In the current online age there’s a ton of focus and pressure around creating a brand that looks good online. This makes sense - far more people are likely to walk into your online storefront than your brick and mortar one, and you want to make sure your brand is seen in the best light. I really can’t fault anyone for wanting to build and awesome online presence but there are some things that irk me out about the current state of social media and the way a lot of people portray their businesses.
The thing that shakes me up the most is that it seems for many, maintaining this online presence and positioning comes at a huge opportunity cost. When it comes to assessing how much time, energy, people, and money you’re want to spend on your brand, marketing, and positioning I think it’s important to ask yourself a few questions.
- What substance am I really offering?
- What are the opportunity costs?
- Is what I’m pretending to offer a true reflection of what I can deliver?
What substance am I really offering?
Congratulations. You have a DSLR camera and a couple of lenses. You can now create a stream full of artsy pictures featuring your product accompanied by perfectly knolled objects in situations that are way too sterile and contrived to ever occur in real life. Throw a succulent in there, maybe some weathered brick, or a couple of hammers and a tape measure if you’re feeling artsy and crafty at the same time. Wait till the lighting is just right, shoot 30 photos, spend 25 minutes finding the perfect filters, brainstorm an awesome caption, and Ta-Da! You’ve just spent an hour making a post on Instagram.
Now I love to look at pretty pictures as much as the next guy but what does a post like this say about your brand?
Are you bringing people into the authentic environment that you live in, or are you just giving them what you think they want? Why do you feel like what you do is so uninteresting that you have to create an alternate reality for everyone to see? Are people really being drawn closer to you and your craft or are you just giving them something to double-tap for a like.
Few things get me more hyped on a brand than getting a glimpse of someone’s true day to day, scars and all. Things get messy, sometimes the work isn’t glamorous, sometimes the lighting isn’t perfect - but these are the things that make our lives beautiful, special, and unique. Be proud of them and show the world what you’re really all about.
What are the opportunity costs?
Let’s say you took the hour you spent creating your epic instagram photo and applied it to your craft instead? Cup some coffee, experiment with roast profiles, begin training for some new baristas on staff, etc. You could take a quick snapshot of any one of those things and provide people with a much more authentic connection to what you do, and kill two birds with one stone.
Are you really at the level in your craft where you can ignore the opportunity for progression to spend an hour finding the perfect piece of reclaimed wood to shoot your morning pour-over on?
Even if you can justify this in your own head, what kind of message are you sending to your employees? You think they don’t notice you goofing around with your fancy toys and not spending any time focused on coffee? They do. As an owner or manager you set the bar for work ethic and how time is spent at your company. People look to you to see what the most important aspects of your business are - every time you make a choice - you send a message. You might be sending the message that taking pretty pictures of coffee is more important than actually making good coffee. It may not be unintentional, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.
Is what I’m pretending to offer a true reflection of what I can deliver?
Marketing is a promise. Before you pick a marketing “angle” or a “strategy” (two things I think are complete B.S.), make sure that when the rubber meets the road you can deliver on that promise. Posing for a pretty picture, or hiring a marketing department to make you look extra fancy is easy. Having great customer service while preparing consistently great coffee is hard. If you can’t deliver in person what you promote on social media then all that time you spent making those pictures look perfect is for naught. People will eventually catch on and you’ll be sitting there with a great looking instagram and an empty cafe or a cafe full of disappointed customers. This over-promise, under-deliver situation is perhaps one of the worst things I can think of for a business.
So what to do with marketing?
Marketing should be a reflection of what you do. As a consumer I value authenticity and product quality more than anything else. I want to buy into people who resonate with me. I want to support people who I feel like I have a relationship with; even if we’ve never met. Focus on your craft and capture the pictures and moments as they happen naturally. Not only is this easier, more sustainable, and affordable for your business; it also brings people closer to what you do and what you love...and if you’re not proud enough of the actual work you do to share it with everyone, then maybe something is terribly wrong.
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