Coffee Aisle Lessons from the Underwear Legend

Living in England, a friend advised me “you have to buy new underwear at Marks & Spencer. Everybody buys their underwear at Marks & Spencer.” Where I came from it was uncommon to buy underwear at the same place you shopped for your fruits and vegetables, but with a recommendation like that, where do you think I bought my next underwear?

Marks & Spencer gained fame for its underwear by standing out for its pure and simple quality. When I discovered it 20 years ago, most store brand generics were packaged in black-and-white, and known as bargain alternatives to the national brands, with quality being an accepted sacrifice. But by offering the customer a value proposition that included top quality, M & S was already a private brand innovator.

Marks & Spencer built long term credibility for its quality underwear and in the process built a base not of consumers, but of fans, a product that we wouldn’t expect to capture a high level of customer loyalty.

Take Advantage of Disloyalty

Whereas 100% of shoppers buy underwear, nearly the same percent of Americans drink coffee: 85%. (NCA 2010). Surprisingly, 63% of those buyers are NOT brand loyal (Mintel 2009). As follows, there is ample opportunity for store brands to get that first trial purchase. So the question is not simply how to create another promotion to stimulate one sale, but rather how to turn those first time purchasers into fans: buyers who shop your brand no matter the price because they know they will get great value every week of the year.

The bad news? 70% of buying decisions are made in-store (POPAI Consumer Buying Habits Study)! So the goal is to get our shopper to think about her specialty coffee as a destination item, wherein the buy decision is ideally made pre-store (brand), not in-store (price). I call it “going beyond the promotional cycle.”  Multi-million dollar ad campaigns with Marky Mark are not necessary. In the coffee aisle, what will bring people back to your store is A) surprising quality that far exceeds the quality of the leading national brands, and B) a memorable brand interaction or experience.

When your customer leaves the coffee aisle, what compels her to tell their friends they “have” to buy your coffee brand? What will they find there that is different from the national brands, and uniquely special to her?

1 - Trusted Quality

Quality no longer can lead a conversation about specialty coffee, it must be a given. And a regular sampling program is a surefire way to demonstrate it, and to delight your consumers. Trader Joe’s always has an airpot of brew with sample cups available to show off their goods. If this isn’t possible, routine sample programs during high volume times of day (both in, and out of the coffee aisle) will always raise awareness, and generate conversation. But, don’t stop there. Why not create an event of it? Create a Saturday Sampling, where a different coffee is paired with a different specialty item in the store. Don’t just let the sampling die as your customers walk to the next aisle. Give your customers a way to come back for it, and gain trust in your offering. One idea is to provide incentives for customers to explore your exotic lineup. If they liked their first coffee, have them try the fresh lot of Guatemala with a 30% off coupon. You lock them into your brand as the exploration goes from there.

2 - A Memorable Experience

News Flash: Putting 12 facings on the shelf and “calling it a day” is not memorable.  What we want to achieve is not simply more brand interaction, but a memorable interaction – one that creates a fan!

One promotion that can create a memorable brand experience is “Pour Over Brewing.”  Your store can be the first in the neighborhood to carry and inform your shoppers about an inexpensive and ingenious way to brew coffee by the cup. It is the preferred brewing method for the snobbiest coffee connoisseurs, and it is also the most economical.  Recently reborn in indie coffeehouses across the country, pour over single cup brew is now the rage.

To facilitate a pour over promotion, bundle Melitta plastic pour over cones, paper filters, and twelve ounces of your most prized coffee for $9.99. You could also demonstrate single cup brewing on a Saturday morning while promoting the same bundle. The benefits of pour over brewing:

  • Exact per-cup dosing, with no wasted coffee so you get more brews per 12 oz bag
  • No expensive equipment required - simply boil water!
  • Active brewing (vs. passive brewing) engages shoppers about specialty coffee
  • Superior cup quality than automatic brewers

Help Fans Help You

The word ‘fan’ now immediately forces us to think about Facebook. And rightfully so. This is where brand advocacy happens in real time. With high quality coffee and memorable brand experiences in play, put up a simple facebook page: You don’t need ten million fans to encourage yours to share their coffee stories, and to continue to engage them with new products announcements, events and special offers targeted specifically toward for this loyal group.

And before you know it, your brand will be a legend in the coffee aisle.


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