April 28, 2016

Marketing Specialty: Why Is Coffee Education Boring?


Coffee education is boring. Learning the difference between a dry processed and a wet processeed bean? Boring. Shot times and the effects on coffee? Boring. Coffee-growing regions? Boring.  

Oh, sure, you’re stuttering away, red in the face, furious at these suggestions. These are immensely interesting, you want to shout. And, of course, they are – to you.

But for other people, the non-geeks of coffee, the ones who get a latte just because they want some caffeine, this information is boring.

However, there are ways that we can make learning about coffee more interesting. For my master’s in Marketing, I conducted in-depth research into the most effective education methods. Read on to discover what I found…

Lee este artículo en español Marketing: ¿Por Qué Aprender Sobre Café Es Aburrido?

v60 brew bar made out of bricks

Boring? Absolutely not! But how do we show this to our customers? Credit: @smedleyshots

Why Is Coffee Education Boring?

The problem isn’t so much that coffee is boring, but rather that people don’t have time. They’re busy, they have things to do – and one of those things isn’t learning about coffee.

You see, coffee is something marketers describe as a low-involvement product. This means it’s a commodity purchased with little consideration, normally as part of a habitual practice. The average consumer doesn’t involve themselves in questioning why they buy a particular brand or why their coffee tastes the way it does – they just buy it, the same as they do every other time. In other words: No thinking, please! Just hand me my coffee.

SEE ALSO: What Should You Do If a Customer Wants Bad Coffee?

So knowing that our customers are busy, and knowing that they don’t think (or want to think) about their purchase, how do we give them information about specialty coffee? To answer that, we need some data.

inside a coffee shop

Do your customers have time to read your signs? Maybe… maybe not. Credit: @Ace_Coffee

Analysing the 3 Common Coffee Education Channels

My objective was to critically analyse the different marketing channels used inside the café, at the point of service, to discover which ones best captured consumers’ attention. My methodology was as follows:

  1. I conducted in-depth interviews with specialty café owners across the south of England to discover what they considered to be the best in-store channels. The results were then categorised as point of sale; factual stories; and short, sharp facts.
  2. Based on the results from these interviews, I created a questionnaire for consumers. It was taken by members of the public and the results were analysed to indicate how customers react to the various channels.

The results were the subject of proper analysis and discussion in my thesis, but for this article I’ve whittled them down to short, sharp facts for you.

information about direct trade

Combining POS with short, sharp facts. Credit:  @ucfnate

1. Point of Sale (POS)

Point of sale refers to things such as promotional materials at the counter or within the store. The customer could potentially interact with them while purchasing an item.

However, our results found customers tended not to engage at the point of sale. They typically either made a quick coffee purchase and so did not engage, or paid little attention to the materials and so were unable to engage.

In other words, your signs may be pretty but they’re probably not effective.

drink menu on black board

Giving information at the POS. Does your consumer have the time or the inclination to engage? Credit:  @ucfnate

2. Factual Stories

When a knowledgeable member of staff tells a customer a factual story about the product, it enables the communication of in-depth information. It’s a resource-heavy approach, requiring both time and an informed team with good social skills. Of course, baristas tend to have good social skills – but this is more than just smiling at the customer. This is about reading how interested they are in the topic of conversation.

Yet, interestingly, the café owners that were interviewed believed this to be both the most informative channel and the one most likely to influence consumers. So were they correct?

busy coffee shop

In a busy coffee shop, many consumers just want to grab their coffee and go. Credit: @ucfnate

Well, yes and no. The data found factual stories had a high consumer assimilation score, proving it to be a powerful channel. In other words, consumers learned a lot. However, this coincided with a low customer engagement score, meaning that not all customers were interested in learning.

What’s more, its success was critically dependent on who tells the story. It’s vital the information comes from a passionate team member, otherwise the consumer won’t engage. Basically, don’t force your baristas to tell auto-robotic stories about coffee origins.

So to summarise, this marketing channel can have great impact yet it’s both inconsistent and difficult to execute. Is it worth it? Well, that’s your decision.

coffee shop interior

The rare and perfect moment for an educated member of staff to engage with interested customers. Credit: @smedleyshots

3. Short, Sharp Facts

These allow consumers to quickly  digest information without interruption. The business owners interviewed often highlighted the value of these, given consumers’ quick purchases. Yet they were not without their doubts – particularly when it came to whether or not the consumers actually assimilated the information. Were customers learning about coffee, or was the message disapparating? What was the best way to use short, sharp facts to help them remember information?

However, when it came to the consumers’ responses in the questionnaire, short, sharp facts was revealed to be the highest-scoring channel. The key to its success was the way in which the facts were aimed at the customer, meaning business owners were right to be concerned. As of such, our study tested this further and found that the most effective channel was printing facts onto to-go cups. This allowed a customer to take the message away with them, providing a 100% marketing delivery score.

coffee to go cup short sharp facts

The blank canvas of the to-go cup is the perfect opportunity. Credit: @Ace_Coffee

Short, Sharp Facts: A Trojan Horse

We want consumers to learn about coffee. And this isn’t just about us wanting to force people to listen to us – it’s about effectively converting consumers into informed coffee-drinkers, providing a base for them to explore and carve out their own coffee journey. It’s about spreading information about origin. And it’s about gaining passionate, repeat customers who value good coffee.

sorting through coffee cherries

It’s our job to convey the richness of the coffee bean’s story to the consumer. Credit: @ucfnate

In order to make consumers passionate about coffee, without boring or tiring them, we have to sneak in the added information. We have to help them learn without it feeling like a chore. And so we have to use a Trojan horse – a Trojan horse such as a to-go cup or a friendly barista.

We do this in the hope that the habitual, auto-pilot coffee run will turn into an excited, considered, and enjoyed experience – the kind of experience that us coffee nerds thrive on.  

I hope this condensed 16,000-word thesis will help all café owners out there build their own Trojan horse. Together we can sneak inside the walls of indifference, past the barriers of ten-minutes-until-my-meeting and is-that-the-time-already?, so that one day the consumer returns and asks, “Where is this coffee from?”

Perfect Daily Grind