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The Great Costa Coffee ‘Con’

The Great Costa Coffee ‘Con’

Why brands must always be listening to consumers.

Consumer grievances have never travelled as fast, caused as much damage or stayed around for as long as in today’s age of social media. #Fail: The 50 Greatest Social Screw-Ups and How to Avoid Being the Next One, compiled by Bernhard Warner and Matthew Yeomans, back in 2012 is a bible and a hilarious read for anybody concerned about their corporate brand image.  So that’s everyone then..

Don’t have time to read the book?  You only have to pop onto Twitter and type in the word #Fail or search the word “boycott” on Facebook to be inundated by stories of consumers being let down by brands and mobilising pressure campaigns against them.

English builder, Paul Hopkinson recently exploded in outrage across social media, posting a video that demonstrated how his entire large Costa latte could be poured into a smaller cup, that costs 30p less, reported the English newspaper, The Sun.  More than 4.5million Facebook users watched the video, sharing it more than 82,000 times, as the UK population debated whether they’d bean had.

A Costa Coffee spokesman was quick to reply, saying: “We can assure customers that when purchasing a large (16oz) Costa drink, you are receiving an extra shot of coffee and an additional 4oz drink, compared with a (12oz) regular size.”  They went on further to explain that they never fill any size drink to the top, to prevent customers or baristas being burnt.

As the debate rumbles on, we focus more at the fragile nature of the relationship between a brand and its consumer.  Historically, when communities were smaller, you would personally know the owner of your local café and exactly where to cite any concern.  Today, the corporate giants have an unwieldy global network of stores and franchises that introduce a myriad of variables, directly affecting the brand value.

Consumers are no longer on first name terms with store managers, in many cases, that local bond has been lost.  Customers are more geographically mobile and staff turn over is at it’s peak, so the first familiar platform they will go to be heard, is social media.  Freedom of speech on social media can have an immediate, global, seismic effect on your brand and, as in the case of Costa Coffee, the instigator can even be wrong!  The speed in which stories are shared means that few people fact-check or consider that the user may be mistaken.  So how can you stop the maelstrom, or at least minimise the damage?

Be honest and be reachable. A brand touch point, also known as a brand encounter is formed when consumers are exposed to your brand.  No longer just a physical product, your brand must extend to your advertising, packaging, website, app and social media. Touch points make up an important and effective means of interacting with a customer base and build a notion and image of a brand within the memory of a customer.  Together, these encounters create a brand experience and build trust.

Steve Jobs was adamant about the intricate details of Apple’s design process and it has been an integral part of their brand since the multi-coloured Macs.  Now they are synonymous with the sleek white packaging that has inspired a generation.  Their ultra-modern Apple store is not just a retail shop, it is also a brand experience centre, a content distributor channel, and a customer service delivery point.  At each stage, the brand is reinforced in the customer’s mind and their affiliation is strengthened.  Strong customers who are able to live and breath the brand are brand advocates; the most powerful form of endorsement a brand could ever have.

As a team, we work extensively with our clients to create strong and authentic brands that perfectly capture their company’s essence.  No longer a purely arbitrary process, brand development must fulfil specific criteria and solid reasoning for it to last. It is an intricate process but overlooking one step can greatly inhibit your overall brand success.

The most common component of the brand process that businesses fail to address is the brand positioning.  Your positioning must accomplish three things, be different, be focused and be relevant. You can see how if even one of these is not addressed, you will have created a fundamentally floored, unsustainable brand.

Costa Coffee was able to survive and thrive following the accusations made against it because of the strength and transparency of its brand across all touch points.  If one of these brand encounters was weak, the damage control would have been far costlier.  A strong brand is a scalable one, that has the flexibility and credibility to grow with your company’s vision.  This iconic household names do not just evolve by chance, they are carefully crafted and interwoven into the organisations DNA.  The two can not be separated and never should be, because that is your tangible link between you and your customer.

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