Marketing I Admire – Caribou Coffee

As of late, I’ve been frequently asked: “Which companies’ marketing programs do you most admire?” I’ve never loved this question, in part because I’m not wired for blind marketing hero-worship, but more because I view companies over the axis of time, as their campaigns swing from delightful to dreadful and back.

No one, no matter how amazing their marketing prowess, can hit it out of the ballpark every time. Just look at Apple’s less-than-inspiring “Designed by Apple in California” campaign.

That said, I do feel a distinct thrill when I interact with a business that uses its brand to truly understand and engage the customer. Caribou Coffee does this so consistently well that after heading to the coffee line, I always take a moment to scan the signage, merchandise, cups, napkins, etc… for their latest messaging. They’ve generated a loyal following because they (1) totally grok the needs of their customer, and (2) carefully bake their brand into every possible customer-facing opportunity.

caribouAs an example, take a look at the coffee cup and holder pictured here on the right. After sucking down half my latte, I finally focused on the copy, which:

  • Perfectly captured their friendly “personality” (brand),
  • Teasingly asked for my opinion (compare this to my less salutary Excel Dryer experience), and
  • Succinctly delivered their memorable tagline on why most of us are really drinking coffee: to stay awake and alert for the moments that matter most. Like driving or interviewing.

Notice what’s missing: fuzzy bromides on the superb quality of their coffee, their exclusive bean selection process or why they’re so much better than the competition. They’re not talking about themselves. Instead, they’re purposefully dedicating this valuable space to build a connection, an ongoing conversation about values. It’s an essential two-way dialogue, like my friend Casey Demchak discusses in his books and Web site.

I bit down hard on the bait and found myself hauled onto their Web site, creating a custom cup message and even uploading a photo to match my note. For my time and effort, they rewarded me with a memorable, interactive moment and a downloadable jpg of the cup. In exchange, I gave them my permission to email me and even supplied my zip code, which I am sure they will use to track and target me. I also liked them on Facebook.

caribou3And I didn’t mind at all. They gave me a unique experience, made me stop and consider what I valued, and thanked me. That’s rare and refreshing, like the guy you meet at a party who – instead of monologuing his dreary life story – leads off by asking what you’re passionate about. The next time I am passing a Caribou Coffee store and need to stay awake, they’ve got my business, hands down.

They’re producing powerful, well executed brand and content marketing. I can’t vouch for what they will do with my data, if and how well they will nurture me to spend more money with them. Follow through is half the battle, and many marketing organizations still haven’t got that down.

But I will say this: I admire you, Caribou Coffee. Keep up the stellar work.