. Customers who’ve made the effort of learning a not very evident lingo, all by their own efforts, feel a much stronger affinity to the store / brand. 

2 thoughts on “Insider lingo, Marketing asset”

  1. In Bangalore restaurants, I ask for a “strong” coffee just to indicate insiderness. And I say “strongu sakkrekaDime” (strong and less sugar) in a way that only locals say.

    Then there’s this shop in Bangalore which has nicknamed a kind of roasted peanuts as “communist” (same guys who invented “Congress” peanuts). Congress is universal, but asking for a communist marks you out as an insider.

    1. Yup, that insider lingo is everywhere. What Starbucks has done successfully, is to turn it into a strong marketing & loyalty tool.

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