Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

artists-pallette.jpgThis BrandingWire challenge is from a color consultant. What is a color consultant, you say? Read on, see how Rachel describes her business and her need to gain broader exposure, then give your advice in the comments. All marketers are welcome to pitch in with their ideas and counsel!

With a fine arts background, I painted pet portraits for several years, capturing the personality of each pet by utilizing color psychology. (http://www.rperls.com) This was a natural segue into color consulting. Now, I’m an independent color consultant, specializing in helping small business owners realize the full potential of color in their branding strategy. I also assist in the incorporation of brand colors into work and sales environments.

Current Status:
Having recently completed extensive training and certification through the International Association of Color Consultants, (http://iaccna.org) I’ve got the education, but need to get the word out about my services. I also author a blog about color, but haven’t figured out how to best utilize it as a venue for getting work. (http://hueconsulting.blogspot.com) Additionally, I’ve developed a detailed questionnaire to analyze businesses and determine their appropriate color/color palette, and would like to offer this as an online service. Since I am relocating to another state in less than a year, it seems like a better use of my time to focus my efforts online.

I want to be known as the go-to consultant for small businesses looking to harness the marketing power of color. As a newcomer to the market, gaining credibility and establishing a name for myself is essential to success. The question is, with so many options out there, how do I develop this business to make it a viable endeavor?

OK, you bloggers/marketers. BrandingWire exists so you can show off your expertise in very tangible ways. What questions do you have that you’d ask Rachel? How would you help her, or someone in a position like hers, to grow the business? Get the conversation rolling in the Comments!

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Here is a prime example of how marketing advice from the BrandingWire team has helped one small company.

If you or your company has been helped by our various writings over the months, why not add a comment or put up a post? We’d love to know what you think!

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consulting.jpgFor October, the branding consultants and experts at BrandingWire take on the challenge of helping to brand – well, consultants.

The topic is “How to Brand and Market a B2B Consulting Firm.” Below, we outline the details of the challenge:

The ideal client/customer for the consulting firm looks like:

    Revenues: $1 million to $25 million
    Employees: 150 or fewer
    Verticals: High-tech and health care
    Location: North America

The challenges facing these client/customers: consumers and other businesses have so many choices, that high-tech businesses (as well as their other target audience made up of clinics and hospitals) are experiencing stagnant growth, or even losing market share. Many of these clients don’t know how to differentiate themselves from their competition.

The consulting firm’s challenge: as a small marketing firm, they are losing contracts to lower pricing and to bigger firms. The consultancy after three years has stopped growing and most of its clients buy one project and don’t return for more assistance for several years, if at all. How do they position and brand themselves in order to return to greater marketplace success?

Here are the perspectives of the BrandingWire posse of pundits:

Lewis Green

Drew McLellan

Martin Jelsema

Patrick Schaber

Olivier Blanchard

Steve Woodruff

Becky Carroll

Valeria Maltoni

Kevin Dugan

Gavin Heaton

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This month’s BrandingWire challenge addresses the need of a small IT services group in Canada. This outfit (which remains anonymous in this post, but is very real) approached us at BrandingWire with the following business challenge:

    Would you say branding coffee and shoes and beer and other “lifestyle” products comes easier than branding… say, a small high-tech services company?
    I’ve been working in marketing for this sort of company for a short while, and have found it to be quite a challenge to really get a grasp of our brand. How can providing IT services be cool, let alone sexy? This is my fundamental dilemma when considering marketing campaigns, when writing for the website, when contemplating a blog… etc. etc.I would love to volunteer our company for your next collaborative post. Would you be interested?

Well, in fact, we were interested – and we invite other companies to submit a similar request for consideration. Here is an expansion of the need in a short branding brief:

computer-repair.gifCompany Description:
We are a small company based in Canada. We do just about everything IT: proactive work (such as network maintenance), monitoring of critical systems, emergency work (IT fixes, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week), new user set-ups, procurement of hardware and software (at a discount through our top vendors), consulting work (which can be anything from upgrading all 100 of your Windows computers to Macs, or something simple like what open-source software alternatives we would recommend instead of Photoshop).

We are also offering services in a new area called Green IT. It is all about transforming the way IT is used to help cut down on energy use and waste. Solutions could include datacenters with virtualized servers, remote access of datacenters (to keep the systems in a stable environment), or sending software electronically to eliminate packaging waste. We want to get more into this area!

Target Customers:
Small to medium sized business in our city and the surrounding areas. (Note: we do provide support to branch offices of our customers across Canada.)

We seem to attract a lot of non-profit (environment, research, health) and financial/accounting clients. I believe we aimed more for non-profits when the company was first started, both because of the President’s contacts in that sector and also because they are easier to access than other businesses, and they have formed a tight-knit community in our city. The issue with non-profits is that, because of their tight usually government-controlled budgets, we’re in a constant struggle to get paid for our extensive work.

Our clients are typically not technically-oriented. Companies are both B2B and B2C, ranging in industry from financial and accounting services to commercial real estate, health care services, non-profits, and some retail.

We’d like to aim for businesses with younger staff that understand technology and can appreciate the need for IT, as well as the critical nature of technology services in relation to their business operations. But it has proven to be hard… which leads me to…

Biggest PR/Marketing Challenge:
We charge hourly for consulting, project hours and support time; the hourly price is lower with a contract than without a contract, where we would come out and do things on a case by case basis. It’s difficult to convince SMBs that our services are worth the amount we are charging – however, to draft a legal document, they’re more than willing to a pay a top notch lawyer $500/hour. If your IT services – your computers, your printers, your network, your data – are done incorrectly, you’re out of business. Customers view IT issues as a pain (i.e. my email is down again) instead of as a critical part of their business (i.e. without IT, we can’t function as a company).

Customers just don’t always understand the value of IT services.

Our monthly support contract covers just about everything “IT”. Then on top of that, say you’ve signed up for a 10-hour contract for support – we don’t just send a bill at the end of the month: we send you a full report of every single minute of work that was done for your company and what was accomplished. We log every incident and track all time and documentation within our Helpdesk. And because we’re a small company at heart (growing now; we’ve doubled our size in the past 2 years), we do give great customer service – our clients know us and they know if something goes horribly wrong with their email at 3 in the morning, they can reach us with one phone call.

Main Marketing/PR Goal:
1. Help our current clients understand why our services are worth the price tag. This may be an inherent problem in the industry (it’s known that IT is on average never properly budgeted for), but EDS and other huge IT corporations don’t seem to have a problem. We want them to see us as a partner for their business, not just an “IT repair service”.

2. Bring in clients who understand the importance of IT services already, and get them to pick us above our competitors for our value-added work.

We’re too entrenched in the technology/service provider perspective to understand how our clients and potential clients really see IT. Hopefully BrandingWire can help us see our company from a purely marketing perspective. Our company is great – we just need to get that idea out there to our current clients and to those that have yet to hear about us.


OK, great challenge. Now, here is how the BrandingWire posse of pundits responded!

cat-fix-it-sm.jpgOlivier Blanchard

Becky Carroll

Kevin Dugan

Drew McLellan

Patrick Schaber

Steve Woodruff

Lewis Green

Valeria Maltoni

Gavin Heaton

Martin Jelsema

And, our 3 4 guest bloggers this month:

Cam Beck

Chris Brown

Matt Dickman

Mark Goren (Mark saw his invitation late but jumped in as soon as he could!)

So, what do you think? Feel free to add your thoughts in the Comments!


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Just came across this post on Seth Godin’s blog, about an (attempted) car-buying experience he had not long ago.

The money quote:

…it’s obvious that a great salesperson is going to sell far, far more than a good one. That’s because it’s not a linear scale. The great ones reach out. They work the phones when they’re not first in line. They understand what a customer wants. They’re not just better than good. They’re playing a totally different game.

His take on how to improve things (fire half the sales force!) is pretty interesting…

PLUS – here’s a quick post on how a Toyota executive outlined the problem of shoddy customer service at dealerships. I love this quote:

One consumer, responding to a survey of car buying, said she’d rather attend a funeral than do business at a dealership.

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Hurry on down! Bad credit, no credit – you qualify to read and comment!

truck-deal.jpgThis month, the BrandingWire posse takes on auto sales. No marketing backgrounder needed on this one – we’ve all experienced what it’s like to go into a car dealership. We all know how cars are branded and sold in the retail environment. Now, the BW marketing gurus give their suggestions on what works, and what needs to change.

But wait! Before you click on the links and read our various posts on the topic, we want you to take part! Tell us your stories – good, bad, or ugly. Click on the Comments and give all of our readers a paragraph on what you’ve experienced. How would you change the automobile sales process?

You see, the marketing blogger community, and certainly the group at BrandingWire, want to see better branding and marketing practices. And the best way to do that is to proclaim, with a loud voice, what is good, and what really stinks. Join us as we seek to provide input to the auto industry on what we, the customers, would like to see for a buying experience!

Here are the posts (so far!) from the BrandingWire team:

Becky Carroll

Drew McLellan

Steve Woodruff

Valeria Maltoni

Patrick Schaber

Lewis Green

Martin Jelsema

Olivier Blanchard

Kevin Dugan

Derrick Daye

And, a guest blogger post from Ed Roach (Brand Corral), with follow-ups from Ed here and here.

Also, Chris Brown decided to jump right in with a post of her own on this theme, as did Acorn Creative (both praising the Saturn customer experience).

UPDATE: Cam Beck weighs in with some thoughts of his own, as does Jeanne Bliss over at Marketing Profs Daily Fix.


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(This is a consolidation of 10 separate posts created by the BrandingWire posse of pundits, all addressing a single branding challenge)

The BrandingWire team has been approached by a small coffee company. They have a few retail stores, have been in business for 8 years, and are moderately successful – reasonably profitable, with no debt – and 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. There is very strong local attachment to the company, but 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 Coffee is going to move in 30 minutes away. Dunkin’ Donuts may be heading in their direction. How do they distinguish themselves?

That’s the challenge for each member of the BrandingWire posse. Here are the various creative ideas generated by the bloggers of BrandingWire:

Olivier Blanchard:

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.

Read Olivier’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Kevin Dugan:

It seemed only appropriate to compose this post from a local coffeehouse considering the assignment.

Our first mission? “A fictional,** small coffee company in mid-America has a few retail stores, has been in business for 8 years, and is moderately successful. They roast their own beans on-site and their stores are relaxed (kind-of country-funky).

There’s a very strong local attachment to the company with little recognition outside of the geographical area. 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.”

They want to grow, though they’re not entirely sure what is the most profitable path. They sense the growing competition from Starbucks, McDonald’s, Caribou, and Dunkin’ Donuts. What should they do?

Having provided some unsolicited coffee advice to Starbucks, I guess I’m qualified for this. Normally I’d step through a process. But this is a blog post so, like any good cooking show, we’ll give the whole process and all the ingredients a quick nod, but show the final product for you to see.

Coffee Buzz, Crowded Space
A look at the landscape bodes well for our coffee client (CC), but it also shows why competition is fierce.

The San Diego Union Tribune notes that daily consumption of coffee surpassed sodas in 2007 for the first time in more than 15 years. In “The Buzz over Energy Drinks” NPR tells us teens and young adults spent almost $2.3 billion on heavily caffeinated drinks in 2006. That may explain why more teens are hanging out in coffee houses instead of malls. Coffee is appealing to a wider audience. A coffee house needs to be flexible to meet all of their needs.

Taking Seth’s Small is the New Big to heart, I’m proposing modest growth aimed at expanding regionally by a few locations. This will allow CC to become the anti-Starbucks, offering a more authentic, local experience than you’ll find at one of 13,000 locations worldwide.

CC will need a complete identity overhaul at existing locations prior to expansion. This includes creating a consistent brand with a new logo, tagline and standards that express what truly makes them different — Country Roast.

Country Roast
Creating boutique beans in small-batch production on site sets CC apart and should be played up. The roasting process should be brought to the front of the store so it’s visible to the customers — a front and center event. Ultimately, CC should offer roasting classes so customers can learn how to roast their own beans – free trade of course and offered in ample supply through CC.

On the Road, Online to Connect with New Customers
To get noticed in their new markets, a mobile roasting truck will canvass local events to show off the process and give out free coffee samples showing off their new look and directing customers to their website for more information.

The web site will tap into social media, serving up plenty of roasting content, photos of the truck at events and the owner’s blog, Coffee Talk, helps tell the story and engage customers in conversation. A full e-commerce component will also make bean sales possible online.

Branding Makes Magic Beans
The new, consistent look and the increased presence regionally and online will help differentiate CC and Country Roast. By introducing the customers to roasting and reinforcing its local presence, CC will connect with customers. The end result is a successful, profitable growth strategy (in less than 600 words).

**For the first BrandingWire post, we chose a hypothetical situation, but we plan advising on real situations in future posts.

Read Kevin’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.



It’s incredibly tempting to simply prescribe a solution. That’s one of the biggest dangers facing marketing professionals. It’s very seductive to just make one of the following assumptions at the outset:

We are the audience – “I hang out at a coffee shop so I must be just like their customers.”

We know who the audience is – “I get the coffee shop people. They’re all yuppies who want…”

This is just like another project we worked on – “when we did the re-branding for the salad dressings, we…”

Are there kernels of truth in all the statements above? Most likely, yes. But do we know enough to make sweeping recommendations? Nope. And if we do, we’re going to get it wrong. Even if we’re partially right.

So where do we go from here?

Really, this is three very different challenges:

Branding – how should this coffee shop differentiate themselves from their competition?

Marketing – how should they spread the word, increase traffic and demand for their products/services?

Growth Strategy – in what directions (more stores, customer loyalty/ambassador clubs, online sales of coffee beans, adding food/catering, coffee tasting – like wine tastings, coffee region tours etc) should the store owners take the business to create sustainable growth?

Just from a manageability point of view, I am only going to address the first of the three, because I’d like to go deep, rather than scratch the surface of all three. And I suspect this is already going to be my longest post of all time! Normally I’d break this up into a series, but…bear with me and the length. Hopefully it will be worth it.

I wrestled with how to approach this branding challenge for quite a bit. I could make some assumptions (even sharing what they are) and propose a solution. But that’s not how my agency or my brain works. And I don’t think the readers of this blog (and the BrandingWire site) will gain as much from my guesses as they will from an abbreviated version of what we’d really do if a prospect like this walked in the door.

Just a quick refresher from my post a couple weeks ago.

A brand is a unified, singular understanding of what an organization is about and how it is unique from the key audiences’ points of view. In English – it’s why a potential client or employee would choose you over your competitor. What makes you stand out from the rest? What’s it like to do business with you? How do they experience you?

It is you standing up, hand on heart and making a promise. And then keeping that promise.

A brand is like a three-legged stool. The three legs are:

1. The company’s vision of the brand
2. The consumers’ vision of the brand
3. Where your brand sits in the marketplace

At MMG, we help a client discover their brand so they can create a love affair with their customers. To do that, we ask questions. Lots of questions. (Naturally, I’m only going to scratch the surface but you’ll get the idea.)

So let’s identify some questions that will help the coffee shop hone in on all three legs of their stool. Keep in mind we engage a client’s internal branding team in 20-25 hours of questions, exercises and exploration to help them discover their brand. But, this is a good sampling.

We’d ask the coffee shop owners to form an internal branding team that would work with us throughout the process. The branding team must include everyone at the C-level and then a member from each department or area of the shop. So it might be a bean roaster, a clerk, a barista, a bean buyer, etc. The key is to have all aspects of the shop represented.

From the coffee shop owner’s POV:

Of all the businesses you could have started, you chose the coffee shop business. Why? What appealed to you? Is it what still appeals to you?

If you closed your business today, what “hole” would be left in your marketplace? What wouldn’t people be able to get/do?

Do you help your customers do or achieve or get something that they wouldn’t be able to accomplish without your help?

Make a list of 2-3 core reasons for being. Why you exist and what unique role you play in the marketplace. (Don’t be surprised or frustrated if you can’t answer this. Most often it needs to be discovered.)

What kinds of promises do you already make to your customers? Are they related to:

  • Pricing
  • How you’ll deliver your product/services
  • Product (quality, quantity, variety etc.)
  • Environment (what the shop/experience is like)
  • Something else?

What do you hope every customers walks out knowing/feeling?

What are 3-5 things your customers have asked for/if you did in the past 6 months? (i.e. coffee tasting events – like wine tasting events)

If money/time were no object – how would you change/add to the customer experience in your current shops? What do you wish you could do different?

What three things are you most proud of, in terms of your business?

If your business were a person, how would you describe its personality? Give us five different adjectives. (Serious? Warm? Informed? Etc.)

From the customers’ POV:

The ideal way to find these answers is to spend time interviewing the coffee shop’s customers, one by one. This interview technique is preferable if you are looking for qualitative data – impressions, feelings, reactions, preferences, frustrations etc.

We’d ask for a cross section of customers, both in terms of frequency of visits and demo/psychographics. What we’re looking for are trends and recurring themes.

Where did you go to get coffee before going to the client’s coffee shop?

Why did you switch?

What did you expect (both good and bad) the first time you walked into the coffee shop? Did they meet those expectations?

How often do you visit the coffee shop?

When you are there, do you go in? Drive thru? How long do you stay?

What do you do when you’re there? Are you usually there alone?

What do you love (and yes…that’s the word we’d use) most about the coffee shop?

What do you tolerate because you love the place?

Do you consider the coffee shop “your” coffee shop?

If you owned the shop, what would you do differently? What new products/services would you offer? What would you take away or stop doing?

What five words would you use to describe this coffee shop?

If the shop were ten miles further away, would you still be a customer?

If someone moved into your neighborhood and asked you about local merchants, would you tell them about this store?

If someone had never visited the store and asked you about it – what would you say?

The marketplace that impacts the coffee shop:

This is about two different aspects of the marketplace. First…who else is out there and what is their claim to fame? How do they brand themselves and how well do they do it? Keep in mind that competitors not only include other coffee shops but other places people gather, other places people buy drinks etc. The competition that most people forget is the choice to do nothing. To make coffee at home.

The second aspect of this focus is to answer the question — what’s not there? Think of the marketplace as a topographical map. Any brand position successfully occupied by a competitor is raised on the map. Where are the flat spots? What needs are not being met? Here’s the toughest question – what need that hasn’t yet been identified as a need, is not being met?

We can gather much of this information through observation. Visit the competitors and do some secret shopping. Check out websites. Clip ads.

Surveying the marketplace is a powerful and quantitative balance to these observations. Be sure that your questions measure not only how the competitors position themselves in the marketplace but if the consumers buy the positioning. Just because they say it, doesn’t mean their actions confirm it. In other words, I can tell you that I’m a duck. But, you may not believe it. My actions and choices might suggest I am more of a penguin and you probably see me as that way.

Letting the answers be your answer

By asking all of the questions and sorting and sifting through the answers, the brand reveals itself. It will reflect the coffee shop owner’s heart and soul. It will represent something the employees and customers recognize and know is authentic and true because they’ve experienced it, even if they couldn’t describe or identify it before. It will be something that the marketplace is hungry for, whether they know it or not.

And from that sold foundation, the marketing and growth strategies can build.

Read Drew’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Steve Woodruff:

1. Most profitable potential growth with least capital risk – undoubtedly, building up mail-order sales. There is only so much profitable growth to be realized by opening more retail outlets, and it is very capital intensive. I’d go after a broader audience, along the lines of the approach of Gevalia and other suppliers.

2. Creating an approach as a “virtual supplier” provides the opportunity to create a whole new identity. I’d trade on the story of the current stores and identity, but I’d launch a new, catchy name (CoffeeWire. GetRoasted. JavaDirect. RoastedJolt…lots of possibilities) that is universal and memorable.

3. As the heart of the brand identity, there has to be both a story, and a unique differentiator. I’d advise spinning the brand story as the small-town coffee roaster that has satisfied its faithful (rabid) clientele, and now wants to bring “best coffee practices” to a wider audience (e.g., Mill Mountain Coffee in Virginia). As a differentiator, you can work the bean angle (”our mountain-grown beans are from the finest estates in northeastern Guatemala, hand-picked by nephews of Juan Valdez”), but I think that is overdone and not easy for an end-user to relate to. I’d go for the roasting process approach, which, if well-described, can be almost irresistible – who doesn’t want to try coffee that has undergone some super-secret roasting process that produces superior results? Kobrick’s Coffee Company effectively takes this approach on their website.

4. Speaking of differentiators, one of the areas that seems to me under-developed is creative packaging. Bags – whether foil or paper – of beans or grounds all seem pretty much the same. Now I’m no consumer packaging guy, so I’m not sure what ideas are best – but what about a cube or a bag that is clear? With some measurement units along the side, to make it easier to figure out how much to put in the filter for a full pot? Coffee is very powerful for the olfactory sense; why not go after the visual as well? I’m sure there have to be other creative ideas. How about something so simple as a coffee tip/factoid put in little prize package in each bag (and 1 in every 50 is a coupon for a free 1/2 pound of an exotic variety)?

5. Next, I’d look at the whole area of personalization. I can envision a couple of “sliders” in the section where you order YOUR special coffee – one slide to choose roasting (light to dark), the other to choose grind (coarse to fine, or just whole beans). For an extra charge, you can even create a personalized blend of beans, for those willing to make a year commitment of monthly shipments with a credit card. At this point, the coffee is no longer a commodity – the company becomes a unique supplier, helping the customer craft a unique identity with his “own” coffee.

6. Now, how to get traction in the marketplace…first of all, an attractive website with e-commerce capability is a must. Colorado’s Steaming Bean Coffee Co. is a good example. Beside the general navigational ease of the site, the two elements I like best are the little Cart: status link in the upper right, and the personal touch from the CEO (”Please notify me…”) in the left column. Then, I’d go after influential bloggers; find a large number of bloggers inside and outside the coffee blogging arena, and send a complimentary 1/2 pound bag. Ask for their input, either privately or publicly (on their blogs). Bloggers like coffee (by and large), and have an outsized influence. Growing a mail-order market will require cultivating recommendations by thought-leaders.

7. Finally, after all of the previous steps are in place, I’d go for a public campaign. A David vs. Goliath “we dare to take on the big guys” promotion. Have a PR consultant or group take the best coffee you make, package it in plain bags along with (say) 4 other well-known coffee brands (Starbucks, Peets, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.) and line up some companies – say, 10 software companies – that are willing to serve as judges. The java-drinkers get a free coffeemaker and five unmarked bags of coffee, numbered for survey ratings. They blind-rate the different brews and see who comes out on top. The entire process gets blogged, Twittered, mapped, etc. It has the element of risk, of suspense, of daring – could be a great PR stunt if done right. Especially if David comes out on top!

JavaDirect. It’s your coffee.

Read Steve’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Becky Carroll:

First Case Study – Small Coffee Company

Situation summary: ABC Coffee Company (fictitious) is a small coffee company with a few retail stores. They have been in business for about eight years and are reasonably profitable. They do not carry any debt; all operations are funded from a steady cash flow. They roast their own beans on-site, and they are very strong locally. There is little to no recognition of their brand outside of their geographic area.

Family-run, the company has a basic brand name and tagline (ABC Coffee Company: Great coffee at great prices!). Their logo is also very basic. The family wants to grow their business, but they are not sure of the most profitable path. Competition is increasing: Starbucks is close by, Caribou is moving in, even McDonald’s is upscaling their coffee offerings.

Challenge: What should be ABC Coffee Company’s strategy for growth?

My take: Since they are local, their success so far has been most likely due to their loyal customers. People will be the key differentiator for ABC Coffee Company as they move forward, and a focus on their customers will enable them to grow. The goals would be as follows:

Keep and grow existing customers = organic growth

Use knowledge from existing customers to gather in new customers = new growth

Step One: Talk to ABC Coffee Company customers. This can be done through ABC Coffee Company employees as well as through surveys. Here are some key questions to ask customers to help ABC Coffee learn about customer preferences and needs, in addition to learning about the customer experience:

  • What do you like best about ABC Coffee Company? (Let’s build on the good things.)
  • How often do you come in? How far do you drive/walk to get here? (Do a lot of customers come from farther away, perhaps across town? Let’s see if it would make sense to have another outpost closer to other customers.)
  • Do you get your coffee “to-go”, or do you enjoy it on-site? (How can we make life easier for our customers?)
  • What do you dislike about ABC Coffee Company? If you could change just one thing, what would it be? (Let’s find the dissatisfiers.)

ABC Coffee Company can also learn about their customers by observing behaviors. When ABC Coffee understands why customers come to their retail stores, they can begin to improve the customer experience. This will help differentiate them from competitors, as they can use what they learn about customers and their needs to help make ABC Coffee Company the preferred place for customers to buy and drink their coffee.

Step Two: Fix the dissatisfiers.

What did ABC Coffee Company’s customers tell them they wanted to change? What did they dislike? Choose those dissatisfiers that can have the greatest impact on the customer experience and fix them. This may not seem like the sexiest strategy, but if the customer experience is not a good one, all the great marketing in the world may not make any difference!

This step helps meet the goal of keeping existing customers, as well as converting new customers that come in the door.

Step Three: Look at the customer experience for different customer groups

Different customers will have different needs. Depending on what has been learned in the First Step (above), we want to think about how ABC Coffee Company might improve the current customer experience for different customer groups. Here are some suggestions that will not only improve the experience for two of these groupings but could also encourage positive word of mouth to their friends.

Group 1: Business people

If ABC Coffee Company has a number of customers that meet and/or work at their retail stores (sometimes in lieu of being at an office!), one way to improve the customer experience is to ensure there are plenty of power outlets to plug in computers. Providing free wireless Internet access may also be a differentiator to some (for example, Starbucks charges for theirs). Additionally, ABC Coffee could provide branded coffee travel mugs to regular customers, especially business customers, and encourage them to take them to work to use. This helps the environment (fewer paper/styrofoam cups used at the office) as well as advertises ABC Coffee Company to other co-workers.

Group 2: Moms of pre-schoolers

If ABC Coffee Company has groups of moms that bring their babies and toddlers to the retail store to meet with other young moms, there are a number of ways to improve this customer experience. Let’s start in the bathroom! Most coffee retail establishments are missing something in their bathroom which is critical to this customer grouping: baby changing tables. Offering kid-friendly menu items, such as juice and animal crackers, as well as hot drinks at a kid-friendly temperature, could go a long way to giving these still-young future customers something to occupy themselves while their moms take a break and visit with each other. The word should spread fairly quickly to other moms that ABC Coffee Company is a great place to take their little ones!

This step helps meet the goal of increasing business from existing customers.

Step Four: Find other ways to build on relationships.


– ABC Coffee Company should get to know their customers well and treat them like good friends. This local, friendly attitude will continue to draw a local following that could spill over to positive word of mouth and bring in new customers. Hold a party for customers to thank them, offering samples of coffees and treats as well as music and door prizes. Encourage customers to bring their friends, and hand out 2-for-1 certificates for a future purchase.

Reach out to the local community. Look for places where existing customers are already involved (soccer leagues, business associations). For example, many soccer leagues have 8 AM games on Saturday mornings. Perhaps ABC Coffee Company could provide a coffee station at the fields for those parents who didn’t have time to grab their eye-opening cup of joe on their way to the game. Offer coupons for parents to come back and order the “coffee box”, which is a large amount of coffee in a portable container. Same could be done for baseball games, swim meets, or cricket matches! (Tea, anyone?) Sponsor local teams for youth sports (especially for those teams of loyal customers). If there is space at the retail store, offer a community meeting room. These ideas build on existing customer relationships as they get them to not only tell their friends but also to show them the great coffee off-premises.

This step helps meet the goal of both growing existing customers as well as bringing in new customers, using existing customers as “citizen marketers”.


ABC Coffee Company has a bright future. They are profitable, they are well-known locally, and they have a group of loyal customers from which to build. By taking some time to understand the needs of their best customers, as well as how they can improve their customer experience, they have the foundation necessary to keep and grow existing customers as well as bring in new customers via word of mouth and customer advocacy.

Read Becky’s entire, fully-formatted post on her blog here.


Patrick Schaber:

So, this coffee business has the money and the desire to grow, but they’re unsure of where to start or how to do it. Let’s toss around a few ideas for our imaginary bean counter.

The Image

We’ve said there is a strong local attachment to the coffee brand – it’s time to capitalize on that. Start by tapping that local attachment for insight as to why the brand is so strong with area residents. Why do they prefer this coffee over Starbucks, Caribou and other larger chains? What characteristics of this coffee shop resonate most with locals? What needs improvement? Through surveys and discussions with customers, the coffee shop can formulate their list of top selling points that separate them from competitors.

With the brand information gleaned from local customers, a new logo and tagline should be developed that infuses local charm and promotes a coffee drinking experience. Grocery store shelves are stocked full of generic coffee brands – why compete there? Promote an experience for the coffee drinker who wants something more from their cup.

The Placement

This BrandingWire pundit thinks it would be unwise to beef up coffee operations to the point of attempting to push out mainstream brands from every grocery store shelf in the U.S. Let’s start by pushing mainstream brands off their local grocery shelves and create a web experience to push the brand outside of the area.

First they must examine their local, physical branding. Their stores should be redesigned to incorporate the new, fresh, locally-infused brand elements (logo, tagline, URL, etc.). Store employee clothing, coffee cups and “for-sale” drinkware, and bags of coffee for home brewing should be redone to incorporate the new brand elements and give local coffee drinkers additional reasons to feel attached to the local brand and experience. The newly designed coffee packaging should be pushed at every local grocery store, coffee shop, and restaurant – the brand should dominate anywhere locally that sells coffee.

Next, a web presence that embodies a lively and fresh coffee shop atmosphere must be created. Although it will incorporate local characteristics, the web site should be built to reach out to the rest of the world and whet the appetite for a taste of your local brand. The site will combine:

  • All of the new branding elements.
  • A social conversation room for consumers to read about and converse with others who enjoy coffee. By correctly reaching out to the demographic that engages social media, the coffee shop will be able to tap viral marketing that will proliferate their messages for them.
  • Videos of local stores, local landmarks and profiles of local customers who have become part of the brand.
  • Recipe book of coffee-related foods and beverages offered up by the new community of contributors.
  • If possible, local musicians will be featured with music recordings for download.

A full social media blitz will take this small coffee shop well beyond its local ties.

Engage. Converse. Convert.
Branding also happens on the search engine results pages, and that’s exactly where this coffee shop should aim when expanding out of their local area. Sites such as CoffeeGeek.com and CoffeeUniverse.com prove there is a “thirst” for communicating and socializing your coffee preferences. Do multiple searches and some quick surfing, and you definitely see brands start to present themselves online. Companies such as Storyville Coffee Company (saving the world one cup at a time), Timothy’s and Cafe Britt take different approaches but are consistently present in search results.

  • A well optimized website can yield positive organic results and keep the company in the mind of coffee drinkers who look for their next coffee experience online.
  • A related paid search campaign can solidify the brand among search engine users.

An approach such as this capitalizes on searchers looking for gifts or new coffee drinking experiences.Participation in industry online forums can also play a role in developing the online presence. Positioning themselves as a participant and expert in the world of coffee can lead people to want to check out their brand and even give it a try. Other methods of online advertising such as strategic banner placement and text links can also be used to draw in the coffee drinker. The idea behind this online rebranding is to engage the coffee drinker, give them the option to converse and share their preferences, and then convert them to their brand.

The sky is the limit for this coffee maker if they can infuse their new brand with the opinions and characteristics of their local following, reflect that brand with a strong local presence in stores and on shelves, and create greater awareness of their brand and products with an online brand building campaign.

Read Patrick’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Lewis Green:

As one of their consultants, my job is to focus on customer experience. We begin with the basic questions requiring answers to create great experiences.

  1. Who are their best customers?
  2. What do they look like?
  3. Where do they live?
  4. Why do they buy coffee from them?
  5. How does this business fill their wants and needs?

To grow a business everything begins on the inside. And to create great customer experiences, we first must ensure that every employee understands what that experience looks and feels like. To do that requires lots of communications and training. And that training begins with the words, “just say yes.” If a customer wants or needs something to make their experience better, and it is within our power to provide it, we do. And if that need arises out of something we did wrong, we provide service with a smile, an apology and no charge to fix the problem.

We train employees to be proactive, to anticipate every customer’s wants and needs, and to prevent a bad customer experience before having to react to one. But customers can become unhappy, no matter how much we prepare, so when that happens we do everything we can to solve the problem. No employee needs to ask a manager’s permission to solve that problem. If the employee can solve a customer’s problem, they do. (Guidelines are established to identify the maximum cost to the company allowed to solve a problem without a managers approval.) All customer decisions are made locally, not at the corporate level.

As for employee uniforms, we recommend brown logo tee-shirts and blue jeans. The brown carries the coffee colors, while the tee-shirts and blue jeans maintain a funky and laid back atmosphere. The logo reinforces the name and image of the business.

After studying the current store decor, which is made up of mix and match overstuffed furniture and wooden chairs and tables, we survey customers about what they like about the store’s atmosphere. We then decide that to create a great customer experience, the stores maintain their country-funky look. Within those parameters, we advise that the stores always be kept impeccably clean, and that all of the furniture be in the best shape possible: no wiggles, no wobbles, no stains and no rips or tears.

We also advise that the smell of fresh-brewed coffee be present in all the stores, and that in addition to retail items such as espresso machines, brewing machines, coffee grinders, French presses, coffee cups and bulk coffee, the stores offer fresh pastries baked locally and labeled with the local bakery’s name and logo.

To increase the customer experience, we recommend that every Friday night is open mike, featuring local musicians playing the style of music most popular in that region. Again, the focus is on local. We also recommend that every store contribute to their community, first by providing a safe, happy and clean family environment, and second by volunteering to assist a local organization or association.

Finally, we make it clear that people always come first. It is about customers’ wants and needs, not about sales. We recommend that the company provide fair wages and good benefits and reward their best employees by promoting from within. By catering to our employee’s happiness, wants and needs, we ensure that we create attitudes that will carry over into customer service and that employees will be motivated to providing great customer experiences.

Read Lewis’ entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Valeria Maltoni:

Joe Cups, the owner of a small coffee company in mid-America, is looking for the next big idea. The company owns a few retail stores, having been in business and moderately successful for 8 years. Joe tells me that the stores are reasonably profitable so he has no debt and can fund his operations out of steady cash flow.

A Look at the Operations

They roast their own beans on-site — their retail sites are wide-open, relaxed, and kind-of country-funky. There is a very strong local attachment to the company. Since it is a family operation, the recognition outside of the geographical area in which it operates is weak. Joe is committed to doing whatever it takes to grow his thriving business.

The Brand

Their brand name is OK but certainly not special. He came up with the tagline — Great coffee at great prices! – after a long evening of work at the main store. Joe Jr. gave his dad a nice drawing of coffee beans falling into a cup and that became the logo. Until now, Joe never thought about marketing his business.

The Conversation

Joe says he wants to grow his operations, so we meet early one morning and talk about his ideas over a nice cup of java. The maps of the existing retail operations are spread in front of us; which extend in many local and regional focal points. Next to one of the central stores, we mark the planned location of a new Starbucks. Everyone wants to move into the area –- Caribou just announced it is going to open a shop nearby and so might Dunkin’ Donuts. McDonald’s is considering a better brew as well.

The Store Strategy

Locals love Joe’s rustic stores, especially the bean grinding activities. After conducting a few surveys of current customers and potential prospects, we decide to make each store even more open to the clientele. Joe thinks that opening up the grinding activities to customers after watching the roasting, would boost business. And for good reason –- the open layout of the retail space already lends itself to watching the process. The aroma would attract more customers in the crucial morning hours.

As we talk about the brand, we discuss keeping it simple. Since much of the coffee he sells is well known locally, the aroma speaks for itself. Going with a name like JavAroma that everyone understands seems like a good idea. What will really get people talking is the batch of mugs we are producing –- they look hand made and each is different. Customers will be able to pick among taller, wider, smaller, thicker and thinner cups emblazoned with the simple beans from Joe Jr.’s drawing and the new name.

We decide to fit an instant photo booth in each of the stores, right next to a gigantic board where people will be able to put photos taken while holding their favorite mug. The booth can fit up to three people so that small families can even sneak in two little ones. The board will be the focus of in-store re-launches –- a panel of local coffee connoisseurs and customers will be selecting the best photos to publish in the company’s JavAroma bulletin alongside grinding bean news from the area.

Groups meeting at the shops in the morning can also brew their own pot of coffee right at the table. Joe noticed that many local business people tend to meet informally before heading to the office. There are also two chapters of business associations that assist recent graduates with job tips and mentoring. The open and friendly layout of the stores located in convenient proximity of some of the main arteries into and out of the city continues to attract those groups.

The Expansion Plans

There are many government buildings and offices in the center of town where the zone planning did not allow for any retail stores. These are area free of any close competition as well. Joe heard from the Mayor that many of the county employees would love to buy a cup of JavaAroma on their way into the building. We think that there may be an opportunity to propose brew-it-yourself coffee kiosks.

Due to fire concerns, many of the downtown office buildings were never fitted with kitchens so the kiosks outside would provide a nice opportunity to take a break and get a cup of java even after the morning rush. We decide to try with a couple placed in strategic crosswalks. The Mayor, a coffee lover and strong supporter of a local business, agrees to photo ops on opening day.

Coffee Buzz

Joe agrees to a coordinated roll out of the new logo and tagline. The store instant photo contests have people line up around the corner for the opening. Each set of photos prints a custom message at the bottom –- people can express a motto or a favorite coffee memory in up to five words. Images and words are eligible for the grand prize of a brand new in-store coffee station named after the winner.

Store grinding bean contests are set up for groups and teams. The most popular show will be featured in JavAroma bulletin with a special reprint for the laminated table mats. The press drinks this up and decides to send its own team with photographer.

The traditional look of the kiosks we prepared fits with the open layout of the downtown area office park buildings. People are pleased with the convenience of self-service and the opportunity to exchange a few words with the knowledgeable and entertaining staff manning the kiosks. On rainy days they will be able to sip from their cup, which is not disposable, under the kiosk awning while they talk about their plans for the day with Rick, Jerry, or Sandra, who knows them by name.

Whether you are grinding, brewing or taking the coffee to go, there’s a mug in our store with your name on it. We decide to use the mugs as souvenirs and let people take them home or to the office with them. Many return with them or choose to have JavAroma keep them for the next time.

Read Valeria’s entire, fully-formatted post on her blog here.


Martin Jelsema:

My Concept of Branding

First I should define what I believe branding is. Before the more traditional tasks such as naming a company or creating a logo, branding is a strategic activity that defines the very business to be created. It involves assessing the market, paying attention to trends and positioning the company in relation to competitors. It is the junction where customer desire and company strengths cross. I call it the brand platform.

So I suggest exploring the very nature of the business.

At present, the owners of this company are deeply committed to competing in the “coffee shop” category head-to-head with Starbucks, the semi-successful Peabody Coffee and a few other “me-too” coffee shop chains and local imitators. If as stated, the owners are “committed to do whatever it takes to create a thriving business”, I’d ask them to think more broadly.

I’d want to explore creating a new product category in which there is no significant, organized competition. This is a matter of combining the coffee-making component with another, equally attractive service business opportunity.

How to Create a New Product Category

How would I go about that? First I would study trends. And I would study Starbucks and try to find those areas in which they are not strong. I’d look at activities in which coffee drinking could be an accompaniment, much as beer is hooked to bowling. I’d then associate with those types of establishments and sell my brew from under their roofs or in co-owned facilities. This is being done in at least one market, bookselling.

Here’s an example of one direction I’d explore based upon my own, very narrow experience in Starbucks, and knowing about one significant trend in American life. I’d want to walk through the financials before exploring it much further than I have here.

Here’s the premise:

There are few places where small groups can meet regularly except in the back rooms of a handful of restaurants where participants are required to eat a meal. And those groups, either business or social, are becoming more popular what with the trend toward social networking. So I’d provide a place where leads groups, master-mind groups, MLM groups, sales networks, plus non-business groups like mother’s morning break groups, retired social groups and charity organizers could meet regularly for a room fee and the cost of refreshments.

I’d have up to five semi-private areas of different sizes, each of which equipped with conference table, whiteboards, sideboard for refreshments and coffee. These “pods” would offer some privacy. Plus the meetings would no longer dominate the entire seating area as they do when groups “invade” a Starbucks. There would also be a “public area” for one and two people seating, and a take-out function as well.

But instead of being known as a coffee house, I’d create a new category: meeting place. I’d call it something like “Rendezvous”

I’d serve great coffee and variations, but the thrust is a place to gather and to come back regularly to meet, even though you could meet with a friend there anytime, and occasionally just drop in for a cup.

The networking propensity of group members will provide word to spread about this meeting place so that when some one asks, “where can I gather with my cohorts?”, Rendezvous comes to mind.

Think Outside Your Existing Category

So, by thinking outside the traditional product category, by creating your own category in which you are the first to reside, by designing the business around a particular type of customer, by targeting niche activists, by combining business concepts, these coffee folks can compete effectively without competing directly with the Starbucks machine.

If the new model has legs, then I’d build a brand platform upon which the traditional branding elements can be created and integrated into a differentiated new business that just happens to sell great coffee.

Read Martin’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.


Gavin Heaton:

In this first BrandingWire post we are each looking at a fictitious marketing challenge — a family owned coffee company that is looking to grow. They have a good product but a poor brand — our challenge is to help the stakeholders ask the right questions about growing the business.

My view is that we need to start with the story (of course). What I will propose is not the development of a full marketing plan or a brand strategy, but an engagement strategy based on understanding those customers who have thus far fueled the company’s growth. I want to understand the business (and brand’s) stakeholders — and to map the who, what, why and how of the business’ story.

Any family business that has been running for more than a couple of years is going to have a wealth of brand and personal stories available. What needs to happen is to begin delving into some of these stories in order to find their essence — the thing that rings true to the business, the family, the customers and the employees.

People and the brand (the WHO of your story): The important thing to do here is to talk and to listen. Talk to the people in the business, ask them what they think, what works and what doesn’t. Get them to speak from their heart. Talk to the oldest employees and the newest. Include the family. But also include a broader mix across the business — including suppliers and delivery drivers. Find out what is common and where the gaps are. Listen to the WAY that phase their words. Listen for the poetry. Be alert to the emotional resonances. Do the same for the customers — not in focus groups, but in the stores. Hang out. Eavesdrop. Ask.

Key themes and messages (the WHAT of your story): Now what have you learned? Can you distill all this down? Can you plot it on a graph? What is repeated and what is left out? Once you have some of these key themes and messages, you need to start to map these against the business strategy … make sure that you are spending your marketing dollars communicating with those who are most likely to buy from you. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? To be successful here you need to baseline, measure and test. You do so by assessing commitment.

Stakeholder commitment (the WHY of your story): We all work through various stages of commitment to things — brands, people, places and so on. At the heart of this is a decision — at some point we make a decision to commit. Now, this decision can be implicit or explicit, it can be conscious or unconscious … but it remains a decision nonetheless. By working through a series of commitment points for a given persona set, we can determine what kind of communications should be initiated and when.

Channels (the HOW of your story): Now of course you need to consider how best to reach all these idealised personas and the people behind them. This means that there are questions around media choice — and that means MONEY. Of course, one of the most cost effective channels is online and/or social media. But as I explained here, not all brands will benefit from a social media strategy. However, in this instance, there are obvious benefits — especially because there is a depth of lifestyle-oriented content that can quickly be developed and put into the marketplace.

Finally, the important thing is to START. Start small and do it fast — before you can frighten yourself. Measure the impact of each effort against your initial expectations. If you don’t succeed, change the plan. Tweak. Modify. Learn from the mistakes. Marketing is not an endgame — it is a way of initiating, enabling, extending and maintaining the relationships that allow a brand to thrive.

Read Gavin’s entire, fully-formatted post on his blog here.

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