3. Communicate in the Language of the People
Communicating Value 3: ‘Communicate in the language of the people’ – Communicating the inherent value of higher quality coffee
This article expands on proposed strategies to increase the commercial viability of cafés committed to sourcing and preparing the highest attainable standard of coffee. The specific focus of this article will be the role of communication as a strategic tool for serving this purpose. That is, strategic communication to promote the valuable attributes which differentiate higher quality coffee from the chain alternatives.
Here it will be put forth that in order to communicate the inherent value associated with a higher standard of beverage, the content, organisation and form of communication must be adapted for the target market. Furthermore, it is suggested that successfully adapting communication ultimately relies upon knowledge of the audience, thus revealing the need for market research. Finally, the key concerns of primary market research are identified as acquiring accurate measures of the prior knowledge, attitudes and values which are held by the broad public regarding coffee.
This article is based on the following assertions:
- In comparison to the chain alternatives, two unique and valuable attributes are ubiquitously shared by cafés which, source higher quality coffee. These are: a higher quality product and a greater commitment to social responsibility
- There is a disparity between the real value of such factors, and the perceptions of value held by a significant segment of the broad coffee drinking public
- The disparity between perceptions of value must decrease for the costs incurred in the sourcing and preparation of higher quality coffee to be justified reasonably as an efficient mode of business
- Accurate perceptions of value require an increase in, and thus, sharing of knowledge
The audience examined for this article is the broad coffee drinking public. Given disparate perceptions of value, and the number of coffee consumers this applies to, it is concluded that focusing on this group of consumers will have the greatest impact on commercial viability. The strategic consideration of communication, as it relates to the broad coffee drinking public, is therefore the basis for the discussion, which follows.
Marketing communication is an audience centred activity. Communication or promotion is one of the elements of the marketing mix and is responsible for putting the market offer to the target market. It is the planned and integrated communication activity that communicates with an organisation’s stakeholders. The ultimate objective of communication is to influence the behaviour of the target market (Fill, C Jamieson, B. 2006).
The purpose of communication in the context of marketing, is to convey a business’ market offer, in the belief that informed consumers will choose the more valuable offering. When presented with an offer, which is more valuable than the alternatives, it is assumed that consumer demand will increase and/or be less sensitive to increases in price (McCarthy, J. 2007).
The objective of communication therefore, when applied to the independent coffee industry, is to influence demand by the sending or ‘putting,’ of messages, which promote the valuable, point(s) of difference associated with higher quality coffee, The target for such communication is the broad coffee drinking public.
Communicating successfully implies that the target market has become conscious of the attributes, which differentiate higher quality coffee and consequently, are aware of its value. Successful communication also implies that as a result of this, consumers’ demand for coffee has increased, or that demand is less reactive, or ‘elastic,’ to increases in price. In order to develop strategies, which serve this purpose, it is proposed that considered adaptation of a café’s touch points is required.
It is a common misconception that communication relates specifically to conversation. At every point of public contact, or ‘touch point,’ potential and existing customers employ their senses to acquire and thus, receive information (Keller, K. Webster, F. 2004). Every aspect of a café, therefore, that is apparent to the senses of a consumer, potentially conveys information and communicates. For example, an employee’s stance, gait, tone and dress or the interior of a café and its website can all convey information. Consumers aggregate all of the available information, which then shapes their perceptions and attitudes. How then, can touch points within the coffee industry be best utilised so that they consolidate and expedite the objectives of communication?
Communication is ultimately shaped by who the audience is (McCarthy, J. et al.). If the attributes which differentiate higher quality coffee from the alternatives are what must be communicated, then the content, organisation, and form of touch points facilitate how this can be achieved. It is proposed that for this, the content, organisation, and form must be adapted for, and shaped by the broad coffee drinking public. It is also proposed that accurately adapting both content and organisation requires, audience insight, obtained through market research.
Successful communication depends on identifying and establishing common ground between you and your audience. Choose information that your audience needs and will find interesting (Braun, K. et. al. 2007).
Efficient communication requires selecting the right information for the audience. In relation to this article, the content required, is the information, which enables consumers to differentiate higher quality coffee and its industry, from the alternatives. How this information is specifically selected and ordered however, requires closer consideration.
Successful retention of information ultimately means that consumers will have grown their knowledge, In other words, they will have learned. It is proposed that selecting content which advances communication, best progresses from an understanding of the learner’s (consumer’s) prior knowledge.
There is a large body of findings to show that learning proceeds primarily from prior knowledge and only secondarily from the presented material. Furthermore, research has found that learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge (Hung, D. Khine, M. 2006). In other words, the information we acquire and retain as knowledge is influenced more by the knowledge we already possess than the information which we are being presented with. In addition to this, we learn most effectively when the new information presented is connected to, and builds from existing knowledge. To summarise, learning is most efficient when it progresses in sequential increments from an identified, ‘common ground.’ In this manner, prior knowledge, if identified, can be drawn upon to accelerate learning.
Prior knowledge however, also has the potential to inhibit learning. When information is presented which is at odds, with prior knowledge, learners have a propensity to reject it as nonsensical given its alien nature (Hung, D. Khine, M. 2006). That is, when new information is introduced which doesn’t connect with and build from prior knowledge, then it is likely to confound learners, and less likely to be retained.
This potential of prior knowledge to both assist and hinder learning experiences, ultimately highlights the importance of its consideration in the selection of effective content. Content which introduces new information by connecting with, and building upon the prior knowledge of the target audience will most efficiently facilitate achieving the objectives of communication. Content which fails to connect with the prior knowledge of the target audience is at risk of not being retained, and therefore inhibiting efforts to communicate.
In regards to achieving the communication objectives of the cafés considered in this article, knowledge needs to be shared in order to inform more accurate perceptions of value. Content therefore which is presented to achieve this, should be determined by the prior knowledge, which is established as common among the broad coffee drinking public. Information which builds incrementally and sequentially from prior knowledge can be expected to lead to more successful learning outcomes. In this way, the attributes of higher quality coffee are revealed gradually, supporting the objectives of communication. It can be predicted that content which exceeds and doesn’t connect with the prior coffee knowledge of consumers is less likely to be learned and therefore be less effective in achieving objectives.
The process of learning based on prior knowledge draws attention to two key concerns in relation to communicating the inherent value of independent cafés. Firstly, successfully adapting content so that it connects with and builds upon prior knowledge naturally relies on the accuracy with which prior knowledge is identified and quantified. In order to ascertain the precise level of knowledge which is common among the broad public, insight is required. In other words, market research into the prior knowledge of the broad coffee drinking public is necessary.
Secondly, if learning progresses sequentially then the specific information which corresponds to defined levels of knowledge must be determined. Following this, introducing appropriate new information, sequentially can occur. It is proposed that the most time and cost efficient method for developing a learning curve of knowledge relating to coffee, is by aggregating the input from a survey of peers. In this case, the greater the number of participants and the broader diversity in backgrounds, the more valid the resulting data.
As a hypothetical example of adapting content, consider conveying to a customer base with very little knowledge of coffee, the impact of provenance in creating unique flavour characteristics within a bean. A café for example, may decide to adapt various touch points within the café so that they communicate this information. It is likely that to facilitate the longer-term objectives of communication it is best to introduce only the incremental ‘next step’ in information. This may mean imparting only the concept that coffee grown in different countries can taste differently, rather than presenting all of the other influences in growing climates. It may also mean, offering ‘gateway’ coffees to illustrate this, which may not necessarily be the objective, preference of professionals. Attempting to increase the level and amount of content conveyed could potentially overwhelm consumers and undermine strategic efforts to share knowledge.
On an interpersonal level, between staff and guest it can be expected that experienced staff are well rehearsed at inferring prior knowledge from their interaction with guests, and adapting their communication accordingly. The detail of this process, however, is topic for further discussion.
To best facilitate the sharing of knowledge on a strategic scale, in order to meet the needs of coffee consumers and ultimately influence behaviour, the content communicated must be adapted for the audience. It must be adapted so that it connects with and builds upon the prior knowledge held by the broad coffee drinking public. The success of this process hinges on both clearly defining levels of knowledge and accurate identification of prior knowledge within the broad coffee drinking public. To gather this information some market research is required.
Successful communication requires organising or encoding the content so that the audience will understand. Choosing audience-appropriate symbols (words, gestures, illustrations) guarantees a more accurate meaning transfer (Braun, K. et. al. 2007).
The meanings of various words and symbols can differ, depending on the attitudes and experiences of individuals or groups (McCarthy, J. et al.). Organisation or encoding involves selecting audience appropriate words and symbols to ensure the content is easily and accurately understood. Attitudes, meaning and ultimately interpretations of information can vary for example, based on factors such as age, culture, or religion (Lancaster, G. Reynolds, P. 2002). This potentially causes an interference in the communication process where the same words and symbols alter meaning during, ‘translation.’
Without understanding the viewpoint of the target market, it is difficult to accurately predict how communication will be interpreted. Words and symbols which accurately convey meaning to professionals may be misinterpreted by guests, and in worst cases, can intimidate.
An example of this may be a barista’s attempts to communicate the value of ‘dialling’ in an espresso. Without knowledge of the customer’s attitudes towards coffee, the barista risks using unfamiliar language. Despite the best intentions of the barista, this can potentially be confusing, intimidating or even perceived as pretentious. To ensure the desired information is received, the organisation or encoding of marketing content is shaped by, and adapted to the audience (Lancaster, G. Reynolds, P. 2002). That is, in order to convey the same information to different audiences, adapting the language and or symbols make for more meaningful communication.
These O2 advertisements positioned around London are a simple illustration of this adaptation:
The content communicated is that customers with O2 can change phones frequently. This message is organised differently in each case however, to adapt to the values and attitudes of the anticipated audience. In order to do this, some defining characteristics must be known about the recipients of the communication process. This is obtained through market research.
To apply this to the coffee industry, words and symbols may vary in meaning depending on the audience. It is likely for example that the vocabulary used to convey value to those within the coffee industry, may differ to the vocabulary which most effectively conveys the same information to the broad public. Successfully communicating, to promote the attributes of higher quality coffee, requires the selection of words symbols or illustrations which are most appropriate for conveying meaning to the broad coffee drinking public. Adapting the organisation of this content so that it is clearly understood, is best informed by market research.
Traditionally, market research involves the gathering of information regarding demographic, psychological and behavioural characteristics that influence decisions the target market make as consumers (McCarthy, J. et al.). For example, insight into occupations, education levels, attitudes, values and when and how the audience prefer to shop all aid in adapting content to the, ‘language,’ of the audience.
Inevitably however, market research of this scale, although beneficial, requires significant investments of time and money. It is proposed that the most immediate and relevant need for insight is into the attitudes and values the broad market hold in relation to independent coffee.
Attitudes are an expression of a person’s feelings. They are learned through past experiences and may be influenced by external factors (Elsevier, 2005). This means that, the way consumers feel towards coffee as a product and an industry is learned by the combination of previous experiences and other external factors. It can be predicted therefore, that attitudes have been formed and influenced by the, abundance of cafés and coffee, which until recent years, existed in the absence of widespread independent alternatives. Furthermore, that due to a less diverse range of coffee experiences, these attitudes are unlikely to match the attitudes held by those within the industry. Examples of attitudes could include such things as: coffee is a homogeneous commodity, or independent coffee is 'not worth the wait.' Identifying precisely which attitudes are common provides the basis for adapting the words and symbols which convey content, so that they may respond to, and persuade a change in attitudes. One way in which this can be done is by appealing to the values of the target market.
Values refer to the conviction of an individual that an end state is personally or socially preferable (Millett, B. et. al 2004) To simplify, values refer to outcomes which individuals deem to be desirable. In the context of cafés this could include such things as, valuing, ethical trade, social interaction, or support of independently owned businesses. As values inevitably vary between groups and individuals, market research of some form is needed to gather data on common values, specific to coffee consumers. By drawing on these values when adapting the organisation of content, the same information can be conveyed in a more persuasive, and ultimately effective format.
If market research is successful in accurately identifying, prior knowledge, attitudes and values within the broad market of coffee consumers, then content and its organisation can be adapted so that they increase the potential success of communication. The final consideration in planning to achieve the communication objectives is selecting the form most appropriate for the audience.
Transmit the message along channels that your audience pays attention to (Braun, K. et. al. 2007).
If communication is to be successful in bridging the disparity in knowledge, and therefore perceptions of value, between businesses and the broad coffee drinking public, then content must introduce new information and organisation encodes the information to ensure it is understood. The most efficient form, will naturally be that which effectively reaches the largest audience, for a given allocation of resources. It is proposed that this is best achieved by the strategic consideration of touch points to include communication which is predominantly visual. Furthermore, that given it is the channel by which, most interaction occurs with customers, that this be implemented within the context of the café.
The process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting and organising of sensory information, ultimately informs how human beings form perceptions (Haugtvedt, C. et al. 2008). That is, as humans, and therefore as consumers we gather relevant information via the use of our senses. Selecting, organising and interpreting this, we then use it to form perceptions regarding our environment. This includes our perceptions of value.
As we acquire new information we consider it relative to the knowledge we have in memory from prior experiences. Our selections then shift, and we select further pertinent information to aid future judgements (Goldstein, B. 2007). In other words, each time we are presented with something new, we evaluate it with reference to our previous experiences. Relevant new information is then retained and ultimately our knowledge grows. Each time we are presented with a new coffee for example, our judgement is aided by our prior knowledge, in the form of previous coffees as reference. Our ability to evaluate moving forward, is then strengthened by the information retained from this current coffee. In this manner, our knowledge of coffee increases incrementally and in proportion to the number and range of coffees we have objectively and analytically tasted.
Most guests, when compared to those who work in the industry, have not had the same array of engaged and analytical coffee tasting experiences. Subsequently, the majority of customers do not have the wealth of sensory references to call upon when evaluating value based solely on taste and smell. For these customers, the senses of sight, touch and hearing gather the most accurate information regarding a café, and subsequently form the basis for comparing value.
The senses of sight, touch and hearing however, are not relied upon equally for gathering information. It is estimated that as much as eighty percent of what we as humans, interpret from our surrounding environments is acquired visually (Goldstein, B. 2007). That is, a large proportion of how we perceive our surroundings, is via the sense of sight. It can be assumed therefore, that communication which takes the form f visual touch points, increases the likelihood that marketing messages will be noticed or received.
Visual components of communication can also be strategically considered so that they are congruous and most effectively achieve the objectives of communication. They can then be integrated and embedded into the café experience to ensure a consistent message and one which promotes the sustainable competitive advantages of a business This negates the potential for distortion barriers. That is, when the message which is conveyed to consumers varies and subsequently is inhibited. This can occur for example when reliant on verbal communication with poorly briefed or unmotivated staff. Visual communication which is integrated into a café is also omnipresent, regardless of the time of day, number of customers, or staff working.
Some simple examples of visual communication, are these additions to the blackboard at a Harris and Hoolecafé.
Information regarding the temperature of milk and the espresso recipe are presented visually so that customers are made conscious of the level of skill applied in preparation. This ultimately communicates a valuable attribute which differentiates Harris and Hoole from their immediate competitors.
This article expanded on strategies proposed to increase the commercial viability of cafés which are committed to sourcing and preparing the highest standard of coffee. It was proposed that realising the competitive and commercial potential of such cafés requires more effective communication. Furthermore, that to have the greatest impact, communication should be strategically considered to respond to the disparate perceptions of value, within the broad coffee drinking public..
It was proposed that in order to successfully communicate the valuable attribute which differentiate higher quality coffee, the content, organisation and form of communication must be adapted for the audience.
For this, it is asserted that:
- The content be adapted to connect with and build from, the prior knowledge of the target market.
- The organisation of information be shaped by the attitudes and values of the target market.
- The form of communication be predominantly via visual touch points within the context of the café.
For successful adaptation of both content and organisation it is proposed that greater knowledge of the audience is required. It is asserted that this best advanced by market research which ascertains prior knowledge, attitudes and values of the broad coffee drinking public.
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