What Can B2B Tech Marketing Learn From Coffee Marketing?
March 29, 2018 | Dan Trefethen
Lena has worked in a variety of communications, consulting, and marketing roles in San Francisco, Thailand, New York City, Boston, and Seattle. Her most recent professional path has found her transitioning from the B2B tech space as a Director of Content (at SnapApp) to a Marketing Manager in the gourmet coffee equipment industry.
The Modbar Modular Brewing System in action. Image source: modbar.com
I sat down with her recently to talk about that specific professional transition, as well as cover the different nuances of a marketing career path.
Some interesting insights and distinctions discussed were:
- No marketing career is linear
- The difference in industry techniques
- The difficulty of turning down afternoon coffee breaks
- The emphasis on celebrating customer stories
What’s the high level view of your marketing career that go you to B2B tech?
Let’s see. I’ve had sort of this circuitous career into marketing. My first job, after college, was doing communications and fundraising at an international aid agency. I stayed in the nonprofit world for about four years and then switched tracks.
I moved to Boston and wanted to start over and do something totally different. So I actually got a job as a barista and started learning a lot about coffee and about customer service and about crafting specialty beverages for customers, and loved it. I loved the idea that I could make something really beautiful and special, and give it to someone and have them be instantly happy and satisfied, and their day was made a little bit better by that interaction. That was something that I hadn’t experienced in my nonprofit “change the world” kind of approach to my first couple of jobs.
I decided I wanted to get back into a communications/marketing track, and started working remotely for Criteria for Success, a boutique consulting company based in New York City. Then I joined the Boston Content Networking Group so I could feel a little more connection with the city I was living in, and that lead me to becoming the content person at SnapApp. I was there for about two years and helped form the brand voice and content strategy – how to reach the audience of marketing professionals and share how better content technology would help them. I really loved my time there, but needed to move back to the Northwest to be closer to family.
So that brings us back to coffee.
How did you end up at your current position as Marketing Manager at Modbar?
When I worked as a barista in Boston, I had gone to a conference where this new company had just launched, it was the very first display of this revolutionary espresso machine product called Modbar. And I just… I had never seen it before. I was amazed. Moving to Seattle, I came across this job at La Marzocco doing marketing for Modbar and I was like, wait, is this possibly the perfect job for me?
A few steps later, it all worked out. They were really excited to find me, and I was excited to find them. And that’s where I am now.
What was the initial transition period like from going to B2B tech to the cafe/ coffee industry? The first few months?
It was a huge learning curve. When I interviewed for this job, they told me that they were looking for someone with a marketing background and not necessarily a coffee background. They felt like the person that would succeed would be a marketer and business strategist rather than someone directly from the coffee industry. But having the little bit of coffee experience that I had ended up being hugely beneficial.
There’s an incredible number of terms and just almost like a cultural knowledge of different coffee brands and the history of the craft coffee movement, so there was a lot to catch up on. Even with the background I had, the learning curve was tough, and I’m still learning so much.
So, do you still like coffee now that you work with it everyday?
I do. I actually had quit coffee before I got this job. When I worked in nonprofits, I would drink coffee all day and I started feeling like it was affecting me in an undesirable way. I was getting over-caffeinated easily, and just turned it off and switched to tea. And then I became a barista and I went completely in the other direction and was drinking coffee again all the time.
So I’ve gone through these “coffee all the way on, coffee all the way off” sort of stages in my life. And now that I’m back in coffee, it is really easy to drink way too much coffee. We have… it’s like a coffee enthusiast’s paradise. We have every type of brew method, our customers send us all of this amazing coffee. People brew something at 3:30 in the afternoon and you wanna taste it, and it can get a little crazy.
So what are some of the biggest differences and similarities from B2B tech and your current marketing industry?
I think the biggest difference is the sales model. For a lot of B2B tech, it’s an inside sales approach with a lot of value in inbound marketing. So you’ve got a sales team that’s doing outbound calling and processing inbound leads, and the benefit that marketing provides to sales is very clear, even if that relationship is not always perfect.
In coffee equipment marketing, our sales team is in the field. So they are working in whatever part of the country that they live in, meeting and building relationships in person, typically with the whole coffee community for their region. It’s a pretty different sales model – the coffee industry as a whole is very relationship-based, so that’s been part of the learning curve, too.
That being said, the core of what marketing does is the same. We’re very storytelling-oriented, very much about “what is the value that this product brings to our audience, who is our audience, what do they care about.” You end up asking yourself the same questions and going for the same types of content creation that you would in tech marketing.
Are there any specific strategies and tactics that you learned from B2B tech, that you now use in your current role?
I think the B2B tech marketing community is very metrics and measurement-oriented. So you want to know what your marketing is doing, keep track of everything that you do, and try to track as much as you can the actual downstream impact in dollars of those efforts. Tracking equipment sales is tricky, and attributing the marketing influence on those sales is even more difficult, but it’s been helpful to come in with an eye toward linking those things together.
To flip the question, what could B2B tech marketing learn from coffee marketing?
One thing that I really love about coffee marketing and the coffee industry is that it’s very celebratory of customers. So a big part of my marketing is finding customers that are happy using our equipment, and proud of the cafe that they’ve built with this beautiful machine, and sharing those photos and sharing those stories and celebrating who they are as a coffee company.
That’s something I think B2B tech can do as well, and often does, but maybe there’s a more personal touch that comes from telling coffee stories – or a broader brush, almost. I like that this celebration is this whole project of opening a cafe and what that means to this person and their family and their community, rather than “here’s what they did with our specific product.”
Let’s say tomorrow, you walk into a cafe you’ve never been in – what goes through your mind?
I spend a lot more time scanning the space. I pay a lot more attention to the machine that they’re using. One of the big advantages that Modbar brings to a cafe is improvement in the customer flow, the front of the bar, and the barista flow. So I end up watching how the barista is interacting with customers. Does it seem like they’re working efficiently, or does it seem like their job is easy, or has that the way things have been set up actually made their job harder? Those are the kind of things that I end up looking at.
Professionally, what are most excited for in the upcoming year?
I’m just excited about more storytelling around the great ways that people end up using our product and the kind of content that we’re creating to tell those stories. It’s really fun.