Reap What Thou Hast Roasted

Is your coffee roasting brand all it can be?

Independent coffee roasting is the craft brewing of 2018. All over the country, companies are popping up featuring single origin, responsibly sourced, custom roasted coffee. This is part of an ongoing trend, a veritable #foodrenaissance that is moving us away from mass produced products and back to hand-crafted, artisanal food. This is a reaction to the corporate takeover of products that used to be made on a smaller scale, with a greater attention to detail and, let’s face it, better quality.
Last year, I wrote about craft breweries and the types of brands they are building After doing an audit of independent coffee roasters in various parts of the country, I wanted to share some of my observations about the trends that I’m seeing in the way coffee roasters are marketing and branding themselves.
I’ll caveat these points in a couple of ways. This is by no means an exhaustive or scientific analysis. I’m generalizing on things that I’m seeing, but I am admittedly not looking at every little detail. Each roaster, and for that matter each market, has it’s own characteristics, needs, audiences, etc. Ultimately, our goal is to help make your coffee roasting brand, and your business, the best that it can be.
Here are the top 4 things we see coffee roaster brands doing wrong (and how to fix them).

They all say the same thing.

In a world where you are the only or one of the only people doing what you do, this isn’t such a problem. But there are so many people doing coffee roasting that you really need to differentiate yourself. The messages most roasters are saying essentially boil down to the following: 1) We really care about coffee, 2) We carefully select the best beans (often from family farms, fair trade sources, or single origins), 3) We roast (daily) each bean to perfectly accentuate its unique qualities/preserve the nature of the coffee, 4) We take coffee very seriously/no-nonsense/no gimmicks, 5) Our specially roasted beans make the best cup of coffee.
First, most of these things are to be expected. I assume you really care about coffee and take it seriously, otherwise why the roasting business? I also assume you are roasting daily – you don’t have to tell me that. Second, I should think part of the point of the specialty roasting operation is that you carefully select your raw ingredients and have a special technique for bringing out the character. And finally, you can’t all make the best cup of coffee, which is subjective anyway, and certainly not unique.

How to fix this problem: dig deep down and figure out what makes you unique. Check out other coffee roasters. Sample their products. You’re a coffee expert, so you should be able to discern the difference between what they are doing and what you are doing. And think about this – customer loyalty really comes from understanding why you do what you do rather than the end result. Talk about your purpose and what is driving your passion.

They bury their story.

Talking about why you roast coffee, what your purpose is, why you get out of bed in the morning, is a powerful way to attract customers and create passion for your product. For most people, at the end of the day, they are getting a damn good cup of coffee. But what separates your damn good cup of coffee from the other 10 guys’ damn good cups of coffee is your story. Most of the roasters we surveyed hide that story deep down in their website, or worse, don’t tell it well or AT ALL.
How to fix this problem: Make your unique story, your unique purpose, your why, at the center of your brand. It should be the first thing a customer sees, and it should permeate EVERYTHING YOU DO.

They all look the same.

There is definitely a “look” that comes with a coffee shop/coffee roaster, both online and on site. But when reviewing a wide array of roasters, it all becomes a sea of sameness. It’s all crafty looking graphics and fonts, sexy pictures of coffee, latte art, beans, espresso machines, and minimalist design (often featuring white on black). And when the message is the same and the look is the same, most consumers are going to assume the coffee is the same.
How to fix this problem: This is tricky, because while you want to appear a part of a certain genre of design, you also need to stand out. I’m afraid your best option here is to look to a professional – but you can’t go in blind. Step one is to do your own survey of roasters, at least the ones in your city. What do they look like? Insist that your designer does the same. Find something to stand apart from the pack. It will give your customers a hint that what you’re serving isn’t like the other guys.

Website designs are all wrong.

A really shocking similarity I found with coffee roasters is the near universally bad websites. Most if not all completely lacked usability or any consideration, it seems, for the audience. Most roasters seem to be one part café and one part wholesaler. Those two audiences need distinctly different things, and yet there was little sense of bifurcation. Contact information was hard to find, site locations were hard to find, and there was a decided lack of information being shared.
How to fix this problem: When designing the content strategy on your site, think about the user. What is the information they need to see and in what order. If you are providing wholesale coffee, allow those users to quickly shift to your wholesale side – but don’t force a log in before any information is shared. Provide some details for potential wholesale partners up front (think about your sales funnel as well). If you have a café as a part of your setup, lead those users to that part of your site. This is another place where professionals can really help. Website design needs to be done in a strategic fashion with a lot of thought about what your site is there to accomplish.
Most coffee roasters are fairly small operations. That’s by design – you have size limitations when you’re making a truly hand-crafted product. But it is also an industry that can be entered into with a relatively small investment. A decent-sized commercial roasting machine can be purchased for $5-10k, so with a good business plan someone with a $25k investment could start a commercial roasting operation out of their garage. This adds to the noise in the industry by flooding the market with too many players. What happens in industries like this is that the folks that are doing it right make a profit and survive – and the rest fail and close up shop.
The point is, if you make your brand all it can be, you have a better chance of being one of the people who are still around in 10 years.

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