Branding Wire - The Coffee Company

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Welcome to the first BrandingWire challenge: The Coffee Company

You have been approached by a small coffee company in mid-America. They have a few retail stores, have been in business for 8 years, and are moderately successful - reasonably profitable, no debt - operations are funded out of steady cash flow. They roast their own beans on-site (and boy, does it smell wonderful!), their retail sites are wide-open, relaxed, and kind-of country-funky. Very strong local attachment to the company; little recognition outside of the geographical area (it's a family operation but the owner is committed to doing whatever it takes to create a thriving business). Their brand name is OK but certainly not anything special. They have a lame tagline (Great coffee at great prices!) and no distinctive identity pieces. The logo looks like it came out of a branding bargain bin.

They want to grow, though they're not entirely sure what is the most profitable path...more retail? Franchising? Mail-order? Corporate coffee service? Something new and unique? they have plenty of capacity to crank out more coffee beans, and can easily add more without undue financial strain if growth really takes off.

They sense the growing competition. Starbucks, of course. McDonald's is upscaling their coffee. Caribou is going to move in 30 minutes away. Dunkin' Donuts may be heading in their direction. How do they distinguish themselves?

So, here is our assignment. What are the right questions to ask as you think through a strategy? What potential growth opportunities do you think are best to explore and exploit? How would you position them against the competition? If you suggest a new name that might help accomplish much wider growth, what would you suggest? Tagline suggestions? PR and word-of-mouth opportunities and strategies/tactics? Customer experience ideas? What would we do to make this coffee company fly?


For starters, the last thing we need is another chain of coffee shops... unless it's a very unique chain of coffee shops. The kind of chain of coffee shops that brings something worthwhile to the coffee enjoyment experience.

The BrandingWire team has been advised not to write a 30 page brief, so I will try to stick to a few starting points. These are some of the first questions I would pose:

1. What would make coffee fans want to shop here rather than at Starbucks, or at any other coffee chain? (Sub-question: What would make coffee fans want to keep shopping there six months, a year, and five years after the launch of each new location?)

2. Based on the first 8 stores, what do we know about our customers? Does anything make them different from folks who prefer Starbucks or other brands? Do they shop here because they don't like Starbucks or because they prefer us to Starbucks. (There's a difference.)

3. What is it about our stores that people truly love the most? Is it the aroma of the coffee? The country-funky atmosphere? The shopping experience? The packaging? The coffee cups? The music? The super friendly employees? The ordering process? The "no waiting lines" policy? (Don't wait in line to buy your coffee - Take a number as you come in, go sample the vats of coffee beans or check out the gift baskets or read about the villages that produce the coffee while you wait, and we'll call you.) Is it the tiny little cup of mocha-flavored ice-cream they hand your kids for free when you buy a cup? Is it the sense that by buying coffee here, they feel that they are part of something bigger - like... bringing economic and educational opportunities for the villages in Africa and South America that produce the beans?

3b. What is it about our stores that people don't like so much? (What can we improve? What needs to change?)

4. Is there a story here, and what is it? One of the story arcs that customers may be interested in is the story of each bean: Where it came from. Who the farmers are. What happens to it before it becomes a cup of joe. Why our company does things this way instead of buying coffee in bulk and then just repackaging it. (More on that point towards the end of the post.)

5. How much traction does the current brand name actually have? In other words, would changing the name to achieve growth outside of the current region hurt the current stores? Will the change turn current fans off? (To find out, ask them. Create a website and in-store system to allow people to suggest new names, or tell us why we should or shouldn't change the name.) Plan an unveiling of the new logo, etc. on a specific date. Make a big party out of it: Don't make change bad. Invite all current customers and celebrate the company's growth. Celebrate their patronage. Invite some of the farmers to attend and put them in front of the customers. Make the stories come alive and bridge the gap between consumers and farmers. Have a big coffee party. There's a community here, so strengthen it. Use the story and the culture to help this community grow, both online and in the real world. Create bonds, and give people the tools to help them grow.

6. Get rid of that lousy tag line. (It isn't a question.) ;D

7. Find out what about the true retail side of the business - people buying beans/ground beans and taking them home in bags - could be more unique and fun. Are there packaging opportunities? Are there custom labeling opportunities - like Jones Soda? What about allowing customers to mix their beans and create their own coffee blends?

8. Find ways to become the answer to Starbucks' Starbucks-ness. I hate to use the term "authentic" because it's overdone these days, but, well, for lack of a better term... remain authentic. Take advantage of the fact that you are already different and unique - dare I say remarkable? Keep things country-funky but focus on the absolute quality of the product.

9. Create a name and mark that are iconic. That people will recognize without the need for a tagline. Something simple and immediately understood. Unless the name and logo are already killer, this will probably require a change. What's important to remember is this: Stand for something. Become the new evolution of coffee - blend superior quality, the coolest customer experience and social entrepreneurship all in one irresistible package. Now take that identity and create a worthy emblem for it.

10. Spruce up the online store. Make the online shopping fun and easy. Make the user interface more than a cookie-cutter shopping thing. Integrate the shopping experience and interesting tidbits about coffee. (More on that in the next paragraph.)

Become (or remain) more than just a coffee corp.

I would even go as far as to create little touch-screen booths in each store where people can find out the history of coffee, see where producers are, follow coffee shipping routes, and isolate the specific villages, trade routes and stores pertaining to our little coffee company. Identify organic farmers from non-organic farmers. Explain the difference. Educate, entertain, and help customers a) experience the story of our (their) coffee on their own terms, and b) become part of it. Become a sort of coffee knowledge emporium. Create the same user interface on the website.

Also, hold little clinics to teach people to use a French press, for example - or generally get the most enjoyment out of their coffee. Teach people how to store their coffee at home. Teach them to make great coffee and recognize a great coffee drink when they taste them. Just quick little 5-10 minute demos. Empower people with knowledge and know-how. Make them more than just consumers.

If none of this helps start conversations, I don't know what will.

Well, that ought to get us started. :)

What do you guys think? These are very broad brush strokes, but did I miss anything major?

Read the rest of the commentary here.

Get more high voltage branding ideas at Have a great Monday, everyone. ;)

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