Alessandra Ghini Helped Apple And Starbucks Stir Consumers’ Emotions—And Win Big

Brand builder Alessandra Ghini shares her blueprint for telling a brand’s narrative.

Alessandra Ghini Helped Apple And Starbucks Stir Consumers’ Emotions—And Win Big
Lessons learned: Alessandra Ghini says marketers should see a product as a story, not a list of features. [Photo: Justin Kaneps]

When a music ad inspires your sense of adventure or a barista asks how you’ve been, you’re likely experiencing the type of interaction designed by Alessandra Ghini. A 20-year marketing veteran, Ghini joined Apple in 2001 and helped craft the iPod’s debut, then spent nearly a year constructing a new brand strategy for Starbucks. After eight years consulting for companies including Vans and Adobe, she recently became chief marketing officer of high-tech tea startup Teforia. Here’s her blueprint for telling a brand’s narrative.


Be nimble

At Starbucks, CEO Howard Schultz and Ghini wanted to emphasize “moments of connection,” like when a barista knows your name. To create that connection around cake pops or scones, food had to be its own attraction. Schultz and his executives decided to separate the food and drink divisions—a change that started to take effect just 30 days later. Ghini’s takeaway: Agility starts with alignment at the top.

Tap inside resources

Part of Ghini’s brand strategy for Starbucks included revamping the mermaid-centric logo. Before hiring an outside agency, she asked designers at the company to take a first pass. After weeks of experimentation, two young employees presented a logo that’s almost identical to the current trademark. Seeing their work was “a wow moment,” Ghini says. “I thought, Of course, release the siren. Let her be a beacon for bringing people together.”

Use your limitations

n 2002, Ghini was tasked with marketing Apple’s Final Cut Pro software—without using familiar resources such as fliers and brochures. So her team created videos that demonstrated use cases of the programs, landing on a crowdsourcing strategy that is still used in ads (and Apple Stores) today. “Eventually, we were able to stop telling customers to believe us and instead start showing what artists and filmmakers were using it to create,” she says.

Go for the heartstrings

Despite its popularity, the iPod’s “1,000 songs in your pocket” tagline failed to take the product mainstream. Ghini’s team found the problem: Storage space wasn’t the point. “We realized machines were more than just a tool,” Ghini says. “Why do you enjoy the iPod? [Music] brings up so much emotion.” Apple worked with an external agency to produce a now-ubiquitous campaign that brought new verve to the iPod with colorful, expressive human silhouettes. “It shows the joyful way music releases your true self,” Ghini says. “We took their creative and ran with it.”


About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.