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  • Writer's pictureTGW

Marketing Lessons From Coffee Shops

We should all be learning some marketing tips from places like Starbucks and Tim Horton's (or Dunkin' if you're in the States?) Neither of these places offer the best coffee and yet there are legions of people who swear by them every day, proudly showcasing their takeout cups, mugs, and tumblers with pride. The same legion of people thumb their noses at those who are similarly showcasing the other company's branded drinking vessel.

"Overpriced" "It's too watered down" "Hoighty-toighty" "It's crap" Or if you like Paul Rudd, "Large is large. In fact, tall is large and grande is Spanish for large. Venti is the only one that doesn't mean large. It's also the only one that's Italian."

While it's true, a place like Starbucks made their name by offering coffee to patrons that were uniquely theirs. I mean, try walking into any other coffee shop and say that you want a Caramel Macchiato, venti, skim, extra shot, extra hot, extra whip, with Splenda. They'd laugh you out of the shop! But as drink orders at Starbucks got more complicated, the powers that be didn't put a stop to it, they embraced it. They understood that this was the reason why people were coming to them and another similarly priced coffee chain across the street. And the fact that you had to know made up words to order there? Knowing how to order your drink at Starbucks was like joining an elite club where people who didn't know their order were muggles.

Really, what they did, was create a community. And they continuously perpetuate that feeling. While places like McDonald's offers a free cup of coffee for every 8 stamps you collect, points at Starbucks have to be collected and redeemed within a specific time frame. They want their fans to feel special and supported. But unlike an ex-CEO Mike Jeffries at Abercrombie & Fitch who said, "We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely." Starbucks will still give you a free cup of coffee on your birthday regardless if you're a fan or not.

There is so much distraction out there when it comes to marketing these days. Business these days, especially when it comes to professional services, comes down to Know, Like, and Trust. It's for this reason, that community building is becoming more important than ever. It's about understanding your fanbase, creating those legions of dedicated followers who will not only buy from you, but advocate for your brand.

So what are some things that small business owners can adopt from these coffee shops?


It doesn't matter how big your brand is. If you've got something that people around you think is cool, provide an opportunity for them to become your army of advocates. Find something that reflects your brand and your brand message. And for crying out loud, it doesn't have to be pens or sticky notes! Pretty much any product can be branded these days. If you sell security services, put your information on a flashlight. If you're a realtor, in this post-covid times, hand sanitiser might be something you want to think about. The list is endless.

Local Charities

Is proximity important to you? Look at how you can support some local charities. Kids teams and your place of worship come to mind. Let them know that they are important to you. Don't make it about advertising or publicity, that will happen organically. It's not about being performative. It's about embracing the community.


Just like Starbucks, you don't have to cater to everyone, everywhere, at all times. Take a look at your friends. There are those within your sphere of influence that you might speak to on a very regular basis. Then there are those who you might speak with occasionally, but still with some regularity. And then you've got people who you might only see at large gatherings. It's not like you're going to be unkind to those, or even care less about those people, but because of different priorities and schedules, the opportunity just might not be there. But you'll still reach out to them from time to time right?

Special Treatment

And for those who do are your die-hard fans, don't forget to do something special for them. They might only make up 20% of your clients, but they likely make up for 80% of your business. So give them a little something extra, make them feel special. They might come in the form of discounts, gifts, or events; anything that shows them that they are important to you. Give them a behind the scenes look, the name of the game is to create opportunities to allow for your VIPs to feel that they're part of that rarified space that is your inner circle.

The bottom line, look for ways to build your community and fire up your advocates. Especially these days, when there's so much more noise than there ever was, it's ever more important for you to embrace your fans to help your brand shine.



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