Few things in business are more insidious than the marketing of marketing. If you search Google for “how marketing works,” there are almost 2 billion results and most of them are marketing their answer to the question of how marketing works.” Ask Google, “What is marketing?” and you receive well over 9 billion results, including some of the most unhelpful information about marketing you’ll ever read, the definition of marketing as found in the Dictionary of Marketing Terms:

“Marketing is the process of planning and executing the conception, pricing, promotion, and distribution of ideas, goods, and services to create exchanges that satisfy individual and organizational goals.”

Unhelpful, but clever (which is, by the way, a hallmark of bad marketing). The bookstore isn’t any more helpful than Google. Dozens of books on marketing haunt the shelves of the business section and when they are not all essentially saying the same thing, they are contradicting each other. You pick up a book because you like the title. It sounds funny or academic or perceptive or reminds you of a maxim you believe is true or promises to deliver the secret insights of a famous person, living, dead, or fictitious. Maybe you just like the cover. If you find yourself standing in a bookstore staring at the marketing books and feeling dismayed and uncertain if there is any real help for you there, comfort yourself with this thought. “At least I’m not looking at marketing textbooks.”

I’m not going to recommend a marketing book or a marketing theory or approach or a particular pipeline diagram or pyramid or matrix. I only wanted to point out, make abundantly clear by overstating the case, that there is no shortage of opinion about what marketing is (or isn’t) and how to do it (or not) and determine whether it works. I don’t want to add to that pile, at least not in any general way. Like everyone else, you’ll have to form your own opinions about marketing and find the books or classes or websites or TED talks that ring true for you and frame the world in a way that makes sense to you. I will say, at the risk of sounding annoyingly sage, I believe we tend to find the teachers we need if we’re paying attention. So, go ahead and buy that marketing book just because you like the color of the cover.

Photo by Spencer Wing used under Creative Commons

So much for marketing “in general.” Let’s talk about marketing in coffee. Specifically, let’s talk about marketing in the roasting segment. Even more specifically, let’s touch on a few thoughts for the roaster who is hiring someone to help with marketing.

The wearing of all the hats does not last forever unless it’s intentional or you close shop. Your business goals as a coffee roaster might be met before the time comes to hire someone whose job is, at least in part, to focus on marketing. Or, as your business grows, you might hire many positions before you hire a marketing position because marketing is your thing. Here, I’m thinking about coffee roasters, of whatever size and for whatever reason, that have decided to hire a marketing coordinator/director/manager/person.


Inside Outside

I know what you’re thinking, maybe dreaming. You know or hear about a barista that is studying marketing. They’ll be graduating soon. Maybe you can hire someone who is already knowledgeable and passionate about coffee … and get ‘em cheap! I wouldn’t recommend this approach unless you are an experienced marketing person (meaning you gained marketing experience before you started your coffee company) or innately talented at it and you’ll be plugging the new graduate into an established marketing approach and program.

I had a boss who used to say, “Hire compassion. We can teach them coffee.” I sort of believe the same thing about marketing. Hire a marketeer. You can teach them coffee. Of course, if you can hire someone with coffee marketing experience, perhaps someone who worked as part of a marketing team inside a larger company and is looking to run their own shop, that’s great. People with marketing experience in industries that are like coffee can be great too, like wine, beer, specialty foods, bakeries, chocolate, to name just a few. Just because it’s your first marketing hire doesn’t mean it should be their first marketing job.


The Coffee Though

No matter where your new marketing person gained their experience, get them close and keep them close to the coffee. I would put a new marketing person at the cupping table their first day on the job and insist that they cup coffee at least once a week. Your marketing person doesn’t need to have a Q-Grader’s palate, but they need to understand the coffee and how the roasters approach the coffee and why. They need to listen to how you talk about coffee in your company.

Make them pack coffee too. During the holidays it’s often all hands on deck when it comes to packing coffee, but don’t wait. Put your marketing person into your production environment regularly because marketing coffee is about the story and stories, if they’re any good, are about people, and the people who weigh, fill, and seal coffee packages are part of coffee’s story. I don’t believe you can sustain and grow sales of a product like specialty coffee without thoroughly understanding it. Specialty coffee is not a commodity, it is a highly differentiated product and points of differentiation occur throughout the supply chain, up to the point you deliver it to your customer and hope that they brew it correctly.

Finally, your marketing person should be at least as trained in brewing coffee and espresso as are baristas at the best coffeehouses. Get them close and keep them close to the coffee.

Photo by “English” used under Creative Commons

Meet Our People and Taste Our Coffee

I have written before that this is the Roaster’s Seven Word Marketing Plan. When you hire your first marketing person, no matter where they came from, you must make sure they understand that your product is your coffee and your people. Marketing plans are fine. Growth strategies are important. Many things in many of the books are valuable. But in the end, the job of your marketing person is to get potential customers to taste your coffee and meet your people because that is what closes sales when everything else is virtually equal, as it so often is. If the combination of your coffee and your people is not growing your company, you have challenges apart from marketing.


Top photo by Ken Cho used under Creative Commons