and intense competition for precious customers, it is no longer an option: To survive and thrive you have to create a highly alluring customer-branded experience.
Have you ever wondered why you feel more comfortable in one shop than another? Ask yourself what created that feeling. Is it the colors on the walls, the music playing in the background, the aroma in the air or is it the employee that greeted you as you entered? Most people won’t select just one thing. They will refer to it as a combination of things; that is what I call the branded experience.
After studying hundreds of coffee shops, from national brands to independent stores, I discovered that each store I visited produced a different feeling. Most coffee house “experiences” are based on atmosphere and/or culture. Seldom do I experience both. Some of the stores made me feel warm and welcome. I wanted to relax and enjoy my experience. Most of them gave an empty and restless feeling, where I wanted to leave before placing my order. I discovered that factors ranging from the quality of the location and its physical appearance to my first impression biased my entire experience.
I soon realized how powerful a branded experience could be as I found myself not ordering products just because of the way a shop made me feel. Thanks to Starbucks’ successful original store design, Howard Schultz instinctively understood, and was a global pioneer in experiential retail, coined “emotional branding” by marketing gurus.
As underscored in former Starbucks president Howard Behar’s new hardback book, It’s Not About the Coffee, over the years the mega brand has invested over $200,000 of qualitative consumer research to determine why Starbucks is the destination of choice. The answers have always come out the same: the relaxed and inviting coffee house atmosphere. Recent hard economic times, and fierce major fast food chain and independent coffee house competition are proving that very thing that launched Starbucks globally - atmosphere - is what is hurting sales and North American growth today. Independent coffee houses are far outshining Starbucks by combining a “third place” atmosphere, supported by a relationship-driven team of baristas.
With that insight, I was driven to understand what the seemingly elusive elements behind a powerful branded experience were before I opened my own coffee houses. Whether you are in the design stage or the tenth year of operations, it’s never too late to boldly design your branded experience, or go with a franchisor that has successfully carved out a resonating customer branded experience.
As you and I have often read in The Brand Coaches’ Tea & Coffee Trade Journal column, branding is everything, and everything is branding. It is everything your customer will see, touch, smell, taste, hear and most importantly, remember about your brand. Pardon the drill of what may seem obvious, but allow me the grace to begin your checklist with the basics. Your branded experience starts with your company’s name, logo and slogan. These three elements give birth to your brand identity. Here is the catch in creating a powerful brand; a catchy name or a flashy logo or slogan only gets you to the starting gate in forging a unique customer brand experience.
The Name Game, Logo and Slogan
Your company name should be representative of the core of your business. It should be a name that is dominant enough for your customers to remember, and yet not easily confused with any other. It will help if your company name defines the products you will be selling. Example: White Water Coffee & Tea.
Your company logo is the visual aid for your brand and will typically create the most powerful brand awareness. Your logo should be bold and clear, and not congested with too many items. When creating the shape of your company’s logo, keep in mind that more complexity will result in higher costs during reproduction. This will complicate the creation of easily readable exterior signage.
Round or square signage will be less expensive than a custom design. I recommend creating an element of your logo that can be separated from the logo in its entirety. This separate brand element can be used to identify your brand for a number of purposes, thus eliminating oversaturation through use of your entire logo. Picture the Nike swoosh symbol, or Target’ bull’s eye. I call this a brand indicator. For example, the brand indicator could be used for bullet points on your menu, table engravings or window decals.
You may choose to have a company slogan, but it is not a requirement in creating a successful brand. However, in a lot of cases it will represent the interaction or emotional impact between you and your customers.
Let’s return to Nike and the company’s incredibly powerful slogan, “Just do it.” This is the emotional impact that Nike is selling to its customers. Nike is embracing their customers’ desire to go out and just do it, whether it is to run a 10-mile race or jump off a cliff. A specialty coffee industry example is a drive-thru chain with the slogan “One smooth ride,” or with My Coffee, our slogan is “Grab What’s Yours!”
Now that you have the understanding of your branded identity, you need to address the overall appearance of your location. Some of us will have a freestanding building, and others might be part of a shopping center. Each location will vary; some allowing you to have the freedom of the overall design, and others the limitation of just the interior.
Architectural Branding, Signage & Design
As the specialty coffee industry has matured, a key strategy to leap ahead of the competition in brand recognition is to architecturally brand, like fast food chains. Think of your exterior building design as a billboard for your brand, unencumbered by highly restrictive city ordinance sign size restrictions.
Most of your customers’ first impressions are generated from your building’s exterior. Have you ever gone to a place recommended by a friend who described it as, “They have really good food, but it’s in a little hole-in-the-wall place”? Your friend is only trying to protect you from your first impression. A negative first impression instantly handicaps the potential overall success of your business.
A branded exterior will be defined by three elements: architectural, signage and building features. Your brand should be able to be identified by using a single branded element, i.e. Pizza Hut’s red roof; McDonald’s “M.” Having spent my formative years growing up in a franchisee household (Taco Bell), I am committed to the concept of architectural branding for any retail business. With every freestanding drive-thru or coffee house, your building has an opportunity to be its own brand element entirely, separate of the logo.
One of the most common ways to locate a place is by looking for their signage. You will want to design your building to support and call dramatic attention to your exterior signage. If allowed, you should invest in high quality signage on every side that faces passing traffic. Most single location specialty coffee business owners significantly under-budget brand defining exterior signage.
The combination of channel letter-lit signage and neon can draw attention to your building or pole sign during early morning or late afternoon. All signage needs to follow the same brand identity. Space availability and signage city coding will dictate your size, but your shape and colors should always stay the same. One of the most noticeable attributes of signage will be its color or colors.
Building features are a great tool to help your customer identify your brand. Your choice of siding material, whether it is stucco, stone, tile, metal, vinyl siding or brick is a critical brand element. Two noticeable features will be your window awnings and exterior building lighting.
In most cases, you should have the freedom of designing your interior - unless you are co-branded or are sharing space with another business. Your interior design and floor plan determines the “third place” atmosphere. Your branded environment is created by everything your customer sees, touches, hears and smells.
You should have one or two dominant colors that your customers can instantly associate with your brand. Defining your brand colors in the beginning stages will help in the overall consistence of your colors. Your dominant color(s) should be used in your logo and/or incorporated into your building design. Example: Subway’s branded colors are yellow and green. They use both yellow and green in their logo, and throughout their building design.
Fully capitalize on all interior surfaces by tastefully incorporating your logo or brand indicator wherever you can. I even wrap My Coffee’s customer trashcan by setting the garbage pale inside a richly finished wood cabinet with a provocative portion of my brand indicator carved inside the siding. Keep your branded surfaces - particularly windows and tables - clear of clutter. This allows a dominant display of your logo or brand indicator.
Your branded surfaces can consist of: storefront glass, tables, chairs, trashcans, floors, ceiling, service counters and bathroom floor/walls/ceiling. Even open your eyes to the fact that your employees’ uniforms are branding surface opportunities. An inventive and seamless application of branded surfaces is seldom understood or acted upon in the specialty coffee industry. For example, engraving your company logo or brand indicator in your tables or chairs is a great way to create an established look through a branded surface.
Your customers may encounter many sounds from your brand, from the sound of your beverage preparation equipment and music, to your baristas chattering back and forth. Your choice of music should be dictated by your demographics and the time of the day. You should at least have two day parts for your music selection. Your first day part should start with the morning shift, which should be a faster tempo than the rest of the day. The second should be the afternoon, which should be a mild tempo, in hopes of getting your customers to linger longer. You may choose to add a third day part with a mood-setting evening sound. Imagine a great movie without a great soundtrack. Now imagine your coffee house as a theatrical stage for the human drama between your staff and customers.
Branded Customer Service
Your branded experience will not only be created through the design of your brand, but also through how your brand is designed to interact with your customers. Creating a branded interaction through your employees to your customers will be your branded customer service.
Most people think of customer service as a standard practice in business, which is true, but you can add your own unique touches. Branding your customer relationship marketing can be one of the biggest things that can set you apart from you competitors and one of the cheapest.
There are three key heart-touch points that you must define and train your employees to do with every precious customer:
Travis Miller began learning the basics of a successful business in his mother’s fast food franchises in Oregon. He opened his first free-standing café at the age of 20. Within eight months, he had opened two more, and began developing the UFOC to start franchising his concept. For further information, contact Travis at: +1(866) 569-5282 or firstname.lastname@example.org
You don’t want to greet your customers, you want to welcome them as new and existing friends of your brand family. Live by the Walt Disney mantra: Every customer must be genuinely welcomed within five seconds of his or her arrival. If you are with a customer, you can always welcome them with your eyes, body language or a quick personalized hello. A simple quick wave and genuine smile will let them know you have acknowledged them as an individual, opposed to a customer.
Engaging the Customer
I have found that the most comfortable way to engage interaction with a customer is to state a fact or ask a question. When stating a fact, you might say, “Beautiful day, isn’t it? Have you noticed the cherry trees are in blossom?” Most of the time a customer will reply and then you can follow it up with a question.
A tool for your baristas to use would be a fact board, where you would post at least three new conversation prompters every day you are open. You can list things, like who won the game last night, weather conditions, new movies that just came out, etc.
Dare to Get Personal
Each customer’s visit should be highly personalized way beyond knowing his or her name and drink. The real key here is personalizing a first-time customer. You should always ask every customer what their name is when they are placing their order. This will allow you to call them by their name when their order is ready. On their next visit you should be able to welcome them by their name, and associate some personal fact that makes them more than just another customer face.
By giving your employees resources. They should be empowered to create an unforgettable service for your customers.
Every negative situation is an opportunity for you to provide someone with unforgettable service! For example, I have a loyal customer that always gets a 20-oz latte with no foam. One morning she called us when she got to work to let us know there was foam on her latte. We listened to what she had to say, and we only asked one question, “Where do you work?” We remade her drink and personally delivered it to her office.
One of the simplest ways to change a negative situation is through random acts of kindness. All of your employees should know your guidelines for giving out free coffee. My Coffee guidelines for free coffee: birthday, bad experience, slow service and wearing a bad day on their face.
Make sure when giving a free drink out that it is creating an impact in someone’s day, or your marketing investment is wasted.
My mission in crafting this article has been to spark a new awareness in independent coffee house owners of the vast opportunity we all have to dramatically enhance our brand, and to create fiercely loyal customers.