5 Reasons Why Handsome Coffee Roasters Just Blew the Eff Up

Working on some sort of start up? Take some marketing notes from a few dudes who dig a good cup of coffee.

Everyone’s an Entrepreneur

We all get the picture, bad economy = more innovation. In the last few years we’ve seen the explosion of small batch artisan brands trying to pull themselves up from their grassroots bootstraps to make it in the big bad world. While some took to pedaling grandma’s “to die for” pastries from food trucks and others started selling Cat dioramas on Etsy, nearly every new found entrepreneur has a “one of a kind” product/experience to pitch to a jobless coterie of money-barren consumers.

Unfortunately, what we’re starting to see, as stripped-out mobile eateries begin to crowd Craigslist and PayPal accounts start to cost us more to keep than the dollars they actually accrue, is that there’s more to running a successful business than having an awesome product... you’ve got to know how market it, too.

The Modern Marketing Moguls

Whether it’s the social media king Gary Vaynerchuck obnoxiously touting the value of 1 on 1 customer relationships, or best selling author, Seth Godin, preaching the paramount role of the proverbial “Sneezer*” via viral marketing, it’s starting to become more clear that the way we brand and sell business is changing and if we don’t adapt appropriately we’re going to be left in the start-up junkyard with the rest of them.

Enter Handsome Coffee Roasters

Then there was HCR. You guessed it, a trio of Intelligentsia Alum (we’d call them Hipsters but that word doesn’t mean anything anymore) who not only love coffee more than life itself, but are the pristine paragon of this new age marketing philosophy. Sure, in the artisan coffee arena you might say that these guys are big shots (Michael Phillips was the World Barista Champion of 2010), but in the wake of the late February launch of their flagship outpost in Downtown’s Arts District, we think it’s safe to say that their brand has boomed far beyond that little niche of coffee nerds. Here’s how they did it.

5 Principles for Success

Principle 1: Carve a Niche in a Niche

We’ve always known that if you want to stand out amongst the herds, you’ve got to specialize your product. In this case, the snobby artisan coffee trend was well underway when these dudes decided to detach from the Intelligentsia tit just a year prior. 

The Handsome Move: So instead of stepping in line with similar already-burgeoning artisan coffee brands, they honed their focus and adopted an even tighter knit group of coffee connoisseurs -only those bad ass enough to sip their brews sans the sweetener. And so they adopted a no sweetener policy. Yes, and not just the yellow, white and pink stuff either, we’re talking raw sugar, agave and any other organic nectar you hippies might get your hands on.

Principle 2: Don’t be afraid to ruffle a few feathers.

As much as they might say otherwise, people don’t actually like choices -making a decision has become a major source of anxiety for many of us in the recent years.

The Handsome Move: The boys have taken a very minimal approach to their coffee menu. No fraps, caps, mochas or macchiatos. They’ll be serving espresso... and espresso with steamed milk (3, 6 or 10oz). That’s it. The truth is, people don’t develop tastes until you force them to broaden their palate. Handsome is doing their best to get us out of our comfort zones.

Principle 3: Choose your sneezers wisely

Seth Godin claims that if you want your brand to go viral, you have to choose the right people to spread it. The goal is to find an a “sneezer” that is accessible to you, but powerful enough in their influence over others (obviously Oprah has some pull, but what are the chances she’s going to tweet your latest comic book release?)

The Handsome Move: They’ve been extremely accurate in their choice of sneezers. Not only did they reach out to other artisinal coffee shops, but they planted their product in other relevant arenas on the periphery like cafes, gourmet markets and gastropubs around the city.

Principle 4: Entice your sneezer (Macro Level)

Once you’ve nailed down your ideal sneezers, you’ve got to figure out a way to incentivize them to sneeze your product.

The Handsome Move: They decided that getting people to see and taste their product was more important than making a few bucks on the front end. On the wholesale level, they offered their sneezers (the vendors that they wanted to carry their product) the opportunity to take their coffee on consignment -ie. if nobody buys it, we take it back -making it a risk-free and only potentially profitable endeavor for the merchant.

Principle 5: Engage your customers on a personal level

Sure, they did a fantastic job of preemptively spreading their brand as they prepped for their downtown debut (very few cool places in LA didn’t offer Handsome Coffee by the time their shop opened in Feb), but the real magic happened on an individual basis. Gary Vaynerchuck explains that we’re no longer living in a world of push marketing, we must engage the customer on an individual level. “You can’t give a presentation at a cocktail party,” he explains in his latest book The Thank You Economy, mingling is the new sales pitch.

The Handsome Move: The boys used their blog and social media forums intently to develop a personal relationship with their fans. They did a great job of keeping people interested and engaged with interactive events like their Handsome Wager - a stroke of genius that gave 40 lucky and loyal fans a chance to “subscribe” to a monthly delivery of fresh roasted beans as they tested different varietals from around the globe to find the perfect Handsome roast. Then there was the Coffee Scavenger Hunt where they prompted locals to visit the only other artisan coffee shops downtown (Spring for Coffee and Coffee Bar) before returning to the Handsome warehouse/soon-to-be outpost of their own, for a free tour and a bag of beans. These events were more than just the flighty shenanigans of giddy coffee geeks, they started the buzz where it counted most, the people who were interested in esoteric, sugarless espresso.

The truth is, there is so much more to their magnificent marketing scheme than all of this -the private parties with famed LA mixologists, unofficially official coffee showdowns with competitive roasters, then, of course, Justin Beaver -their taxidermy mascot who blogs about local cafes and eateries as a peace offering of sorts to venues of wholesale interest to Handsome. But while they may have been an exquisite embodiment of contemporary marketing standards, in the end chances are good that it wasn’t the wise words of some modern day social media oracle that made this brand such an astounding success. Nope, more likely than not, it was their extremely peculiar but utterly authentic passion for coffee.


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