In 2019, it was revealed that the £10.1bn UK coffee shop sector achieved twenty years of sustained growth.
However, it’s fair to assume that a large proportion of that growth comes from branded coffee chains, with establishments of that kind making up 45% of the overall total in the US alone.
At the time of writing, we’re also in the midst of one of the greatest threats to the hospitality industry - the coronavirus (COVID-19). With lockdowns rapidly being enforced in countries across the world, operating costs are suddenly becoming a significant burden for smaller operators.
As an independent cafe owner, this might make you wonder if it’s really worth it. How can one compete against the big boys with their ever-present nature, huge marketing budgets, clever coffee marketing and pockets that are deep enough to contend with force majeure events?
The good news? You absolutely can compete on a level playing field with these big boys, and come back stronger than ever from crises like Covid-19.
Big time marketing has rapidly become democratised, thanks to low-cost, brilliant outreach tools and marketing strategies we can all undertake without huge budgets or marketing professionals at our disposal.
Consider this guide your own, personal invitation to create a coffee shop marketing plan that will take your business to new heights.
Why people want to visit your independent cafe
There’s still some very good news to be had for independent coffee shops. For instance, London has enjoyed a 700% surge in venues of that kind since 2010.
The research has revealed that the number of independent coffee shops in the UK’s capital has risen to from 50 in 2010 to over 400 in 2021.
Let’s consider some of the reasons people might be put off the big chain coffee shops:
- they’re expensive;
- the decor is the same, no matter where you are;
- the coffee, actually, isn’t that great;
- they’re busy and noisy;
- they’re often only found in the middle of shopping centres or within clothes stores; and
- table service and pay-on-departure aren’t usually available.
- when you put it like that, an independent coffee shop sounds far more appealing, doesn’t it?
This is why such establishments contribute handsomely to the coffee shop sector which grew by nearly 8% last year in the UK. We’re a nation obsessed with coffee, as it turns out, with 81% of Brits visiting a cafe regularly.
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Whether this is as a result of the growing independent working community, young parents who need to get out of the house or an increasing preference of a chat over coffee rather than an alcoholic drink is irrelevant; people clearly want to spend money with your independent business.
So, how do you encourage them to do so?
With brilliant coffee shop advertising and coffee shop promotion ideas that they can’t ignore - that’s how!
Tips for cafe marketing
Whether you’re running a simple coffee stand or a forty seater cafe, the following coffee shop marketing ideas will hopefully get your creative juices flowing.
Try these paid restaurant advertising ideas
Like it or lump it, we now live in a pay-to-play industry when it comes to coffee shop marketing.
There’s still merit in using social media in an organic fashion by posting snippets of your operation daily, but you shouldn’t expect to achieve much more than proof your business exists and has a voice (which is, of course, important).
To really draw new customers in, you need to engage in some paid advertising activity, such as:
- Groupon ads: Groupon might have been around for quite some time now, but it’s still a hotly contested spot for businesses that want to unleash their best offers to a very captive audience. Just remember the golden rule: get them in cheap, then work to keep them; retention is king.
- Facebook location ads: If you know someone who knows their stuff when it comes to Facebook advertising, bring them on board. If not, spend no more than £50 for a couple of weeks and define your audience as tightly as possible. Facebook’s location advertising feature will help you find local customers.
- Instagram ads: If you haven’t got a lot followers on Instagram, their ads platform is a great way to significantly increase your follower count and reach potential new customers in the future.
- Waze ads: Waze is a community-powered GPS route guidance app but it also has a brilliant advertising platform built-in. If you’ve used Waze yourself, you’ve probably seen the ads it surfaces; your restaurant could feature at just the right time for passers-by!
We’d recommend starting with the above advertising channels initially, and backing out as soon as you feel you’re spending more than the resulting bookings justify. If it works consistently - keep it going!
Take control of customer reviews
Independent restaurant owners understandably fear online review platforms due to the ever-present threat of bad-yet-unfair reviews.
However, dealing with negative reviews and those of a more positive nature should be viewed as a key part of your marketing strategy.
Offering social proof for your business is key to winning more loyal customers, and one of the best ways to do that is to emphasise the good reviews you receive on your website and social media feeds.
To get as many good reviews as possible, you need to:
- Reply to every review - good or bad - to demonstrate that you listen and take customer feedback seriously;
- Ask customers to leave a review as they pay or depart your restaurant (pop a link to your Tripadvisor profile on business cards or receipts);
- Place notes on tables and within menus to leave reviews; and
- Use technology that encourages people to leave reviews when they use services such as your WiFi.
By doing the above, the better reviews should start rolling in, enabling you to engage with those happy customers and share their good words with anyone who happens to pass by online.
Make your venue more than ‘just’ a cafe
If you’ve done any amount of reading on modern hospitality, you’ll probably be sick of the phrase ‘experience’.
Just as modern hotel guests apparently want far more than just a bed for the night, the coffee shop ‘experience’ has evolved. And that doesn’t mean the end of punters who come in for business meetings, quiet coffees with friends or bouts of focused, headphones-on working.
Instead, it means you need to think a little beyond your role as a cafe.
For instance, what if you have a business networking event nearby that needs a new venue? Would they consider your cafe? Probably not if you’re not making noises about being a networking venue.
The same goes for speed dating (this is big business, no matter any preconceptions you might have), launch events and meet-up evenings for hobbyists. If you start marketing your business as a venue for groups of people or those with similar interests, you’ll immediately set yourself out from the big brand competition.
10 trending marketing ideas for cafes in 2021
So, what can your cafe do to stand out in 2021 and beat the economic impact of the coronavirus? Here’s ten tried-and-tested marketing ideas for cafes that are making a name for themselves in 2021.
1. Create a loyalty scheme
You don’t have to be Starbucks to have a loyalty scheme, but they know just as well as anyone else that acquiring new customers is expensive. In fact, it could cost as much as 25 times more than retaining existing customers.
You don’t have to get too smart about this, either. You know those stamped cards you find in branded cafes where the 10th drink is free? Why not do the same?
2. Join your local business networking group
As we noted earlier, your cafe can be much more than a drinking venue, and by joining local networking events, you can be present within the business community and jump on any opportunity to offer your cafe as a networking venue.
3. Update your Google My Business profile
Google My Business (GMB) received a big update during 2019, and it remains the most important directory on which to list your cafe.
You just need to spend plenty of time perfecting it, and this brilliant, updated guide from TheHoth will help you do just that.
4. Use your own influencers
Influencer marketing is a brilliant way to offer social proof about your business and to hand the advertising reigns over to your customers.
Once again, the democratisation of marketing means you don’t need to be a big brand to find your own influencers.
Identify your loyal customers and ask if they’ll help spread the good word about your venue. Some will do so without encouragement, while others might want a reward for doing so. A guaranteed free cup of coffee each week in exchange for some Instagram love might be all that’s needed to further the reach of your brand considerably.
5. Jump on the delivery bandwagon
Delivery is no longer purely for takeaways and big brand pizza businesses; every venue can now tap into the huge audience that wants food or drink delivered to homes and offices each week.
There are plenty of delivery apps and services to choose from, and the cost is surprisingly digestible for small operators.
There’s no escaping the fact that it’s a big undertaking and significant change to your business model, but it could open your cafe up to a brand new audience and profitable source of revenue.
6. Email marketing
Think email’s dead? Think again.
In 2021, email marketing is more important than ever if you want to reach a defined endpoint (the customer’s inbox) and build a layer of trust that’ll ensure they become a loyal customer.
Start by collecting email addresses from customers when they fill out feedback forms or sign-up for offers (making it clear you’ll be using their details for marketing purposes, of course).
7. Behind-the-scenes videos and photo
Use your Instagram account to show a glimpse of what goes on behind-the-scenes in your cafe.
By showing morning preparations before service and snapshot interviews with staff, you’ll add personality to the business and provide something people love to see; what goes on ‘behind the curtain’.
8. Ensure your website is mobile-ready
Do independent cafes really need to worry about their website?
Of course they do!
Ignore this marketing channel at your peril. People will still hunt down your website if they find your GMB listing, and if it doesn’t work perfectly on the device they’ll probably be holding (i.e. their smartphone), you’ll lose them to another cafe or a big brand alternative.
Don’t spend a fortune on your website, but do invest time in making sure if works on mobile devices.
9. Make vegan, allergens and healthy eating a clear focus
Vegan cafes and restaurants are everywhere, and you’ll undoubtedly have seen an increase in venues that make their ability to cater for those with allergies abundantly clear.
You need to do the same, even if it means investing time and money in a new menu. Vegans, people with allergies and those who want healthy ‘eats’ will regularly walk through your doors; they shouldn’t have to ask if you can cater for them.
10. Don’t ignore the local media
Another traditional marketing tactic on a 2021 marketing trends list? Absolutely!
As an independent operator, you can still benefit significantly from coverage in local media. This is particularly the case if you follow some of the guidance in this blog. Your latest offer, next event or support of a local initiative (or charity) will be of interest to the local paper and radio - two marketing channels that are anything but dead.
Still scared of the big boy competition?
Use our tips to set your independent cafe out from the rest. The tips above should help you form the start of a modern marketing plan that will ensure your business prospers in what is a highly competitive market.