Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Finding the right message

Most emerging green businesses (and most new businesses in general) put their emphasis on creating excellent products or services. Too many often fail to devote enough energy articulating why potential customers should want to buy these products and services. The most successful companies have all built their loyal customer bases by effectively communicating the value of buying their brand instead of the competitor’s.

The essence of good branding is finding that special niche that only your product can fill.

Truly unique products do exist, but most have competitors with similar products, and those that don’t likely will soon. The key to differentiating your brand, then, is usually not found simply in a physical attribute of the product itself, but rather in an emotional response that your product is able to trigger in your customers.

Playing to people’s emotions to sell a product may seem crass, and indeed it has certainly been abused by more than a few advertisers. But at its heart it is a sound way to communicate a message. People all have needs. We need basic food, water, and shelter, to be sure, but we also need to feel some connection to other people and our environments and a way to demonstrate our own values and identity. The products we buy are often a reflection of the way we want to see ourselves and our world.

Case study: Link’s Coffee

A few miles north of Chicago, on the edge of downtown Wilmette, there is a cozy and friendly bakery and coffee shop called Link’s Sweet Bean. They roast their own coffee, much of it organic and fair trade, and the aroma of fresh coffee beans permeates the store. The coffee is very good, and the owner, a warm and hardworking young woman named Lourdes Link, now sells their packaged coffee through several supermarket chains including all of the Whole Foods Market stores in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

The caveat: the coffee needs distinctive packaging to help it stand out on the crowded shelves.

Lourdes contacted John Beske Communications, to help create this packaging. The first step was to help her define her product and her values and goals, and to analyze the market and the competition in order to help her find the best way to make her product stand out on the shelves.

There are more than a dozen premium coffees available to shoppers in Chicago’s northern suburbs, including two popular locally roasted premium coffee brands, Intelligentsia and Metropolis. Exercises to evaluate Link’s special place in this busy marketplace kept pointing to the fact that Link’s Sweet Bean is building its reputation by being a friendly and warm part of its community. It became clear that the packaged coffee was something potentially larger than the store itself, and that it needed a name that reflected the personality of its larger community.

The brand’s name, “Link’s North Shore” was chosen because the suffix “North Shore” conjures up images of classic casual elegance in the well-heeled and tightly-knit communities along the lakefront. For residents of the North Shore, the name offers a sense of pride and connection – a product that represents the place they call home. For the people of Chicago and the rest of its metropolitan area where Ms. Link hopes the coffee will be eventually distributed, Link’s North Shore reminds them of charming cobblestoned downtowns, Victorian mansions, and an affluent population with discerning (if somewhat snooty) tastes.

While it is too soon to see how the rebranding will affect sales, the grocery managers were impressed - one went so far as to increase his order after seeing the new packaging. Lourdes Link is overjoyed and has ordered t-shirts for her staff that celebrate the new look.

-- John Beske
John Beske Communications

John Beske Communications provides compelling and powerful advertising, marketing, and design for green and sustainable businesses and nonprofits. Visit to learn more.


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