The thing with specialty coffee brands is that every component of the process is, well, special. And to tell that brand narrative you need an adaptable visual identity.
What’s so Special about Coffee?
Specialty Coffee Farmers & Developers spend years perfecting their crop and their processing methods. Roasters mix art and science with experience to truly represent all that there is inside the beans they roast. And these third wave café owners keep an eye on the details that would best deliver the ambiance, experience and appreciation of drinking in all that goes into a single cup of coffee.
Knowledge, transparency, methodology, technique and calculations are mingled into the everyday conversations between those in the brand. What brewing method do you use? or How were the beans processed? aren’t topics engaged upon by only the elite but is a standard mode of conversation.
When a brand has a high value for knowledge at its base, an ever increasing sense of appreciation is its fruit. But how do you translate this into a brand? These are some of the highest quality components built into great specialty coffee brands.
1. How Can Your Coffee Business Have an Adaptable Brand?
This is something which all brands need. Your logo and visuals should be able to play well in the clean & curated atmosphere modern coffee shops are known for, but it also shouldn’t look out of place in the rugged landscapes where coffee is grown.
But for coffee brands there is an added hurdle. Specialty coffee is just as much about the brewing as it is the sourcing. Brands need to be adaptable to telling the stories of all the people involved. From farmers to roaster, the hands that are involved in every cup of special brew has a different style and atmosphere. When developing your mark you should consider that it has a strong enough weight that won’t get lost in the field but is still clean and minimal enough to look comfortable in a modern café.
2. How your Coffee Company can tell Information Led Stories
A strong brand narrative is one of your most valuable assets in marketing. What it is you do? How it’s different from the rest? And why that is important? Are the questions that will shape your narrative.
The difference between specialty coffee drinkers and everyone else who just simply likes their piping hot cup of joe is knowledge. Your customers value the brew because they have begun to understand and appreciate sourcing techniques, the impacts of trade on a community and the taste you can extract from quality coffee. There are two ways to continue engaging your customers on this level:
(A) Traditional Ways of Teaching
– “How to” posts and videos are great ways to start connecting with your audience. Regardless of what step you are involved in whether it’s sourcing or pouring, your audience can benefit from learning what brew technique to use or even how to do it. How to: v60, Chemex, or aeropress will all be relevant information for your average customer and will allow you to show expertise in your field, thus making you of a higher value for them.
(B) Teaching Through Brand Narrative
The best way to teach someone is by doing it together as you do it. This is where social media comes in. Share the parts of your story which overlap with your customers desire for knowledge.
If your customers are interested in sourcing, show them the farmers involved and what goes into the process. Tell them about the farmers: What impact has it had on them as families? As men or women? What does it do for their livelihood? If you are involved in applying innovative techniques, then tell the story of how you went from a washed process to a natural process to bring out those flavor notes and thus create a higher quality bean. Don’t overload them with information but just focus on taking them a step further in their understand and appreciation of coffee.
Your not trying to get them to know everything about coffee but supply them with information led stories which will answer some of their questions and build value into your brand.
3. A Good Coffee Brand is about Appreciation, not Elitism
Here is the real dark side of specialty coffee. It can create elitism rather than conversation. Now this isn’t a problem native to just coffee drinkers but everywhere. Knowledge can puff up just about anybody but we increasingly see it in the coffee industry. Coffee snobs and the like put a sour-bomb in the community brew. Just be mindful of this when you interact with customers, especially those who are new to understanding coffee. Remember you’re not wanting to overload them with information, and neither are you wanting to belittle them as they ask what frappuccinos you have available. Coffee is about conversation and you’re goal as a third wave café owner is to continue the conversation.
For instance, here’s how my good friend, café owner and local roaster, tackled the issue of educating his customers. His customers are used to drinking burnt coffee with a lot of sweet and condensed milk in it. Rather than beat them over the head of the merits of good coffee and how the sweet and condensed milk hides the coffee, he made a custom drink which uses brown sugar for the sweetener and fresh milk. The reason for it? He is using a bean which has notes of intense brown sugar. As his customers try his new drink, they begin to have conversation on tasting profiles and start to understand that not all beans are created equal.
His audience is growing as he enjoys their company and conversation and is quickly becoming the coffee expert in his city.
4. How do I Create a Brand which Incorporates these things?
4. How do I Create a Brand which Incorporates these things?
• Creating Adaptive Marks. Since the brand needs to be adaptive, go for a mark which opts for a lead one solid anchor point which used fills instead of outlines. Right now there is a trend in hipster circles which goes for ultra minimalism in their logo mark. These look beautiful as they sit on a bright colored gradient background but can handle life in the real world poorly as they struggle to adapt to the busy backgrounds of a coffee harvest.
• Colors communicate. Choose a color palette which compliments your narrative. If you have a light and airy brand which used a lot of white space, a soft palette of pastels or airy tones can compliment it. If yours has a more masculine and rugged feel than rich earthy tones can work well with the overall aesthetic. But please don’t just choose neons because that’s what others are doing. A good tool to use is coolors.co to get you started.
• Sub-marks & Patterns: Your brand has to live and thrive on various social media outlets and different packaging and displays. A good visual identity will make use of sub-marks and patterns that will make sure your brand has a consistent look across all platforms.
• Educational collateral pieces. I’ve noticed that many specialty coffee shops that do well have the information of the bean clearly visible to customers. Many in fact have the information printed out on good card-stock and is part of the presentation of any single origin coffee. But this can apply to signs, wall murals and promotional materials.
• Execution is Everything. Find a good printer you can grow with. It can be hard finding the perfect printer for your business, especially for coffee bags. Hitting the balance of capabilities and price can take a while, especially if you’re trying to find someone local. If ever there is a road bump in the design process for me, it’s usually while working with the client’s printers. Some important questions you may want to know is how far to the edges can they print on the coffee bag? What materials do they use? Are they recyclable? Can they do spot/uv printing? Metallic? Do they offer die cut stickers? Wherever you go, just make sure you find a printer you can partner with that will allow you to tell your brand narrative.