An inviting café showing how to do coffee shop marketing for starters

How to Do Coffee Shop Marketing for Starters in 2023

By Frank Lanzkron-Tamarazo, for Edwardsturm.com.

The word, “marketing,” is so broad that I put it in the same category as smurf, religious, observant, conservative, and the ancient Greek word, logos. All of those words, including marketing, are so trite that they’re meaningless. Many authors have written about marketing, but here’s my summary:

Marketing is how you use various timely and pertinent triggers to move a customer to buy from you.

Coffee shop marketing is eternally coupled with great customer service, credibility, quality, and friendliness.

In 2009, I began my coffee roasterie as an almost completely unknown with tremendous competition. I had to gain authority in the space, and in order gain that authority, I had to use a wide array of marketing channels to appear like I was everywhere. This article documents those channels and explains them using my own anecdotal experience – then adds some new channels to stay fresh for the current day.

While reading, consider your cash flow and how important immediate ROI is to long term ROI. Understand that you’re going to need to explore each channel yourself and adapt the channels to your needs. This article will give many examples on how to do so.

Jump Ahead

Know Thy Audience

When customers “like” you on various social media platforms, they are asking you to share pertinent and timely news about your product. They want you to convince them to buy from you.

First try to figure out your target market and where they hang out. I can’t possibly tell you which platform to use: Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc… some will fall out of favor in a few months and others will be perfect for your ideal customer. My advice is to post on every one of them daily until you find out which platform works and which doesn’t.

Social Media Makes You Money

Yes, time is money, but if you spend a great deal of time posting on these free social media platforms, you will make that money back.

When you have a special coffee, post a photo of the coffee beans in a French Press or Aeropress, or a video of the coffee brewed in an espresso machine. Count how many customers come to your shop within 15 minutes or within the hour. Listen to how many customers ask about that “special” coffee several weeks after you’ve run out.

A figure holding a smartphone in one hand a cup of coffee in the other

I’d recommend this guide to café social media marketing, if you’d like to explore the subject further.

Getting to Know You, Getting to Know All About You…

Use social media to allow your customers to get acquainted with you. They don’t think about it, but they want to know where you love to dine, when you have a special event in your life, and what your passions are. If you can create close relationships with your customers, they’ll trust you more, and as a result, convert into sales better. One of the best ways that you can compete with the other coffee shops around is to cultivate these customer relationships. A customer that knows you is going to go to Your Café and not to “I don’t know the owner of that café” Café.

I’ll Xerox This Document Right After I Get a Kleenex and Then Google Something

Sure, your coffee shop will probably never be a national household name, but could it be a regional household name? There is an easy way to make your brand noticeable- put your logo on every piece of swag that you sell. Your logo should be on every cup of coffee that you serve.

Branded Items

My coffee shop sells the following branded items: t-shirts, mugs of all kinds, coffee soap, coffee lip balm, napkins, coasters, coffee toffee, chocolate covered coffee beans, and even guitar picks and yarmulkes!

Here’s something a lot of marketers don’t realize: on average, the ROI on branded items is higher than radio and outdoor advertising, and equal to TV and print advertising.

Your goal is to subtly infiltrate your consumers’ lives. My consumers may wake up, have a cup of our coffee in our branded cups, shower with our coffee soap, put on a t-shirt with our logo, bring their branded mug to work, and even wear our yarmulke to their synagogue. Before they sign those mortgage documents with my branded pen, they will apply some coffee lip balm to their chapped lips.

Branded items, like the ones I just described, not only help market your business to preexisting customers but also, through appearance and presence, to their connections.

Make some more expensive branded items available for purchase, and the less valuable ones free-to-take so you can give them away.

Branded items from Chazzano Coffee Roasters: pens, mugs, cups, and even yarmulkes

Referral Marketing

People love your product. You have great customer service. Your baristas are constantly smiling and customers feel like they’re at home. However, do you “toot your own horn?” Do you tell your happy customers that you can cater their graduation party or that you ship coffee across the country? Do you share with your customers your goals for your coffee business? Your customers will share their great experiences with their friends. It wouldn’t hurt to provide them with additional information that may enrich their lives or the lives of their family and friends.

Networking Is for Winners

Join a BNI group. What’s BNI? It’s Business Networking International, a referral marketing group that has chapters in most of the western world. Every week, at the same time weekly, you pitch your business to 20-50 other entrepreneurs. You ask for warm introductions to your target market or share the excitement of your latest products or services. If your elevator pitch doesn’t add to sales at the cash register that week, try a different pitch. Bring your “sales team” and for an hour and a half you can teach them how to sell or market your product.

While financial advisers or residential realtors are plentiful, there are very few coffee shop owners who use BNI, meaning you’ll have very little competition. Want to know how successful I’ve been with this? I made over $400,000 in referrals and closed business during the first seven years of my BNI membership plus the marketing insights I received from being able to pitch every week has led to several hundred more thousand in revenue.

Here’s a good guide for deciding on whether or not BNI is right for you. The point isn’t that you need this specific organization, but that you need to be active. Groups like these should only be part of your networking efforts. Go to food and coffee conferences and events from different industries. A good connection with a good person in any industry can be extremely valuable.

Be a Concerned Yente

Yenta or Yente is a Yiddish word for a gossip or busybody. Most of the time, a Yente is someone who just can’t mind their own business. They’re nosy without being helpful. I want you to become one of these, but a concerned Yenta.

Turning Your Customers into Sales People Through Goodwill

We interview our customers. First we ask the normal questions: what would you like? How do you want it prepared… French Press, espresso, pourover? Then, however, while the beverages are being made, we ask questions like, “What do you do for a living? Where are you from?” We may even ask our customers what they’re doing this weekend.

What Do You Do for a Living?

This is easiest part of marketing your business. When you find out how your costumers earn their livings, you can help them gain business, thereby furthering these important relationships. Let’s imagine that your customer told you she’s a plumber. You ask her, “What kind of plumber? Commercial or residential?… Do you have a few business cards?”

Do you know what happens when you refer business to this plumber? You’ve just gained a new salesperson. She’ll talk about your coffee shop all day long with her customers. You’ve shown that you care about her, beyond her business to you, and she’ll never forget your kindness.

Going back to the “Referral Marketing” section, you’ve referred several customers to this plumber and she has accumulated over $2,000 in closed business from those referrals. Make sure you’re going tit for tat. Tell your new friend, the plumber, how to promote your coffee. After every successful job that she’s completed, gift her clients with a half pound of your coffee. Teach her how to explain why your product is superior to all others. Teach your customer to hand her client your coffee shop business card or post card. Teach her how to sell for you.

If you train and teach 10 customers about how to sell for you, how much money does that translate to you? Let’s take my café as an example. If 10 customers merely convinced 10 other people to become our customers, and if those new customers purchased a half pound of coffee every week for one year, we’ll gross $5,200 more. If those 10 new customers beget 10 more customers, you haven’t spent a dime on marketing, and the chain of new customers will never end as long as your product remains high quality and your customer service is friendly and helpful.

What Are You Doing This Weekend?

Wow, that’s really nosy. You want me to ask that question? Really? 

A smiling barista, standing with a cup of coffee in a nice café

When your customer tells you that they’re going to take their boat out this weekend and you tell them that you know someone who’s a professional boat cleaner, then call that boat cleaner before the customer leaves your shop, you’ve created a lifelong customer.

When your customer tells you that his wife just had a baby, you wish him a hearty congratulations, then you ask him for his address so you can send a gift. You send them a small gift box celebrating this great news and you’ve created, yes, again, a lifelong customer.

A last example: a customer lets you know that her spouse just passed away. You send her a condolence card and for the next few visits, you instruct your employees to tell her, “It’s on the house.” You may not create a lifelong customer, but hopefully you’ve comforted the mourner… and in terms of your bottom line, as we’ve discussed here, the spirit of goodwill pays off.

Everyone Loves Freebies

The huge mega-churches have come up with ingenious ways to reach parishioners without having them sit in a church- it’s called back-door religion. Sometimes they’ll have a church or synagogue meeting at a local bookstore or hold religious services outside under a tent. For houses of worship, it’s about bringing the product or service to the congregant or educating them in a non-threatening environment.

Learn from these organizations, but also use them for marketing. Give away your product to the local church bazaar, the synagogue auction, and the local YMCA fundraiser. When you open a business, every charity that’s ever existed will knock on your door and ask for a donation.

Give donations to charities that will promote your business. Ask the charity to include you in their social media posts and in their promotional emails and materials. Send them your logo and slogan for their publicity materials before they ask for them. Teach them how to promote your product.

Donate items that will ensure repeat customers. If you donate a coupon, that won’t force a prospective customer to buy from you. However, if you donate a $25 gift card for the raffle, the winner will force themselves to visit your shop. Again, if your products and customer service are awesome, you’ve just created a life-long customer for a mere $25.

When you serve your fresh coffee to parishioners walking out of your local church, many of them will accept your invitation to your café and become frequent customers.

Publish a Book or Online Articles

I’ve written two books about business. Yes, they were earnest attempts at sharing my passion for community, the coffee business, and customer service, but they were also great marketing materials. These short books provided my customers with yet another reason to visit my shop or buy my coffee related products. Readers were able to get acquainted with my vision and mission statements and truly understand my personality.

What if you’re not passionate about writing? Try composing a short pamphlet with your business philosophy or just a coffee recipe book. Even a short blog will help.

The truth is that when you publish a book, you become an expert on the topic. It could be the worst book ever, but “expert” is now your middle name. A book, pamphlet, or article are just more possible marketing channels to increase your business’s wealth.

Somebody writing on a computer with a cup of coffee at their side

More Writing? Really?

Volunteer to write a guest blog for your favorite influential blogger. Send in press releases to local newspapers or trade newspapers about new products or services, or a special business anniversary. Find a podcast guru and pitch your ideas about a possible interview.

Several years ago, I wrote an article for Fox Business. Not only did this article help the authority of my brand, but it also helped me launch my business consulting company.

Publicists or Podcasts?

All of the previous advice is virtually free and has great ROIs; but it can only get your so far. Only when you’re trying to reach a larger audience with your marketing, or need a kickstart, should you pay a publicist. When you first open your doors or celebrate your fifth or tenth anniversary at your shop, a publicist, for the right price, will convince journalists to write about you and TV stations to invite you on their news shows as a guest. The publicist’s fee will usually range from $500-$2,000 per month (you can negotiate the fee depending on the level of exposure).

Random people still remember my TV appearances from five years ago. A well-placed article in an influential newspaper or local website, or a TV appearance on a major network will have very long legs. Prospective customers will remember it for years.

Only use a publicist if you believe that you will at least break even. If you plan on spending $2,000 on a publicist, for example, make sure you:

  1. Have measurable and realistic expectations for the level of exposure you’ll get and…
  2. That you’re in a position for which that exposure can convert into $2,000 of new business.

If this is too expensive for you, start with one small channel, like podcasts. You can use inexpensive (under $100) platforms that match podcasts to their ideal guests – guests like you! Podcasts are hot in 2023 and these tools can get you on them quickly. PodMatch is currently the top in this category and you can check out a guide on how to use it here.

Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Marketing is how you use various timely and pertinent triggers to move a customer to buy from you.

Marketing is eternally coupled with great customer service, credibility, quality, and friendliness.

Though I’ve done my best with this guide to get you started, there really is no sure path to marketing your coffee shop. I purposefully omitted direct mail marketing, print advertisements, AI tools, email lists, and Google Adwords. The list of marketing tools are endless. Use all the costly tools sparingly, and the free tools and channels vigorously. Figuratively, you just need to throw them against the wall and see if they will stick. Even if they don’t stick now, they may be perfect for your future needs. Keep them all in your marketing toolbox, study them, and understand them. Some tools will help you create immediate business and others will pay off several years later. Finally, if you have a healthy and growing business, expect it to evolve and for you to need to change your marketing accordingly.

Do you have any burning questions about all this? Want to know what my favorite flavor of coffee is? Best pouring methods? More questions about publicity and marketing? Am I a dog person or a cat person? Message me in the comments! I’d love to hear from you.

Get updated on new article drops.

Previous articles

Share this post

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *