Step into your local specialty coffee shop and it’s more than likely you’ll spot a product adorned with the shop’s branding – a t-shirt, a tote bag, a reusable cup.
Branded merchandise is increasingly becoming a hallmark of modern specialty coffee shops. Viewed as a reliable additional revenue stream, merchandise also represents a key marketing strategy for businesses, helping to boost brand awareness and reach new corners of the market.
As more and more businesses enter the specialty coffee market, many have turned to merchandise as a way of strengthening their customer base and fending off competition.
However, diving straight into branded products may not be the best option for all brands, particularly for those who have just started out.
To explore this topic further, I spoke with Roststatte’s head roaster and 2018 German Barista Champion, Nicole Battefeld-Montgomery.
Defining your brand voice
For most brands, merchandise represents an important arm of the business – but getting to that point takes time. Before you venture into offering your own customised products, it is important to define your brand and develop a loyal customer base that shares your values.
Failing to identify a clear voice and objectives from the off can make consistency difficult to maintain consistent branding when it comes to producing merchandise.
As such, you should consider not only what your target audience looks like, but also the way in which you want to communicate with them. This includes everything from colour scheme and logo, to vision and tone of voice.
“Understanding the market is very important,” says Nicole, who, during her seven years in the specialty coffee sector, has worked as both a barista and roaster for leading brands in Germany. “Take the time to know your audience and understand the trends within their generation or group. Dark Arts Coffee is a great example.
“They understand that their customers are young and alternative and they play on these things in their merch. They also position themselves as a progressive company and engage with relevant topics.
“As a result, many women identify with the brand without even drinking their coffee on a regular basis. For example, I have purchased their merch even though I only order their coffee a couple of times per year.
“Röststätte Berlin, on the other hand, is a more premium coffee shop brand with a minimal interior. This is reflected in their merch which is more “adult” and stripped back in regards to the colour palettes and designs.
Ultimately, these distinctions will help establish your brand’s personality and guide creatives across all your products.
Compression socks & rub on tattoos: The importance of standing out
Once you have established your voice and generated some noise around your brand, marketing and selling your merchandise should be considerably easier.
However, your products won’t stand out by themselves; to distinguish your brand from the rest, you need to create merchandise that’s not only useful for customers, but also memorable.
This is particularly important within the specialty coffee industry, where a number of brands compete for a relatively small pool of customers.
Nicole explains how thinking outside the box when it comes to choosing your merchandise can go a long way.
“Something I found odd around eight years ago was that all the companies working in coffee had the same merchandise,” she says, “primarily keybands and rubber wristbands. The merchandise was very repetitive and uncreative – and in the end I definitely didn’t remember the brand that was selling the merch.
“Then I remembered the first item of merchandise that I really wanted to have. It was a pin and you could only get it from a certain company, but it also wasn’t for sale as it was only given out at a convention. It was very cool and I will never forget the brand that gave it to me. That’s the type of excitement and response merchandise should generate.”
However, Nicole warns that even when thinking outside the box, it’s important for brands to stay largely within the confines of their target audience’s preferences – or risk alienating customers.
“You have the opportunity to represent your branding in your merchandise,” she says. So, if your customers are young and love Tik Tok, your main goal is to reflect the trends for that age group and be present on the media channels they’re using.
“However, if your customers are older, young professionals, rub on tattoos, for example, might not be the perfect fit.”
The power of apparel
The diversity of the coffee sector opens the door to a wide range of merchandise for roasters and cafés.
However, few items offer the opportunities of branded clothing. Unlike mugs and gift cards, items like t-shirts, hats, and sweaters are typically worn outside the home, acting as a powerful marketing tool for brands.
“I personally love a good beanie or hoodie,” she says. These items are usually of a higher quality than normal sweaters and hats and that’s something I look out for. Plus, when your customers are wearing them, they’re like a walking billboard for your company.”
Branded clothing can also become a type of uniform for employees, helping to create a sense of unison between them.
For example, baristas could wear t-shirts or hoodies showcasing the brand’s name and logo. This will also, in turn, encourage the sale of merchandise when customers enter and see the barista wearing a branded item of clothing.
Ultimately, the more opportunities you create for brand recognition among customers, the more memorable their experience will be.
Merchandise is without a doubt one of the most effective ways of boosting your brand and reaching new corners of the market, as well as helping to increase customer loyalty.
However, selling merchandise right from the off can be a risky strategy, particularly if you are still in the process of defining your brand’s personality. You must make sure that you have consistency across all products – and that includes packaging.
At MTPak Coffee, our expert design team can help you apply your brand voice on your coffee bags and takeaway cups. Our range of sustainable materials, including kraft paper, PLA, LDPE, and rice paper, can all be customised to your specific needs.