Espresso and Tonic

Normally, I’m a pretty straight, black Americano kind of guy. None of this fancy vanilla, skinny, soy milk latte nonsense, thanks very much. But on a recent trip to Chester, a smart poster by the front door of Caffè Nero caught my eye, proclaiming the arrival of the Espresso and Tonic, the new ‘drink of the summer’. Emboldened by the warm, spring sunshine, I decided I had to try one for myself.

My first clue should have been when I asked the barista if they sold many of these and received a polite, “Erm, not really…” in reply. My second clue should have been the single shot of espresso lurking suspiciously at the top of my glass. Undeterred, I prepared myself for a taste sensation.

I think Twitter does a much better job of articulating my response:

Dividing Opinion

To be fair, there are probably as many tweets from people who like Espresso and Tonic, but it definitely divides opinion, with some going as far as to explain the science behind why simply dropping a shot of espresso in a glass of tonic water just doesn’t work. Despite this, Caffè Nero must think they’re on to a winner – reports suggest that they spent 18 months developing the ‘E&T’.

But here’s the thing, in a crowded market where Costa Coffee outnumbers Caffe Nero by four to one, the underdog had to do something to stand out on the high street. For many, (this author included) the choice of which coffee brand you choose to drink depends on which one happens to be where you are at the time. How many people can honestly put their hand up and say whether they prefer Starbucks’ ‘Signature’ blend or Caffè Nero’s ‘Classico’ blend?

Overcoming Commoditisation

Whether Caffè Nero’s latest infusion is ultimately successful remains to be seen. However, as marketers we are often given the unenviable task of making a commoditised product appear different from the competition. Mixing up a traditional format is one way of doing it (even if it’s not to everyone’s taste – quite literally in this case), but there are some other tried and true ways we can make our brands stand out from the rest.

Offer a superior customer experience. 

What is the experience like in the shop? Are there enough staff taking orders? Was I given excellent service? Was I given the choice between a traditional cup or a take away cup? These small details can make all the difference for something as commonplace as buying a cup of coffee.

Uniquely bundle your products or services. 

Partnering with a particular brand of tonic water is one thing, but perhaps there are more complimentary partnerships you can make. For example, is there a particular cake or biscuit that would partner well with your coffee, or could you even serve it in an exclusive cup by a well-known crockery maker?

Customise your products and services to meet each customers’ unique needs. 

When you’re making a cup of tea for someone new, you usually ask “how do you like it?” How often does that happen with you in a coffee shop?

Distribute your brand in a unique or superior way. 

I’ve always thought that the owners of the coffee shop at the top of Mount Snowdon were on to something good, but maybe you don’t need to go to such heights(!) Where else could you get unique placement of your product or service? Many of us have had the experience of asking for a Jack Daniels’ and Coke in a pub, only to get informed that the establishment serves Pepsi.

Make superior creative in marketing communication the hero in brand differentiation. 

Well, seeing as you’ve made it this far, let’s have a chat 🙂

There are definitely other creative ways of marketing a commoditised product in a crowded market. What are your thoughts? We’d love to hear them!