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💫 Why Build a Strong Brand?

Updated: Mar 11

Howdy, this is Coffee Shop Keys, the newsletter that's like a quad shot of espresso straight into your business. Take it easy, Tom


Here's what's in store for today:


What is a strong brand?

Brands are everywhere, what is a strong brand? Often, I'll see business owners mistake a logo and good service for a "brand." A clever name and cute logo don't make a brand. A brand is ultimately trust. It shows the customer that this product or service meets certain expectations or is for certain people. And those people recognize the brands they love and trust them. The expectations that brands convey can be in: service, quality, trendiness, price, and much more. Whatever those expectations the brand chooses to focus on, they need to go hard. Have strongly held convictions that they are vocal about. Will it be attractive to everyone? No. But brands home in on their target audience and build solid brand loyalty with them. Others will tag along in the by-catch and some people may even be put off by the brand, but that's how you know your brand is strong.

In the book Shoe Dog, Phil Knight writes about his founding of Nike. In the early days, they were solely (mind the pun) focused on track runners. Eventually, other athletes came to know and respect the brand so they started wearing Nikes, too. Fast forward to today where you might see sneaker heads, retirees mall-walking, or teens walking to class in Nikes. Their brand makes you feel like an athlete. It's not for everyone, but the select few. Those who align with us, LOVE us. And that creates stickiness for your customers.

People like us do things like this

In behavioral psychology, there's a cognitive bias called "in-group favoritism" that means we have a pattern of favoring people like us (in-group) over others. (By the way, I use this Chrome extension to remind me of cognitive biases every day)

We all subconsciously know and do this. We form our identity around these in-groups, whether that be career choice, political affiliations, favorite sports team, hobby, or whatever.

Strong brands often use this bias to shape their brand. Identifying, or identifying with, a group and then aligning the message or company values with the group.

When we see people like us doing things, such as purchasing a certain product, we identify with them and align our behaviors. We then purchase the same things, too.

A quick example: Have you ever seen groups of teenagers together? Yeah, probably.

Teenagers are highly susceptible to this bias because of their desire to "fit in."

They walk by with their Stanley thermoses, Hoka shoes, and iPhones.

So, whether that group is teenage boys or girls, chances are that many, if not all, of them will be wearing the virtually the same clothes. Trends aside, these teenagers want to fit in with their peers, so they actively choose a visual cue that says "I'm in this group with these people."


Why build a strong brand

Only the strong survive Seriously, having a strong brand will help your business survive. Too many people build a company with a brand they try to make attractive to everyone. And we're all familiar with the age-old maxim, "If you try to please everyone, you'll end up pleasing no one." A mediocre, beige brand doesn't inspire brand love or brand loyalty. Don't try to appeal to everyone. Find a target audience and focus on them. "But won't that exclude a lot of people?" Well, yes and no. Sure, some people will be turned off and choose a different option and others won't really care that much and will choose your brand anyway. Having a strong brand doesn't limit your addressable market to only your target audience – others will join in, too. They might not be in the in-group you align with, but they like, associate, or at least tolerate, the group. On the chopping block Without a strong brand, customers will evaluate your business and product on the dimensions of: quality, price, convenience, and customer service. Now, don't get me wrong – you should be wow-ing them on all of those already. But when another cafe opens up down the block that delivers the same level of quality? Well, now your coffee shop isn't the only option and it's not even the newest or most exciting one either. So, how do you compete? Brand This is where brand loyalty will serve you well. Creating affinity with your customers that goes beyond what they feel about the product, it's what they feel about the whole business.


Examples of Strong Brands

Liquid Death is one of the best examples of brand because they are selling one of the most commoditized products on earth: water.

When all the other water brands are about being refreshing, with clear bottles, and starkly contrasting other canned beverages, Liquid Death takes the opposite approach.

The creators of this brand realized that other water brands are homogenous, creating an opportunity for a newcomer.

Additionally, the audience they set out to serve were people at bars and music venues. Folks who didn't want to imbibe in an alcoholic beverage, but didn't want to feel self-conscious about what they hold while hydrating.

Their brand is VERY heavy metal. They sell a t-shirt that reads "Hydrate or Die" with a skeleton on it. They could've gone a simpler route with just a cool-looking can, but they chose to go all-in on the "metal" branding. "Murder Your Thirst" is their slogan. A common logo is the melting skull.

Everywhere they could, they aligned with their brand identity.

Thus, Liquid Death is water that looks just as cool as the craft beer that everyone else is drinking at the music festival.

You've no doubt heard of this coffee brand. Their branding is VERY strong and even say on the homepage of their website: For Veterans, By Veterans

This brand is another example of seeing where the industry is and then taking a hard left turn.

Most specialty coffee brands were being built in California or the Pacific Northwest, areas that are fairly liberal. Those brands were fun, hip, and creative, and often very outspoken about their left-leaning company beliefs.

Again, this created an opportunity for a brand to take the opposite approach. And Black Rifle Coffee co. stepped right up to the plate.

Just like how Liquid Death immediately contrasts itself from the branding of other brands by using "death" in the name, Black Rifle Coffee Co. puts "Rifle" front and center in the name and logo.

Who drinks coffee? about 73% of the US population. Which means that there are many conservatives who want great coffee without the left-leaning brand identity.

For veterans, being in the military is a massive part of their personal identity. A brand that connects with that can create a very longtime customer.

Example 3. Patagonia

To depart from examples in the beverage industry, Patagonia is the well-renown outdoor apparel brand.

What makes their brand unique?

At every turn, they stay true to their mission of taking care of the earth.

Looking at their homepage, they have a menu bar item marked "Activism," there's a banner claiming that earth is now their only shareholder, and the hero video has a person driving out in nature.

Go visit the website of one of their competitors and the hero image will be someone wearing the brand's apparel. But Patagonia knows that their apparel is simply a means to an end. Getting outside and enjoying nature is the true destination.

There are myriad examples from Patagonia where they've outright eschewed profits to remain true to their environmental mission. E.g. They ran a Black Friday (typically any brand's most profitable day of the year) ad urging customers NOT to buy their jackets if they didn't need a new one. In fact, they will repair your Patagonia clothing for no charge. In recent years, they've closed operations on Black Friday, recommending employees and customers to enjoy the outdoors.

And every time they choose their mission over profits, their customers fall even more deeply in love with them and turns out to be a big business success.

So, the question is:

What will your brand look like?

How will it set itself apart from the competition?

What industry branding trends can you take the opposite approach to?

And how will set your brand up for undying customer loyalty?


Hey, thanks for reading.

Here are some things I hope put some pep in your step.

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