How to Start a Coffee Brand
So you want to start a coffee brand—welcome to the world of coffee entrepreneurs! We are a world of eccentric and wonderful people who are all convinced that the struggle and challenges of owning our own businesses are worthwhile, because we love coffee and we love coffee people.
If you want to sell coffee, you need a coffee brand. Now, this brand can be simple or it can be complex—but you will only succeed with your new coffee business if you intentionally create your brand and perform outreach in a cohesive way. Luckily the process isn’t too complex, and you can differentiate yourself simply by working to present your coffees well to your ideal customers.
I would argue that business success comes from intentionally fulfilling your promises (both spoken and implied) to your customers, over and over and over. It’s that simple. However, I would guess that if you think about any successful business, you can identify the promises they are making and keeping. In order to fulfill your promises, you need to know what you’re promising, and in order to do that, you must know who you are as a business.
Who Are You?
I always argue that if you do it well, marketing—creating a brand and using targeted outreach to connect with your ideal customers—is a true expression of who you are as a business owner and the aspects you choose to share; thus, it is one of the most authentic things you can do as a human. To actively engage people, you need to be clear on who you are and how that is conveyed in the business.
For example: any brand I lead will have to be an earnest, story-driven, ethical one. My coffee importing company, Catalyst Trade, doesn’t spend much on branding or marketing, but we are proud to have an intensely connected group of coffee roasters who buy our traceable Ethiopian coffees because of our ethical and responsible focus. Plus, the coffees are great!
It’s imperative to take the time to really tap into your vision as a business owner and choose how you want to convey that through your brand.
Who Do You Want to Reach?
Again, many new coffee business owners overlook that they are going to be (hopefully) selling their product to actual people with likes and dislikes, and that these people may be overwhelmed so they will default to the most clear branding. Trying to sell to everyone is the best way to sell to no one. You will treat your brand differently if you’re reaching art students than if you’re marketing to modern offices. Make sure that the demographic you are aiming at actually has the money to buy your coffee, then really dig in to learn what they look for when purchasing anything. Those learnings will apply to your coffee. You will want to find a sweet spot where the identity of your brand dovetails with your customers’. Onyx Coffee Lab is a fantastic example; so is Starbucks. Look at your competitors, evaluate who they are reaching and how well they are doing it, and use that information to inform your own approach.
What You Will Need
- Basic Branding. Even if you do it yourself on Canva.com or have your artist nephew try his hand, you need a basic visual brand. This should include a logo, chosen colors and fonts, and maybe some supplementary graphics. You can spend $500 on this or you can spend $20,000, depending on the direction you take. I always lean toward just getting something and running with it, improving later once the business is making money, but this is personal preference. The important thing is to make sure your branding continues to deliver on your promises, identity, and customer fit.
- Basic Copy. So many business owners overlook how the words on their websites, social media profiles, emails, and printed collateral (including coffee bags) impact the customer perception. You don’t have to hire a pro copywriter to do this for you, but definitely make sure that the spirit of your brand is conveyed in every location and that you have someone read it all to catch typos.
- A Website. It’s (nearly) 2021: you need a website. You can have a simple landing page that points people to your email list or you can have e-commerce, but you have to have a website where people can find you. Squarespace and WordPress are both great options for easy DIY sites. WooCommerce and Shopify are both very common options for selling your coffee through your website.
- A Decision About Social Media. You don’t have to use social media for your business, but you do need ways to reach your customers. And if you do use social media, you need to really weigh the benefits vs. the effort (ROI) because many social networks, like Twitter, are not the best use of time for most coffee businesses. Instagram is tough to convert, while Facebook ads can be successful with certain demographics. So do your research and don’t use social media just because you have to.
- An Email List. Don’t neglect this! Your email list is one of the only customer channels that you can own, where your customers have chosen to have you in their lives, and can have very high sales conversion. I cover this in a lot more detail during my Coffee Marketing Masterclass, but like most things, it’s simple: show up in their inboxes and be interesting.
- A Plan for Outreach. Once you have all these pieces in place, you will need to create a reasonable plan to reach your customers. This should look different for every business and should be tailored to your customers, whether it is dropping off samples at offices or starting a partnership with a local food cart to refer customers to each other. The point is to have a plan, work it, and then observe and adjust as needed.
Starting a new coffee brand isn’t exactly easy, but it is entirely doable. I hope that you have an enormous amount of success!