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Who's influencing the future of coffee?

For this week's newsletter, I had an interview with a business writer and marketing strategist for the coffee industry: Ashe Samuels. (Connect with her on LinkedIn and check out more of her writing here)

 

I'll pipe in a bit of my own thoughts in (Italics).



Future of Coffee Influencers


I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on coffee influencers: who are the current ones?

  Among the best-known coffee influencers are James Hoffman, Morgan Eckroth and Ethan Rode. There are quite a few more throughout Instagram and TikTok that I'm learning about.

  Concerning the most well-known ones, their target audiences lean pretty heavily toward passionate homebrewers with extra disposable income as well as baristas with career advancement on the menu. (There seems to be three distinct personas: baristas, cafe owners, and the pro-sumer home barista)


I'd say their periphery audiences are casual coffee drinkers who enjoy some entertaining recipes or funny coffee-related videos from time-to-time.

 

How do they reach that audience?

They reach their audience through consistent uploads, sponsors, and no doubt some word-of-mouth from long-time fans. If they do ads, I haven't seen them. (Influencer marketing is not really being tapped in the coffee industry)


What impact do influencers have on the coffee industry?

They're quite good at selling 'the lifestyle' -- sleek and shiny technology, a fancy kitchen, an endless well of industry knowledge. Basically, everything specialty coffee culture adores.


They have strong editing skills and on-screen charisma, making a lot of information digestible and fun at a glance. This combination is great for getting sponsor revenue or getting interested parties clicking, especially in a rapidly growing industry filled with goldfish attention spans. I'm not going to judge. My own attention span is pretty spotty lately.


  How will the next wave of influencers differ from the current?

  The next wave of influencers is going to face an interesting conundrum, because their success -- and any associated brands' success -- hinges on acknowledging the changes the coffee industry is going through.

 

I think the next wave is going to be a little less restrained and 'trendy' than previous generations. The world's been upside down for years now and that'll absolutely show up among influencers. (Maybe the next big coffee influencers will present the most accessible approach to coffee)

 

Both specialty coffee culture and mainstream coffee culture have their go-to aesthetics that I expect to be shaken up in the new wave.


Specialty coffee culture is glamorous, celebrating shiny new technology and exclusive coffee only an esteemed few can obtain (or 'appreciate'). Mainstream coffee culture is more casual and fun, from wacky frappuccino recipes to RTD cans perfect for tossing back after a workout.

  With specialty coffee regularly under fire for not living up to its promise of fair trade or organic commitments -- with Millennials and Gen Z leading the charge -- I don't know how well their go-to image will hold up. The glitz and glam is starting to ring hollow.


What does all this have to do with influencers? Well, influencers have to influence...and they won't resonate well with drinkers if they still seem stuck in 2002.


  Will they use the same channels to reach their audience?

  I think so. Video content will continue to reign supreme for a while. It's exploding as the go-to marketing channel for many industries and lifestyles, coffee included.


That said, social media, podcasts, and blogs will still have a slice of the attention pie.

 

They're not 'dead', as some clickbait gurus might say. Many people, myself included, still love them (especially podcasts when I'm cleaning or cooking and don't want to watch a video). (Take away the visuals and influencers will still have to present a personality the audience loves)


  Will they be talking about the same things?

I don't think so. Not all of them, at least. In fact, I think talking about a broader depth of coffee topics is exactly where influencers have a chance to differentiate themselves.

 

Particularly the 'scary' and 'unfun' topics.


Climate change and its impact on crops. Fair trade (or lack thereof) and its impact on farmer livelihoods. The hellscape that is a modern barista job, from low pay to toxic customers. No, these topics aren't nearly as fun as 'CAN MOUNTAIN DEW MAKE GOOD ESPRESSO? LIKE COMMENT AND SUBSCRIBE',  but coffee drinkers aren't neatly compartmentalized, faceless viewers that are only online for the memes.


  Many care about these issues. Many experience these issues themselves. Many studies today show both Millennial and Gen Z audiences are very keen on brands showcasing their efforts toward eco-friendliness, diversity, and values beyond generic 'empowerment'.


Tip-toeing around these issues -- or avoiding them entirely -- doesn't make a brand look savvy and 'positive vibes only'. It makes them look a little cowardly, because other brands (like Mayorga Coffee and Onyx Coffee Lab) are targeting these issues front and center in their marketing and their bottom line certainly hasn't suffered for it. 


There's nothing wrong with fun recipes, fashionable merch posts, or happy farm trips. But you'll have to do more than that to stand out.


For those in the coffee industry, who should we be looking to for shaping the future of the industry?

Anyone outside the box. The specialty coffee niche is starting to eat its own tail with its exclusionary culture and a farming industry that literally can't keep up with demand, among other things. (the pendulum will start swinging the other way)


For all that today's top influencers are doing well now, I don't believe the future of the industry's culture lies solely in the hands of well-coiffed coffee gurus with hyperminimalist furniture. If brands want the money of different people, they'll have to actually show those different people in their marketing campaigns and influencer partnerships.


I look forward to seeing more Deaf and HoH (hard of hearing) coffee influencers. Influencers with caffeine sensitivities, lactose intolerance, and/or diabetes. Maybe an eighty year-old or a fifth-generation farmer. The potential for some seriously unique and unforgettable contributors to coffee culture is right under these business's noses.

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