The Switch: At a coffee shop, drinking tea
The Switch, a monthly MarkLives column by Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) I must be one of the few people I know who doesn’t enjoy the taste of coffee but loves hanging out in coffee shops. Give me tea any day and I’m a happy man. One of my daily treats is a cup of English tea at 4 in the afternoon. For the life of me I can’t remember the moment I traded a coffee-maker for a tea-pot but I did make that switch and I haven’t looked back since. Perhaps it has something to do with my Scottish name and the fact that I studied at an English university in Grahamstown (even if many people associate that with malt and barley rather than tea leaves). But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
I probably spend more time in coffee shops than in mainstream restaurants. More often than not the coffee shop down the road doubles as my office and meeting room. But how is it that one who doesn’t love coffee beans can love their effect? And how is it that coffee shop owners have managed to appeal to coffee lovers without alienating tea lovers and juice lovers?
It is the ambience they have perfected over time that has given coffee shops such wide appeal. I love the ambience so much that I don’t mind the strong smell of coffee. In fact, it adds to the experience. The auditory and olfactory experience come together to stimulate a gullible part of my brain that believes that the smell of coffee beans is the best part of the fragrance wheel.
Odd isn’t it? Not really. There’s method to this madness. It’s called appealing to your primary market without alienating your secondary market. We’ve all received briefs that ask us to win the hearts of a brand’s secondary market without putting off its primary market. More bluntly, please endear my brand to LSM B without pissing off LSM A. This leaves many agencies scratching their heads and wondering how on earth do they keep Petra happy without making Phumzile feel left out. Well, perhaps we can learn something from coffee shops that are a hit with non-coffee drinkers.
What keeps me going back to coffee shops? It’s the experience. It’s the sum total of a multi-sensory experience combined with the ambience, that makes the coffee shop a universally appealing hang out. From the revolving cake display, to the unpretentious menu on a country-style chalk board. From the frenetic pace of passionate baristas to the jazzy background tunes. From the orchestra of coffee-inspired conversations and believe it or not, to the smell of coffee beans.
The raison-d’etre of a coffee shop is not to sell coffee but to provide an experience that is created around conversations. This is based on a very simple but powerful insight. The best time to discuss anything is over a cup of coffee. So for brands that want to appeal to LSM A without alienating LSM B, my message is don’t focus on the coffee but rather focus on the experience and the rituals that are made possible by the coffee.
If washing powder is what you are selling, focus on the passion points that delegating to an automatic washing powder allows you to enjoy and not how efficacious the detergent is. But ensure that those passion points are universally admired and not LSM specific.
And if beer is what you are selling, focus on the emotions that surround the experience and not the unique malt or the special brewing process. A depiction of camaraderie looks the same in any language. Think of the famous Budweiser “what’s up” TV ad with a bunch of guys chilling and not saying much. That’s a deep masculine connection in any language.
What women do in front of the mirror is the same in any bathroom or bedroom around the world. What kids respond favourably to is the same whether they sleep on a concrete floor on in a cot. When you are selling investment products it’s important to remember that not every retired person dreams of travelling around the world, but that all people dream of retiring debt-free, in a beautiful home, being financially independent and having the means to spoil their grandchildren. Now that’s universal.
What all these analogies have in common is their focus on creating a broadly admired experience. What they deliberately stay away from is category passport factors as well as shallow insights that have narrow consumer resonance.
Coca-Cola is a brilliant example of a brand that has managed to bring mankind together by focusing on what unites the human race. Coke’s belief is that what unites us is more important that what divides us. So instead of focusing their communication on Coke’s unique taste, they focus on the world’s shared definition of happiness. From Calcutta to Cape Town, from Mynmar to Miami, Coke is able to reflect a face of happiness that we all aspire to and identify with.
Every brand can create an ambience for consumers that cuts across different demographics and psychographics. It is ambience that accentuates brand positives and make brand negatives palatable. If a tea lover can learn to enjoy the smell of coffee without switching to coffee then brands must learn to appeal to Petra without alienating Phumzile. They just need to find a universal sweet spot (read insight) and then create an ambience that cuts across all hopes and aspirations.
Alistair Mokoena (@AlistairMokoena) is a Unilever-trained Chartered Marketer with lots of blue-chip marketing experience. He’s currently MD of Draftfcb Joburg. Mokoena contributes the monthly “The Switch” column to MarkLives.com.