Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: Coffee culture in the tea-loving nation India is continuing to evolve with a specialty-coffee trend that offers customers freshly brewed coffee the way they would love. From choosing between instant or filter coffee in the past to developing preferences for particular beans and the flavour, the coffee market is fast picking up, thanks to specialty coffee. The market, however, is already crowded and the fact remains that India is a price-sensitive country. However, coffee lovers willing to pay a premium for that perfect cup of coffee is also a fact. Hence, creating a superior and higher quality brand is the best bet for emerging premium coffee businesses like Blue Tokai to survive and grow.
Speaking at the Financial Express Online’s The ScaleUp Summit on Thursday, Blue Tokai’s Co-founder and CEO Matt Chitharanjan said having a great product is necessary but not sufficient to build a great company, especially amid multiple companies selling similar products. Hence, by sharing the story behind the products, the firm can be the key differentiator to create engagement and connections with customers. So how did Chitharanjan and his team build the Blue Tokai brand?
“Customers want to buy from brands that are aligned with the values they have. So, it is very important for companies to be able to communicate those values to customers in a clear and concise manner,” said Chitharanjan. For Blue Tokai, its core values are quality, design, transparency and approachability about the product which Chitharanjan felt were lacking in the market back in 2012 when the company was started.
To communicate that to the customers, the first of the many debates at Blue Tokai was how to represent those values on the packaging. Chitharanjan didn’t want to price himself out of the market with something very elaborate on the coffee pouch. While on one hand, a basic pouch with the company logo and some information about coffee was the option, on other hand, the option was to partner with local artisans and commission them to produce unique pieces of traditional art that would get interwoven into the packaging. However, this involved an upfront cost that would make the packaging significantly more expensive.
“After a lot of back and forth, we agreed with the designed pouch with the caveat that if we didn’t get initial traction, we will switch back to a basic one,” said Chitharanjan. This indicated that pouches could be an essential aspect of brand communication if designed properly.
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To implement transparency as a brand value, Blue Tokai decided to mention the name of the estate from where the coffee was sourced, the roast level, processing details, and more right up front on the pouch itself. That was not just to inform customers about the product but also to acknowledge the place from where it comes. “A lot of work happens at the farm level, and it is important that those farms get credit for the effort they put into the end product,” said Chitharanjan. Another reason for putting the details was to tell customers in hindsight that India does produce extremely good quality coffee.
The name and logo of a company are also intrinsic to building a brand. Blue Tokai’s logo is a peacock, India’s national bird which is also a common sight in coffee plantations. According to Chitharanjan, Tokai is an old Malabar word for the tail of the peacock and the Malabar coast is where coffee first came into India from the Middle East. “We thought the combination of the name and the logo would indicate the Indianness of our brand,” said Chitharanjan.
This combined with the quality of the product built by Blue Tokai provided it with the branding moat, which Chitharanjan said, would be difficult for others to replicate and compete even if they are able to procure coffee from the same estates.
While sharing coffee procurement and roasting details helped Blue Tokai to engage with customers better, the next level of personalisation came from printing names of customers on the coffee pouch purchased online. Chitharanjan said that was a tremendous hit for building the brand as he advised emerging businesses and MSMEs across sectors and markets to work on product personalisation since it is a cost-effective way to not just build a brand but also increase customer loyalty.
Another recommendation by Chitharanjan to MSMEs was to focus on customer service which is often overlooked but remains a very critical aspect of a brand. “Investing in good quality people to deal with your customer service and making sure your company culture prioritizes customer service helps in brand loyalty,” he added.