Why bother? That’s what I call the drink I always order at Caribou because it has everything taken out of it. I’m not really a coffee drinker so I always get a skim-milk, decaf latte with sugar-free hazelnut flavoring to mask the coffee taste.
The bigger, and even more obvious question is, why do I bother going to Caribou at all if I don’t even particularly like coffee? Why would anyone go there to spend five dollars on any drink, with the economy still struggling and with a Starbucks right across the street?
Somehow, somewhere, Caribou hooked me. It certainly wasn’t the drink itself, which I could probably order elsewhere. It wasn’t a loyalty card program or a special discount. It’s not their ad campaign or their new logo. It wasn’t a charitable cause. It is something else, far more subtle and deeply meaningful.
It is the way I feel when I’m at Caribou. There’s just this happy, warm vibe when I’m there. The staff is friendly, but not in that efficient, professional way. They strike up real conversations and make pretty good jokes sometimes. They’re well trained, but it seems like they’ve been trained just to be themselves.
The other customers are friendly, too. I see fewer noses buried in laptops and more people talking to each other than at other coffee shops. I also find myself drawn to these little handwritten statements they’ve got printed on their napkins and cups, and featured on their windows.
They say things like, “Max out your passport,” “Plug the meter for someone else,” and “Thank a teacher.” I picked up this one napkin and it said, “Life is too short for crabby people” and it had this sketch of a crab on it. I love that! I took it with me, and I know I’ll be back because I always walk away with this little bit of glow and a feeling that life is good.
The funny thing is that I don’t always remember getting that kind of feeling at Caribou. Nothing was wrong with the experience in the past, but my affinity for the place is recent. Sensing an interesting story, I placed a phone call to Alfredo Martel, Caribou’s senior vice-president of marketing, and, wow, did I get a story!
It turns out that, three years ago, Caribou was also asking itself “why bother?” Its sales were tanking, and the economy wasn’t helping. Caribou’s CEO, Michael Tattersfield, recruited Alfredo to the company. The two had worked together at Yum Brands previously and so they knew they had good chemistry.
Their mission was to find out where the brand had gone wrong and to make it right again. What’s so fascinating to me is not only how they went about doing this, but also that their blueprint is totally patterned on “me, we, higher purpose,” but with some very important differences.
“Me, we, higher purpose” is my shorthand for the idea that the most successful brands not only connect deeply with their consumers on an individual level, but also engage with them collectively, as a community, with the ultimate goal of making a difference in their lives, and in the world.
At Caribou, the “me” taps into our desire to make the most of every day and live life to the fullest.
Caribou gets to the “me” by combining provoking ideas with a call-to-action to seize the moment. This can be either inwardly or outwardly directed —to do nice things both for others as well as yourself.
The “we” is the cumulative effect of people sharing inspiring thoughts and actions with each other. I’ve always believed that attitude is contagious; when you have a moment of reflection, or initiate acts of kindness, it touches others and the positive attitude self-perpetuates.
Most brands that hope to engage with their consumers in this highly relevant way jump from “me” straight to “higher purpose.” Usually this means that they identify a cause or charity and then create some sort of program around that. But for Caribou, the cause is nothing short of the personal well-being of its own employees and customers.
The “higher purpose” is not just organic, fair trade or sustainability. It’s living life with intention. When you have more people living life purposefully, it collectively makes the world we live in a better place. We’re more reflective, more positive and optimistic.
Caribou’s positioning is not around the food and drinks they serve; it’s around this higher purpose.
It all cascades into the stores and the customer experience itself. The effect is to turn going to
Caribou into something like a daily affirmation that our lives matter.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Caribou’s transformation began with considerable urgency, but also with an eye for the big picture. Their very first step was a simple promotional offer, but even here Caribou bothered to make a statement.
The economy was bad and store traffic was down. For the first time, Caribou put its brand statement into what otherwise would have been an undifferentiated price promotion. Since few people enjoy Monday mornings, Caribou used the tagline, “Monday Happens. Happy Monday.” To add a little sense of purpose to the promotion.
However, the larger question concerned the very soul of Caribou itself. Where had it lost its way and how could it find its way back? To get at the answer, Alfredo and his “culture team” tapped into marketing guru David Aaker’s principles to create a new brand identity model. It was based, in large part, on a “listening tour” to hear what its own employees had to say about Caribou, find its true voice and re-affirm the company’s cultural framework.
The point was not just to find out what people liked about Caribou; it was to find out what they loved about Caribou. This is an important distinction. Facebook may have its famous “like” button, but Alfredo says that’s not enough.
“We like a lot of things — our car, our running shoes,” Alfredo says. “But we love our family and friends. Caribou aspires to be a loved brand in that way because love takes you from everyday relationships to a higher state of being.”
Alfredo’s culture team took that notion and, with a playful twist, turned it into a new brand identity statement, a higher state of bean, that speaks both to the quality of the coffee beans and the quality of life itself. Alfredo discovered that, for some employees, this highly emotional connection sometimes expressed itself in surprisingly mundane ways.
Some employees would talk, for instance, about how much they loved the early morning shift, when customers would come in from the snow, grumpy and tired, and watching their mood shift once they had their double mocha with extra chocolate shavings. It may be just a sip and a smile, but it’s also an important human connection that transcends the functional products that Caribou sells.
“When people understand the difference between like and love, it’s powerful,” Alfredo says. He is also careful to explain that Caribou doesn’t have a formal mission or vision statement, but says the company’s goal is “to share an extraordinary experience that feeds the soul.” From the customer’s perspective, it is “to be the community place that I love.”
With this insight, Alfredo and his culture team created a new brand identity system that interestingly featured a new logo but an old slogan.
The old logo was rustic and blocky, a silhouette of a leaping Caribou. That worked well when
Caribou was a regional chain. But now Caribou is eyeing global expansion, and needs something more universal. The new, more stylized logo has a certain “feng shui” flair to it, and might be described as a leaping coffee bean with antlers.
This new logo is balanced by a return to Caribou’s original slogan: “Life is short. Stay awake for it.” After considering all kinds of new slogans, Caribou instead decided to re-interpret its old slogan based on its new positioning. “We didn’t want to discard elements of the brand that were super powerful just because there was a new head of marketing and a new agency,” Alfredo says.
The new branding system was launched across Caribou’s 539 stores, using inspirational statements based on “life is short, stay awake for it,” written by employees. These statements were printed in the employees’ own handwriting on cups and napkins and featured in an advertising campaign.
Next year’s cups and napkins will also feature hand-written statements from customers. Caribou has created a program called “Make The Cup” and set up a special page on its website (cariboucoffee.com) where fans can submit their own statements in Twitter-like fashion, along with a photo or video about whatever it is that they stay awake for.
HIGHER PURPOSE DRIVES PROFITS
Caribou’s success story is not about logos or slogans or ads. It represents a remarkable transformation in which “me, we and higher purpose” are blended in perfect, three-part harmony.
The Caribou example is particularly impressive because its higher purpose is not only its own customers, but, first and foremost, its own employees.
The importance of building from the inside out cannot be underestimated. For Caribou, this was not limited simply to listening to what their employees had to say and then asking them to write their thoughts down for corporate use on cups and napkins. Caribou is also engaged in what it calls “dream coaching” with its employees.
Caribou’s employees go through a process of talking openly about their dreams, both personally and professionally. It’s not that Caribou is necessarily going to make those dreams happen, but they try to find ways to help.
It’s a process based on a book called The Dream Manager, by Matthew Kelly, and it’s premised on the idea that if you care about the whole person, and not just the employee, you create a much more engaged organization. Alfredo now hopes to extend that same kind of engagement to Caribou’s customers, as well.
When that happens, says Alfredo, a Caribou store doesn’t belong to Caribou Coffee anymore; it belongs to the community — and the community decides what that means. It could be that the store is about runners, bikers or punk rockers.
At my Caribou, in Wayzata, Minnesota, it’s about pets. There are photos of customers’ dogs on the walls and a water dish outside, where people gather with their dogs. As Alfredo observes, these types of communities are common online, in social networks. What Caribou is doing is taking that idea, that energy, and finding a place for it in the real world.
It’s not just about the cup of coffee; it’s how the experience makes you feel. Otherwise, why would you spend the money? That’s a question Caribou is answering with its results.
According to its recently released second-quarter financial report, Caribou’s same store sales were up 4.8 percent. Its net income doubled to $2.4 million and its sales of $68.9 million were 9.4 percent higher than the same period a year ago.
That is “me, we, higher purpose” at its bottom-line best. Caribou has bean there and done that.
As for me, I think I’ll celebrate finishing this white paper with a skim-milk, decaf latte with sugar-free hazelnut flavoring to mask the coffee taste.
© 2010 WomanWise LLC.