Creative thinking fuels brand innovation

For its annual conventions, the National Coffee Association (NCA) always does a stellar job balancing its coffee-focused education sections with a selection of non-coffee industry keynote speakers, whose presentations offer insights that can be applied to any industry. This year, one such speaker was Dia Simms, CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila, who has also worked with Sean ‘Puff Daddy/P. Diddy’ Combs, among many others. Her presentation, Fueling Your Brand, highlighted what it takes to build, lead and manage successful brands.

First and foremost, Simms said brands must ‘innovate to differentiate’. “No matter the size of the organisation, you have to make time to be creative,” she explained.

When looking to innovate, Simms said a brand must consider the who, what, where, etc. For example, 60% of millennials make purchasing decisions based on a brand’s/company’s sustainable efforts so if they are the target audience, sustainability must be part of the company’s philosophy or DNA — and not just ‘talk’ or jargon.

Many brands – both specialty and mass market – are already doing it, but Simms suggested telling “a beautiful story of coffee” to connect with consumers because “people feel more supported and appreciated when you bring them along.”

Creativity really comes into play with the ‘why’ component. Why can’t restaurants offer a coffee pairing with desserts, she said, noting that eggs and bacon was a ‘breakfast combo’ that was spun in the 1920s by a marketer who represented a bacon brand.

At retail (grocery stores/mass retailers), Simms asked why coffee cannot be an endcap on the dessert aisle or near the bakery? “Take advantage of new and unexpected places to promote [or offer] coffee. Why not have wider and more coffee availability at outdoor events and spaces [concerts, sporting activities, etc.]”

To that point, as someone who attends the US Tennis Open championship every year, which has day sessions that begin in the mornings, I always wondered why no coffee brands were partnering with the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center to be the exclusive coffee brand at the facility, or at least during the tournament. Finally, in the late 2000s, Turin, Italy-based Lavazza Coffee signed partnership agreements with all four tennis Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open) and remains (at least pre-Covid) the official coffee brand.

Simms stressed that innovation is very different from improvement. “Netflix didn’t come from Blockbuster. Look at other industries to see what can drive innovation and differentiation in coffee. When it comes to innovation, fortune favours the bold.”

Regarding social media, Simms shared that it is less important about how many people are following you, rather, “more important is the level of engagement of those who are following you.” She added that with social media, live action content does much better [Instagram].

However, Simms advised that it is better to do one simple thing well than take on too much. “You do not want to dilute the brand identity. Do not betray core of who you are. You don’t want to lose loyal customers, but are you showing up in right places to attract new customers? Stay true to the core of the brand!

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