Digital marketing for my coffee shop or cafe.

Cafes and coffee shops are some of the most popular businesses to start up. It’s not overly surprising – we tend to start businesses in areas that we have some familiarity in and after sitting for a long time in a coffee shop who hasn’t thought “well I can do this better”. 

Because of this there are now a lot of independent coffee shops and cafes around. We’re ignoring the big boys like Starbucks in the US and Costa and Neros in the UK. Even without these massive companies it’s suddenly a very busy market place. 

Unfortunately there’s only so much coffee a single customer can consume a day! A limited number of local customers + a limited amount of consumption per day means that there are natural limits on how much coffee can be sold in a certain area. And if there are a lot of coffee shops in that area there’s going to be competition. 

Too…much…coffee

Google My Business – putting our coffee shop on Google Maps

First off your location is obviously going to be important. That’s outside of our remit as digital marketers though. The only thing we can help with is advising how to get people to come a little further to find your coffee shop instead of going to the closest and most convenient. If, however, your competitor is on the ground floor of a giant office building then it’s going to be tricky to pull customers out of the building and around to your site. Doable but tricky – thems the breaks. 

Secondly, if your coffee, food, atmosphere and service are crap then there’s not that much we can do online! In fact, you’d be better off not becoming too present online. Visibility is a double edged sword and if your flat whites are disappointing you can be sure some customers will be busily telling everybody they can. Digital marketing can work wonders but still needs a solid product to be in place. 

Bad service from Scarlett Johansson is likely acceptable

With these limiting factors in mind, let’s have a look at what you can do specifically online. 

First, claim your Google listing. This is super simple but many businesses don’t know about it. You may get a Google Partner or similar coming to visit you to sell you these sorts of services – they tend to show up at any new business offering to set up your listing, take photos and the like. Totally fine to use them but be aware you can do most of this yourself. 

Head over to https://www.google.com/business/how-it-works/

This link will be different depending on your country but you should be redirected. 

From there simply go through the guided process. It’s all fairly straightforward. Any information you do not know now you can go back and add later so don’t sweat perfection at this point. 

The main thing we want to do is finalise the process so that Google will send us a verification postcard. Google will dispatch, in the mail (yes, like the mail with stamps and envelopes and all that!) a postcard. This postcard will have a verification code on it which you can enter in your Google My Business account to confirm that you are a real business at this location. 

From here you can edit your Google Maps listing, add menus, opening times, photos, special events and more. You can also see how many people have looked you up and how many people have asked for directions (and presumably come to your location). Extremely cool. 

Google Maps is basically Magic

Further down the line you can actually pay Google to make you more visible on Google Maps for terms like “coffee”. That’s more advanced though – right now just make sure that you have your business verified so you can be visible, edit how you appear on Google Maps and start to see all the data. 

Make sure to fully fill in your profile, especially adding photos. The main reason for this is that your listing will take up more space on screen. Yes, sure, pretty photos are great but everyone has pretty photos. We just need to make sure we’re taking up as much on-screen real-estate as possible. The larger your listing (due to description, photos, reviews, website links etc.) the more space it takes up on screen. So make sure to fill out as much as possible in the profile so your listing doesn’t look anemic. 

Simple but extremely important.

2. Website – setting up a basic website for our coffee shop

Second, your website. Now that we have our Google Map listing set up our website is a little less important. We are primarily interested in new people finding our location and coming to visit. Google Maps will do a lot of the heavy lifting on this. 

A website helps with one part of this step. If I’ve searched “coffee London bridge” in Google Maps I’m suddenly shown 20+ coffee shops. How do I choose? There are the obvious factors like proximity – I’m less likely to walk a mile if there’s an equally attractive looking coffee shop closer.

If someone is deciding between two or more locations guess what the normal next step is. They’ll quickly check the website. What are they looking for? Two things – the aesthetics (does it look like a cool place) and the basics – opening times &  menu.

My goodness please don’t hide away the basics. So many sites do this – they’ll have a homepage with lots of beautiful photos of coffee, food and smiling staff members and maybe some text about their coffee varietals from the slopes of a Guatemalan volcano. 

This is all lovely but if I’m standing under a dripping newsagents canopy sheltering from the rain on a stormy October afternoon looking for a darn place to grab a coffee all I want to know is whether the place is open before I traipse through the rain to get there. 

I just want to be inside and warm!

My decision is very unlikely to be based on whether they are using Guatemalan or Columbian beans at this point. 

We recommend a single page website. The main information should be on one page which is the home page – the first point of contact with a visitor. The further you hide away the important information the more likely a visitor is to click away from your page – people are extremely fast to leave websites nowadays. 

15 seconds is now considered a LONG time on a website. People bore easily

Doing this will make it i) much easier to build a site and ii) increase the number of people who actually come to your coffee shop which is, ultimately, what we are trying to do here. 

Save some cash and time by keeping your website simple. Think about the needs of the people actually coming to your site. Don’t just talk about your business, what you do and what you are good at. Talk about what they need to know: how can I get there, what sort of price should I expect, what food can I get there. It’s a very simple shift but effective. 

In terms of design make sure the site works well on mobile. This sort of website is called “responsive” ie. the site responds to the screen size. If it’s a full computer screen it will respond and display at full size. If it’s a phone screen (most likely) the site will squeeze down and readjust to fit that size. Certain design elements like menu bars and sidebars don’t work well on mobile devices because there isn’t really enough room for them to be functional. 

Keep it simple and use a one page website that works perfectly on mobile devices. The majority of traffic online now is through mobile devices and the fact that you are presenting your site to people who are out and about looking for a cafe makes this doubly important. 

Site builders like Squarespace and Strikingly will get the job done for you. Find a nice looking template and go from there. Because it’s a single page site it won’t take long to build – primarily copy/pasting in text and uploading some photos. Squarespace actually has a bunch of professionally designed Restaurant templates which will do the job: https://www.squarespace.com/templates/restaurant

3. Reviews – getting positive reviews for our coffee shop

Once you have the basic infrastructure set up you need to start getting some reviews on your Google Maps listing. 

How many? Good question.

Look at your closest and best competitors. What do they have? Aim to have a higher star value than them but also more reviews. This will increase your visibility on Google Maps. 

The ultimate goal – 5 Stars and LOTS of them

You might be thinking “well that’s all very well and good but my closest competitors has been in business for years and are waaaay ahead”. Thankfully most businesses don’t have a concerted review strategy. They might have a little flyer or poster asking people to please review but that tends to be the limit. 

How should you catch up and overtake? Well, first of all friends and family. Sure, I’m not meant to say this but we all know that’s where we all start off anyway. Having a couple of solid reviews to start with will make it more likely for new reviewers to follow suit and leave reviews. 

Incentivised reviews are not allowed by Google My Business. This covers not just incentivised good reviews but in fact any review. The obvious incentive for a coffee shop would be a free coffee for any review (good or bad) but strictly this is against Google My Business’ terms and conditions. 

One way around this would be to ask for people to fill out a comment card with their thoughts and a rating out of 5. This can be incentivised with a coffee – it’s an internal system. When they hand it in ask if they’d like to share it online via Google Maps, explaining that it would really help. Of course this is a bit tricksy but technically you’ve incentivised the comment card review (which is internal) and then asked if they’d want to share online. If not that’s cool – you can still (with permission) add comments as testimonials on your website. Just not on Google because it would need to be via their account. 

One other way to get reviews is to ask for them at the right time. Again, no incentives here. Let’s say someone has tagged you on Facebook or Instagram. Whilst you are top of mind this is the perfect time to send them a message and ask (politely) if they’d mind leaving a review. Again, just ask from an honest place explaining how it really helps your new business. 

Finally, don’t bother with paid for reviews. Yes, they can be purchased but it’s better to just have in place an honest system for asking customers at the right times. Most people just need a small nudge and would be happy to if you ask. Purchasing reviews (especially en masse) is a good way to get your Google My Business account locked out. And because you are tied to that actual physical location this is a big problem! 

4. Social Media – how should we use social media for our coffee shop?

Fourth, social media. This is a big one and will be an ongoing process. The items above are mainly about setup and (in the case of reviews) just being mindful to ask for them on a regular basis. 

Social media though is something you’ll need to keep putting work into. This doesn’t mean every single day but it does means consistently over time. If you aren’t willing to create a piece of content once per week I’d say give social media a miss for now. By all means claim all the social accounts you need (Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter, maybe Snapchat, maybe Pinterest). Use https://www.namecheckr.com/ to find matching social account names across the different platforms (so you don’t end up with different names on each).

If you are committed to pushing out content what should you be doing? 

First of all, cool it with the latte art. Enough already!

OK fine. Here’s some latte art.

Scan the Instagram accounts of your competitors. Or indeed, any coffee shops worldwide. It’s primarily pretty latte art. Pictures of coffee can only go so far. After the 100th picture of a latter the account becomes incredibly boring. Unless you have a genuinely world-class latte artist – if so by all means lean in on this angle. But chances are that this is not the case. 

The key is to produce content that your audience is actually interested in. Sounds obvious but people don’t do it. Instead cafes tend to produce content about themselves

“We’ve just made some new cookies – come and get them”

“Loving these new beans”

“Got to have my oat milk!”

Etc. etc.

There’s only a certain amount of mileage that you can get out of the products of a cafe. Latte art is the most egregious example but the same goes for open face sandwiches, bags of beans or cartons of milk. These are just not particularly interesting subjects to people outside of your organisation. 

Stop talking about your specific store. Instead think larger. Think as if you were either a chain of coffee stores or a more general educational resource. Talk about coffee in the abstract – not your coffee specifically. 

Practically what does this mean. Tutorial videos, education, expertise. Show people how to use an aeropress. What sort of grind is best for French press at home? What’s the best way to make great coffee whilst backpacking? 

In these examples we’re teaching skills. “But wait, then people can make coffee at home and don’t need us!” Well, they already could do this but don’t. They are still going to come to your store for convenience. And by educating you’ve put you and your staff in the position of authority. Being teachers leads to trust – these guys know their coffee.

Teaching > Authority > Trust.

This is a complete about turn to the type of content most coffee shops put out. It’s something useful for the viewer not for the coffee shop solely. What happens then? We start picking up viewers much faster. Word spreads. You’ll have international followers. Sure these people may not be coming to your store directly but you get the buzz of being internationally known. You could convert that into revenue using online sales but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. 

The main concept here is that by providing a service to people (creating content that they are genuinely interested in) you can build a following. It won’t stop people coming to your store – in fact you’ll see far more people coming in once your name gets out there. 

That’s content. What about format? This one is nice and easy: video. 

Video – infinitely more engaging

Video has much more reach on social media, regardless of the platform. All the social media platforms incentivise you to use video because it’s more engaging for their users. The more their users stay on their site the more advertising revenue they get. Because of this Youtube, Facebook and the other platforms all want you to use video as much as possible. 

When you upload video it’s much more likely to get seen than text or photos. If you then add a little cash to boost the video (on Facebook and Instagram in particular) you’ll suddenly get thousands of viewers instead of the 10s of viewers if you had simply posted a photo and left it at that. 

Scared of video? Lots of people are. And this is great news! The more people are scared of doing video the more space online for us to grab audiences. Sure, you’ll need to get over camera shyness. This is very doable though – it just requires doing it until you are comfortable. There’s no shortcut here. I used to be horrible in front of a camera but just kept going until I was OK with the process. 

One extra tip here: Go Live. Going Live to Facebook or Instagram forces you to just do it. 

I couldn’t not.

Otherwise you’ll get stuck in your head and start stopping the recording at every um or er. 

People expect you to be a person. You are coming to them as a person, a teacher. Those ums and ers can actually build your authenticity and personableness because, well, they are authentic! Much better than a highly polished corporate presentation from Starbucks. You’re a local coffee expert remember – that’s what people are here to see. So grab your iPhone and just start talking about your area of expertise. 

We have a massive video series about this over on Youtube. The most relevant videos will be those about building an audience online but if you want to go deep I’d recommend starting at the beginning. 

Marketing your coffee shop: Quick Summary

In summary we have a couple of steps to follow:

  1. Make sure you grab your Google My Business listing and fill out all of the details. 
  2. Set up a basic one page website using Squarespace or a similar easy to use website builder.
  3. Find your review target by looking at competitors and decide on how you are going to catch up and beat this number. 
  4. Use video on social media to deliver your expert voice about the subject. Stop talking about your coffee shop and instead teach people about the subject.

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Should you have a blog? If you do you are probably using it wrong.

Should you bother with having a blog on your website? The answer used to be a hard YES. Nowadays it’s more complicated. And even if you do have a blog the chances are it’s not being used correctly. Let’s look at what part a blog now plays in marketing your business. 

There are a lot of misconceptions in this field. I’m going to take you on a short (and very rough!) history of online marketing over the last couple of decades. Depending on where you entered the scene you’ll likely have preconceptions about the importance of different elements. We’ll take this quick tour and then I’ll show you where we are now and what we should be doing. 

Old school marketing

The old school way of marketing online was very much focused on SEO. 

Nice

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It’s shorthand for “getting to the top of Google”. Yes, there’s Yahoo, Bing and other search engines but in the English speaking world at least when we are talking “search marketing” we may as well just be talking about Google. 

SEO is a process of making content for a website that would be useful for the visitors to your website. Google wants your content to be useful not out of the goodness of their hearts but because that means its users will trust Google’s recommendations. 

Yahoo made the mistake of allowing for search engine rankings to be effectively purchased – without clear enough labelling that they were paid for results. This led to a loss of trust in the results they were returning and a gap in the market for Google to grow into. 

Still a thing apparently

SEO as a marketing speciality became the art and science of making sure Google chose our web pages to show to their users. This was a mixture of what we put on the page itself (content) and how we present it (generally the “technical” factors in SEO). A lot of early SEO was interested in the technical factors – what headings to use, keyword usage, the best length for the article, the number of links to include and so on. 

Whilst this stuff is important it’s generally ephemeral. What works one day may not work the next. A lot of time and money was wasted on trying to guess what Google were thinking and getting ahead of them. At least momentarily. 

However Google employs a lot of smart people. Any “tricks” that fooled Google are short term. Their engineers are just very good, very numerous and very well funded. It’s hard to compete on a purely technical level. 

Instead the best advice in SEO is to produce content that people (shock horror) actually want. Google wants its users to have access to the information they are looking for. If you produce that information then Google will (eventually) make sure the right people are connected to the information. Sure you can use some technical tweaks to make the content more appealing to Google but you can’t override the quality of the content itself. Purely technical SEO is like polishing a turd. It’s still a turd when the visitor turns up to view the information. 

So we know that Google likes content. We also know (they’ve told us) that they like lots of it, regularly updated. Speed of turnover and updates means that the content is fresh – at least in Google’s eyes. 

Enter The Blog 

Shortened from web-log, the blog became the de facto vehicle for delivering content on a consistent basis. There’s no particular reason why this should have happened. It’s primarily based on Google’s attraction to recency and regularity. 

1990s – the good ol’ days

Blog writing and SEO have become synonymous over the years. Primarily because having a static website with no new content isn’t very attractive to users (and therefore to Google). They have little reason to revisit. Blogs were a neat fix for this – a portion of a website that could be easily and regularly updated. 

Enter Social Media

Blogs happily chugged along as the primary way to update the world on your coming and goings for years. Even early social media like MySpace was not hugely different to blogs – it was just a network of blogs where you would see your friend’s blogs.

Will the last to leave please turn out the lights?

It was Facebook that really shook this up. Whilst it wasn’t the first social network it was the one that grew fastest. Right time, right place. And because social networks depend on network growth models (it’s right there in the name…) the biggest and fastest growing wins. The more connections in the network the more valuable the network is and the more reason to join. The big get bigger. 

Social media (Facebook) changed the dynamic. Previously we would have our own home online – our webpage and its blog. Over time we’d add content, much like a bird building its nest up. Google would reward us with traffic as our content was found. It might take a while but if we continued chugging away producing quality content that people wanted there was a good chance that it would all work out. 

Social media meant we could put our content out right now. In front of thousands or millions of people. In particular niches. Without all the technical setup. Without all the waiting for Google to find the content. 

In the world of project management (and business in general) we talk about three factors: better, faster, cheaper – choose two. You can have two of these factors only at the cost of the third. 

Suddenly social media came along and seemed to offer better, cheaper and faster. 

Marketers could get directly in front of their market for much cheaper, much faster and arguably with a better experience right there on the platform. 

Facebook. A marketer’s dream

RIP Blogs right? 

This was an understandable reaction. What’s the point about owning and building up a blog and web site over time when we can get the same results faster and cheaper with social media?

SMM (Social Media Marketing) became a powerful tool in the digital marketer’s arsenal, at times completely replacing SEO. 

Renting vs. Owning Debate 

Depending on when you became aware of the various forms of digital marketing (which will mainly be age dependent) you’ll likely have different preconceptions about what’s best. 

The general move though has been away from blogs and websites to social media. Again, understandable due to the apparent benefits. 

There is one very important caveat we need to introduce here though – the difference between owning and renting your marketing platform. 

When we use Facebook or any social media platform we are renting exposure. 

Rental gives us advantages : leverage being the main one. We can get to 2bn people on Facebook with the right budget. Renting means flexibility, speed, low starting costs. If something isn’t working we can easily edit it or stop completely. Renting is brilliant for the short term. 

A blog/webpage on the other hand is more akin to owning. We build that platform with our words and content over time. It’s an asset that we own. In fact we can even rent it out (running adverts on our site). It takes more time to build for sure but importantly we control the asset. Ownership is fantastic for the long term. 

We find this dilemma in life. Should we rent or own? With property the answer is generally you want to own. With cars it will depend – do you want to switch it often? If so then renting may be best for you. What about movies/DVDs? We used to buy and own films. Now we rent them via Netflix or a similar streaming service as subscriptions are merely temporary rented access to a shared asset. 

Do we need ownership?

The main issue with renting is loss of control. I wanted to watch The Descent the other day on Netflix. I’d been seeing it’s poster on the front page for the last couple of months and had a mental note to at some point get around to watching it. The moment I decided to watch it, I found it was no longer available – it had been taken off the week before. 

Not a massive issue in this case but let’s loop back to the world of digital marketing. 

Let’s say that you’ve built a beauty brand on Instagram and have 200,000 followers. You’ve been making a living recommending certain lines of cosmetics and are very happy with your business. One day you wake up and Instagram has changed the rules on paid promotions and all your past content has been removed or banned. 

Ban hammer incoming

Or you stream games on Youtube. Some (many!) involves guns and violence. Suddenly the political winds change and video games are being blamed for shootings. Youtube reacts and demonetised your videos. 

Or you run real estate advertising on Facebook. You’ve done well over the last few years and have hired a team of people to work for you. Facebook decides to restrict how you can market real estate based on anti-discrimination laws and suddenly your advertising doesn’t work. Leads collapse, revenue collapses, you need to lay off those staff members. 

I couldn’t not use this

In all the examples you are at the whims of forces larger than your business. Sometimes larger than the social networks themselves. After the Cambridge Analytica scandal a lot of Facebook features were thrown out with the bathwater. Legitimate marketers took a hit in the aftermath due to a knee jerk political overreaction. Yes, restrictions were required but the way they were enacted had the potential to destroy a lot of bystander businesses.

A solution

We cannot predict what events will cause sweeping changes on the social networks. There’s no point trying to guess. Instead we can just build in buffers and hedges against whatever does happen. 

The gut reaction is to jump to another platform like Snapchat. This is shortsighted – it’s still just renting space on a platform. One more refined solution has been to separate income from the content. For Youtubers and influencers this has been to set up on Patreon to get paid directly from fans rather than rely on Youtube to keep cutting cheques. This is better but still relies on Patreon not raising its % of their income over time. 

Instead the best defence is to make sure we have our own home online. The best structure for this is still a website with a blog. If we think of the internet as open land then setting up our own website is the equivalent of building a house or maybe a ranch. Previously we were hunting and gathering. Maybe at most pitching tents if we intended on staying a little longer on a social network site. Now we are digging wells and building a brick house. Settling in. 

Does this mean going back to the olden days? Not at all. We’re going to use the traditional and the new. Classic and modern.

Old or new? Both please

Social media is still the best way to get exposure. So we’ll use it for this. Blogs and websites are the best place to give our communities a permanent place to stay. Therefore we’ll use them as such. 

We’ll use social media to generate an Audience and then send them to our site/blog as they become part of our Tribe. 

Here at B Street we’ve developed a model we called BATON. Business, Audience, Tribe, Offer, Network. For Audience we use social media and for Tribe we’ll move into a more permanent home. We use each tool where it is most effective. 

Two tiered content production

The easiest way to do this is to produce content that is adaptable for both social media and our blog/website. Celebrate laziness! Create once, publish multiple times. 

Ugh, can we not?

This blog that you are reading for example. It started as a set of notes. I wrote the notes as the skeleton of a blog article and as a video for social media. The structure is basically the same. 

The notes are written up into a blog article first and then I record a related video. That allows me to flesh out the arguments by writing so I can more easily talk about the issue afterwards.

Equally I might do it the other way.  It depends on my mood to be quite honest. Some days I record the video and use the thought process during the recording to flesh out what I’m going to write. Whatever works for you is the best method. 

From here the two assets (written and video) can be further converted. 

  • The video can be cut into clips for different channels. 
  • The video can be transcribed to create even more text for the web page (great for SEO)
  • The video can be embedded above the blog article itself. 
  • The text can be edited and rewritten into a longer guide or an ebook (combined with others)
  • And so on

The main thing is to use one piece of content in as many ways as possible. 

All social media assets point back to the written blog assets. 

This is how we get people from our rented social channels back to our owned blog channel. 

This is using each tool for its best suited purpose and glueing them together with content. This is how you balance out the long and short term, the slow and fast, stable and flexible. 

Let’s summarise:

  • SEO is getting to the top of Google
  • Blogs became the de facto way to do this
  • Social media came along and seemed superior in all ways
  • We are only renting social media channels;  we own our blog
  • Use social media to build an audience; bring them back to your Tribe website
  • Content is the glue linking social and blogs – use it wisely by repurposing your content
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