The Best Ever

It’s set back a ways in a converted little house, half-hidden in the artsy little town of Lenox, MA (in the Berkshires).

We decided to take the “road less traveled” for a recent mini-vacation in VT and upstate NY, and Lenox happened to be bisected by Route 7, a non-interstate which winds its way up from Connecticut all the way to Burlington VT, where we planned to visit Amy Fitch and her family before heading over to Lake Placid, NY.

Lenox also happened to be the stomping ground of Steve Haase, with whom I had come in contact on-line through the just-launched Influencer Project.  It seemed like a great stopping point for some coffee, and a face-to-face meeting with Steve, who was quite amenable to the idea.

Consulting my handy iPhone on the way up, I noticed that THE coffee shop in Lenox seemed to be Lenox Coffee, which had rave reviews on Yelp. Steve confirmed via e-mail that it was the prime meeting spot, so as we threaded our way through town, we spotted the unimposing little house of this non-chain, one-of-a-kind caffeine destination.

I ordered an Americano for myself and one for Sandy, my wife, who has recently become a fan of Americanos at Starbucks through my at-times benign influence. I should tell you that Sandy is not particularly ebullient when it comes to describing purchased goods. Praise is not easily given – it is earned.

Yet, SIX (6) times over the next several days, I heard her repeat that “that was the best Americano I have ever had!” And the 7th time, it was the best in the world (still waiting for the expansion into galactic superiority). I even began to feel a bit jealous – I mean, when is the last time she’d said, “you’re the best husband I’ve ever had!” multiple times in one week? But I digress…

Whatever the Lenox Coffee people did with their fresh-ground beans and their method of preparation, it got my normally-reserved wife talking. Raving, actually. In fact, it has now ascended to a blog-worthy experience.

It’s not enough to be good. You want to be remarkable. You want to make people like Sandy (and others who were on Yelp) rave about your stuff. It’s hard to fail when you’re “the best ever”!


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2009 – Links you Might Enjoy (again?)

I have a bookmark folder in my browser called Stuff. It’s where I put interesting, weird, and funny stuff to spice up various posts.

So, here’s a collection of some of that Stuff from the past year. Eleven links – because I’ve had enough Top 10 lists! Enjoy!

Since you’ll need a cup of coffee to browse through all these, we’ll start with 50 Beautifully Delicious Coffee Designs

50 Brilliant and Creative Advertisements for your Inspiration

Worst album covers of all time

YouTube – blast into space, spectacular fall to earth.

The Big Picture from – Human Landscapes

The Crisis of Credit visualized (a brilliant animation explaining the financial meltdown)

13 Fantastic and Fun Image Generators

Incredible pictures formed by thousands of soldiers

YouTube – comedian Brian Regan on Airline Stuff


60 Stunning Satellite photos of earth


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Five in the Morning 011309

Jason Falls brings us an interesting list of the Top 50 Educational blogs, with links aplenty. Nice.

Busy, busy. Jeremiah Owyang has been cranking out great content on his blog. First, reflections on his 20-day holiday from Twitter. Then, for lovers of statistics, a collection of Social Media Stats for 2009. Then, a summary of Forresters Wave Report on Social Media Platforms.

In recent days, Fast Company has highlighted some cool technology trends and products. Such as tiny pico-projectors that can fit in your hand. Or electricity without wires. And how does Sony’s new mini video cam match up against the Flip?

Is there room for anyone else besides Twitter in the micro-blogging space? Louis Gray has an interesting analysis.

Doug Karr talks coffee, and the lies of packaging. It’s what’s in the cup that matters!

————- Come on by tomorrow to find out who is guest-hosting Five in the Morning!

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Five in the Morning 121008

Lists, lists, lists. It’s that time of year – lots of Top 10s. Louis Gray has a nice summary of Top 2008 web services (and their prognosis for 2009). Meanwhile, Rick Turoczy at ReadWriteWeb sums up the Top 10 Consumer web apps of 2008 (quite diff list from Louis’). And then, of course, there’s‘s Top 10 Everything of 2008. Plan on spending some time here…

Should bloggers/social media types self-promote? Mack Collier started up this discussion. I also chimed in, as did Lisa Hoffmann. Read the posts and the comments – what do you think?

Matt Dickman with some thoughts on HR in the age of Social Media.

Not Everyone likes Coffee. Consider your audience and their tastes as you serve “your stuff” up. Good thoughts from Jon Swanson over at Levite Chronicles. (Jon – strong! Cream and a little sugar…).

The Only Important Thing is….what??? You’ll have to let Doug Meacham tell you!

PLUS – Sarah sold me on Opera – sorta. How one voice can bring you into a new genre. AND – this Spouse 2.0 concept is just bizarre. Really. Don’t do it!

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Five in the Morning 100808

I like this post, and the accompany video, on Rohit Bhargava‘s blog, about Chili’s-To-Go.

Jason Alba gives us some advice on How to Find a Job during a Recession.

The Hero’s Journey – A Metaphor for Video Storytelling. Fast Company column from the prolific and ever-interesting Director Tom.

Return on Whatever. MarketingProfs Daily Fix post, by yours truly, on the compulsion to try to calculate Return on too many things. Join the discussion in the Comments!

Crowdsourced Java. A great campaign by Adam Singer. And I want some Coffee 2.0!

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Ground Rounds – Boca Java

boca-java-logo.gifKnowing how much I enjoy trying different coffees, and following up on the recent BrandingWire project focusing on marketing coffee, my wife ordered a batch of Boca Java coffees for Father’s Day. They have recently begun advertising heavily in our area and I know she just wanted an excuse to order some. I didn’t protest!

She picked out 4 selections for me; thus far, I have tried two of them. Unlike Storyville (previously reviewed on this blog), which goes the simple route for mail order – Prologue (caffeinated) and Epilogue (decaf) – Boca gives you a wide variety of blends and roasts from which to choose.

I was immediately drawn to Sumatran Sunset, because it is positioned as a darker roast with a heartier flavor. In fact, I couldn’t wait – we were going away to Florida for a conference (ironically, only about an hour away from Boca Raton, where the company is located), so I packed the Sumatran with me for in-hotel-room brewing. Good move – this stuff is delicious. Definitely a tasty dark roast, and I’m guessing it’ll be my favorite.

b-java.jpgThe second flavor, just opened and brewed 1/2 hour ago, is Guatemalan Adventure. The packaging says that it is a medium roast with a nutty flavor…and that is exactly correct. Very nice – a little light for my taste – certainly a few rungs above anything store bought.

The packaging is visually attractive, and like Storyville, each packet has a “born-on date” to show freshness. Boca also has a commendable campaign going on, providing coffee donations to our troops overseas (closing in on 3 million cups).

If you’re looking for a wide variety of flavors and blends, you might want to give Boca Java a try!

Coffee – What’s the Storyville?

The BrandingWire team recently did a collaborative posting on branding for coffee shops. I put a focus on mail-order/web-based growth strategies.

Some of us provided links to coffee suppliers we felt embodied effective strategies and tactics; there were some interesting approaches at these sites. And one of them – Storyville – sold me. I put in an order.

s-ville-mug.jpgWhy? Well, I’m a sucker for good web design, and these people have a fabulous site. I’m also inclined to do business with companies that brand themselves well; Storyville presents a great image and message. But that isn’t enough – they also made an introductory offer that was very difficult to resist. And I didn’t resist (by the way, they highlight the introductory offer right on the landing page – great site design).

The descriptions of their beans, roasting, freshness, etc. got me “sold” on the desire level – I WANTED to try their superior product. The simplicity of choices was appealing – just Prologue (caffeinated) and Epilogue (Decaf). Nice naming strategy.

Like Gevalia, they offer a trial period of a few shipments at a reasonable price, plus a bonus (in Storyville’s case, a couple of nice, branded mugs). Then you can cancel at any time if you don’t want to continue the shipments.

So, how has the customer experience been thus far? In a word, outstanding.

First of all, the ordering process was simple and straightforward. I got a confirmation e-mail for my order. Good start.

cimg0728.jpgSecondly, the 2 packages arrived very quickly (shipping from Seattle to NJ). And I was VERY impressed with the packaging – see the accompanying photo. The 2 mugs were perfectly packed and very nice; the packet of beans was very attractive; there was also a neat little packet with a DVD and a marketing/instruction booklet. And a cover letter. Very nice boxes and print materials. Great marketing design approach.

Thirdly, the coffee smells and tastes wonderful. As one would expect.

Now, am I going to be inclined to become an ongoing customer? Regretfully, probably not – at $8.49-$9.49 per 1/2 pound bag, I just have a hard time justifying the cost/value ratio. But will Storyville benefit from my customer experience? Since I am a blogger now writing about them – probably so!

(The DVD, by the way, is pretty funny. Part of Storyville’s spiel is the conspiracy of “Big Coffee” to get people to drink coffee made from non-fresh, over-roasted beans. It’s a good marketing twist.)

Growing Coffee – a BrandingWire Challenge

This is a fictitious case study. The BrandingWire collaborative, a group of 12 branding bloggers, are all commenting together on this challenge (see the other posts at Even if the case is fictitious, I’d be surprised if one or more coffee companies don’t glean some insight from it!

The BrandingWire team has been approached by a small coffee company in mid-America. They have a few retail stores, have been in business for 8 years, and are moderately successful – reasonably profitable, no debt – operations are funded out of steady cash flow. They roast their own beans on-site (and boy, does it smell wonderful!), their retail sites are wide-open, relaxed, and kind-of country-funky. There is very strong local attachment to the company, but little recognition outside of the geographical area (it’s a family operation but the owner is committed to doing whatever it takes to create a thriving business). Their brand name is OK but certainly not anything special. They have a lame tagline (Great coffee at great prices!) and no distinctive identity pieces. The logo looks like it came out of a branding bargain bin.

They want to grow, though they’re not entirely sure what is the most profitable path…more retail? Franchising? Mail-order? Corporate coffee service? Something new and unique? They have plenty of capacity to crank out more coffee beans, and can easily add more without undue financial strain if growth really takes off.

They sense the growing competition. Starbucks, of course. McDonald’s is upscaling their coffee. Caribou Coffee is going to move in 30 minutes away. Dunkin’ Donuts may be heading in their direction. How do they distinguish themselves?

That’s the challenge for each member of the BrandingWire posse. Here are some of the ideas I’d bring to the table.

1. Most profitable potential growth with least capital risk – undoubtedly, building up mail-order sales. There is only so much profitable growth to be realized by opening more retail outlets, and it is very capital intensive. I’d go after a broader audience, along the lines of the approach of Gevalia and other suppliers.

2. Creating an approach as a “virtual supplier” provides the opportunity to create a whole new identity. I’d trade on the story of the current stores and identity, but I’d launch a new, catchy name (CoffeeWire. GetRoasted. JavaDirect. RoastedJolt…lots of possibilities) that is universal and memorable.

3. As the heart of the brand identity, there has to be both a story, and a unique differentiator. I’d advise spinning the brand story as the small-town coffee roaster that has satisfied its faithful (rabid) clientele, and now wants to bring “best coffee practices” to a wider audience (e.g., Mill Mountain Coffee in Virginia). As a differentiator, you can work the bean angle (“our mountain-grown beans are from the finest estates in northeastern Guatemala, hand-picked by nephews of Juan Valdez”), but I think that is overdone and not easy for an end-user to relate to. I’d go for the roasting process approach, which, if well-described, can be almost irresistible – who doesn’t want to try coffee that has undergone some super-secret roasting process that produces superior results? Kobrick’s Coffee Company effectively takes this approach on their website.

4. Speaking of differentiators, one of the areas that seems to me under-developed is creative packaging. Bags – whether foil or paper – of beans or grounds all seem pretty much the same. Now I’m no consumer packaging guy, so I’m not sure what ideas are best – but what about a cube or a bag that is clear? With some measurement units along the side, to make it easier to figure out how much to put in the filter for a full pot? Coffee is very powerful for the olfactory sense; why not go after the visual as well? I’m sure there have to be other creative ideas. How about something so simple as a coffee tip/factoid put in little prize package in each bag (and 1 in every 50 is a coupon for a free 1/2 pound of an exotic variety)?

5. Next, I’d look at the whole area of personalization. I can envision a couple of “sliders” in the section where you order YOUR special coffee – one slide to choose roasting (light to dark), the other to choose grind (coarse to fine, or just whole beans). For an extra charge, you can even create a personalized blend of beans, for those willing to make a year commitment of monthly shipments with a credit card. At this point, the coffee is no longer a commodity – the company becomes a unique supplier, helping the customer craft a unique identity with his “own” coffee.

6. Now, how to get traction in the marketplace…first of all, an attractive website with e-commerce capability is a must. Colorado’s Steaming Bean Coffee Co. is a good example. Beside the general navigational ease of the site, the two elements I like best are the little Cart: status link in the upper right, and the personal touch from the CEO (“Please notify me…”) in the left column. Then, I’d go after influential bloggers; find a large number of bloggers inside and outside the coffee blogging arena, and send a complimentary 1/2 pound bag. Ask for their input, either privately or publicly (on their blogs). Bloggers like coffee (by and large), and have an outsized influence. Growing a mail-order market will require cultivating recommendations by thought-leaders.

7. Finally, after all of the previous steps are in place, I’d go for a public campaign. A David vs. Goliath “we dare to take on the big guys” promotion. Have a PR consultant or group take the best coffee you make, package it in plain bags along with (say) 4 other well-known coffee brands (Starbucks, Peets, Caribou, Dunkin’ Donuts, etc.) and line up some companies – say, 10 software companies – that are willing to serve as judges. The java-drinkers get a free coffeemaker and five unmarked bags of coffee, numbered for survey ratings. They blind-rate the different brews and see who comes out on top. The entire process gets blogged, Twittered, mapped, etc. It has the element of risk, of suspense, of daring – could be a great PR stunt if done right. Especially if David comes out on top!

JavaDirect. It’s your coffee.

Those are some of my ideas. Why not hop into the comments and toss in some of yours?

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Get more high-voltage ideas at The members of this collaborative are:

    Olivier Blanchard
    Becky Carroll
    Derrick Daye
    Kevin Dugan
    Lewis Green
    Ann Handley
    Gavin Heaton
    Martin Jelsema
    Valeria Maltoni
    Drew McLellan
    Patrick Schaber
    Steve Woodruff