Expectation and goals have been a running theme in this blog and it’s a cornerstone of how we think about our coffee business, and about speciality coffee in relation to the wider market.
Michael Beverland is a Professor of Marketing who heads up the Bath University Marketing department; he also props up the bar at our shop and drinks a lot of coffee. Recently he shared the experiences he had whilst engaging a group of his current MSC students in a task.
The task was to think of a brand, a well known one, but one which personally you have no interest in, and don’t get what all the fuss is about. Then go away, immerse yourself in the world of that brand, empathise with those who do love it, try to understand their motivations and come back to explain why the brand is so popular and successful.
It can be surprisingly difficult to empathise with and appreciate the motivation of others for something that you yourself do not have a natural appreciation for. Only 10-percent (of the students) came back with a full understanding of the appeal of a brand that they previously had not understood or had any insight to. On the whole, students made up a motive, often one that went along the lines of thinking that the consumers of the brand were silly or wrong (which would easily justify why they personally didn’t like it to start with). Others read the website or the branding itself and reproduced that as the reasoning.
Now, obviously this task is specific to the chosen brand, but it’s a great example of how different perspectives and motives can be identified but rarely are those perspectives accurately understood.
I am really interested in the idea of the student that would pick our brand as one to study because they don’t see the appeal. Understanding their viewpoint has been very important to us from the beginning, it is not an understanding that would change what we do in order to align with those who don’t get us. Instead it allows you to understand the landscape which you take part in, constantly assessing how you come across can help check that you are not missing a branding trick and that your communication is working for your brand.
Hearing how hard it was for these students to really swap places was quite surprising, especially considering it’s their chosen field. In fact, for some of the students, Mike asked them to really consider whether a career in marketing was for them.
A customer being presented with speciality coffee at a till hasn’t been tasked with a university assignment, and the difficulty for them to understand the worth of a particular approach – of which they either were not aware or which is challenging to their brand allegiance to another coffee approach – is quite something to ask. Now of course, presenting speciality coffee as something new and innovative, a new brand if you like, means there is less perspective that needs evaluating, but it’s rarely a blank slate.
It’s not only the perspective of the customer that is useful to consider, but also our own, that of barista, speciality coffee people, and all other coffee brands and concepts. I think the easy labelling of speciality coffee as snobbish or elitist is partly to do with a possible inability to wear the shoes of those viewpoints and brands that aren’t the same as our own. This also applies within the speciality coffee field (wherever that line is drawn) in terms of understanding each other.
From a coffee shop point of view I wonder how often the speciality or independent mind set puts itself in the shoes of the consumer who values a chain brand. (here I mean in terms of offering, rather than the desire to support independent or local)
I’m rather fond of what Peter, who works for me, often says when the chain vs specialist/ independent (this is a grey area, as explored in ‘What’s in a name’ post) topic raises its head. It usually goes along the lines of: “Do you think that everyone in those shops (chains) are wishing they were somewhere else, that they don’t want the products they’ve paid for and are enjoying with friends or with a book? Do you think that they were just wishing there was somewhere nearby that was specialist and served what was almost a completely different product, that was culinary rather than the comforting cup of joe they’ve chosen to drink in a familiar, relatively neutral meeting place?”
Maybe there are people thinking this very thing but it is ridiculous to think that it applies across the board. It would also be short sighted to assume that those who aren’t thinking the above have just not witnessed speciality coffee. All of this would show an inability to understand the appeal of the other brand.
Peter’s standpoint is an example of empathising with the appeal of other brand even though it is not one he himself aligns with. This conversation with Peter often goes on much further as the reasons for those brands success are ten-fold, and yes there are often other factors that do feed in to these brands success, convenience and location etc. but it’s not as simple as that, there are many other reasons; structure, reliability, familiarity, sense of identity. It’s the kind of assessment of a brands appeal that one of the marketing students may wish to look into, and the answer “it is just crap and I don’t know why anyone would go” would get you ejected from Mike’s class.
I think that often the expectation in coffee is for one brand to do the work of three or four brands. When the reality is a broader landscape that will have brands with very different appeal, different consumers and meanings. Coffee as an entity cannot have one brand as it means too many different things to too many people, not to mention there being a broad variety of the actual product itself, a multitude of brands reflects this.
In trying to define and communicate what it is we feel speciality coffee is about and what it is we want to offer, we invariably struggle with the fact that we can all be trying to each define a singular “speciality coffee brand”, when like the rest of the market there are a multitude of brands within speciality coffee. It’s just about brand clarity and the consumer deciding whether its one they are drawn to.