Behind the scenes of The Coffee Club's brand - and culture - refresh

Chief brand officer of The Coffee Club talks through the brand overhaul and how COVID-19 has helped drive innovation for the QSR brand

The new-look Coffee Club branding
The new-look Coffee Club branding

The Coffee Club has officially unveiled a new brand platform and visual look, the latest step in a strategic refresh program that’s arguably only grown in scope and momentum during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Coffee Club chief brand officer, Megan Magill, said campaign aspects supporting the brand refresh had been due to debut in March, the week the COVID-19 lockdown struck in Australia and New Zealand. Having made the decision to pause media given uncertainty around trading conditions for its 400-strong café network, a softer relaunch approach ensued.

To date, the new brand identity, incorporating a fresh palette, logo design and photography, has rolled out in digital channels and multiple touch points in-store as well as product design. It’s also supported by the brand platform, ‘Your happy place’. The work was done in partnership with brand and creative studio, Accompany.

But in addition to the external look and feel, the brand refresh is supported by a raft of significant internal, menu, operational, system, loyalty program and customer insight changes spearheaded by Magill to rejuvenate The Coffee Club brand locally as well as support international expansion. Both the growth strategy and brand execution hinge on a wider commitment to becoming the most connected café experience.  

Brand refresh triggers

Efforts kicked off with consumer research undertaken by Minor DKL last year. The work made it clear that while The Coffee Club boasted of great awareness in A/NZ, it faced a consideration problem and lacked brand relevancy and differentiation.

“We had a core group of engaged customers were very loyal, but they were a minority base,” Magill told CMO. “The consideration wasn’t there – they didn’t understand what we were anymore, and there were a lot of misconceptions and myths to bust.”

Deliberately coined as a ‘brand refresh’ internally, this wasn’t about giving the front-end a facelift, “it was going through the whole experience on the customer’s side”, Magill said.

“The meant stepping back and saying what are the fundamentals we need to fix upfront. Before we could get to the outside, what are the pieces that need to be in place as a brand,” she said.

Work commenced on improving the offer by swapping out ingredients, lifting the design and quality of the menu, pricing, making sure more inclusive dietary options were available, and updating crockery and glassware for the in-dining experience.

Sustainability is another big focus for Magill. While COVID-19 restrictions threw a few spanners in the works, The Coffee Club has changed out its takeaway cups to single walled paper, and partnered with Closed Loop and Simply Cups on upcycling programs for its coffee cups. Trials, for example, will look at how to use takeaway coffee cups to make road surfaces.  

“We will continue to improve our sustainability and I want the brand to be a leader in this space. We are big enough with big enough partners to help on that journey,” Magill said. “It’s what our potential customers want – there’s a need for transparency, and a desire to be affiliated with brands being responsible that align with their values.”

This target customer base for The Coffee Club is referred to as ‘perennials’, consisting of older millennial parents in their 30s who will pay for quality, enjoy convenience, are time poor, interested in their health and sustainability and may even be familiar with the brand through their parents.

As Magill explained, The Coffee Club’s historic base is best represented through its VIP loyalty members, who are engaged and high frequency spenders but who are ageing. “The potential is that broader group of customers and getting them to consider The Coffee Club,” she said.  

To help, The Coffee Club in May introduced a new free rewards tier to its loyalty program, based around a mobile app. Magill said this piece of the puzzle is helping the group unlock its customer data potential. The group is redeveloping and internalising the third-party app in order to ramp up program potential in coming months.   

“It’s a good way to collect more data, and understand who these people are. And it was really interesting to see a different group of customers and what they were doing when they joined us, and get some learnings,” Magill said.

“Previously, we were just seeing total sales data and anecdotal information, rather than actual customer data. With the data we’ve gleaned, we’ve made decisions on product offering, who and when we speak to customers and how we campaign.”

COVID-19 crisis thinking

There’s been a lot of other pivoting and innovation as The Coffee Club navigated the immediate impact of the COVID-19 crisis. One area Magill highlighted was its ‘ready to go’ range, which wasn’t that well known but became a vital commercial product line as society locked down.

“This was really elevated during COVID-19 and we took the opportunity to ask the question: What is convenience when it comes to food and beverage? Whether that’s on the go, dine-in, in how I order, how it’s packaged or what it is. And that might be in the home,” she commented. “We all know delivery became a huge part of Australia’s food consumption during this time, including many who hadn’t partaken in that before. We were in that space but really dialled it up.”

In the early stages of the pandemic, there was also providing access to essential products. With supermarkets out of stock of bread, milk, eggs, and with The Coffee Club being a coffee retailer, ‘Care kits’ debuted including these items, delivered via Uber. The brand also launched a pay-it-forward offer so as to shout coffees for frontline workers.

“We ran ‘The Coffee Club Pantry’, which featured a list of pantry items you could buy from our stores like bread, eggs, bacon, ham and cheese, plus bakery boxes, and we set up the box club online so businesses could order coffee and pods in order to make things at home,” Magill continued.

All this happened over a couple of weeks, at the same time as menu changes to suit grab and go and portable food delivery were introduced.

“This all aligns with that customer connection, and how we stay true to the layers of The Coffee Club - quality ingredients, signature breakfast classics, made in the kitchen items and coffee. Bringing those through in different ways. That’s where we stepped into the thinking of convenience without compromise,” Magill said.

The Coffee Club HQ also created a transitional menu with less ingredients more suited to stores with fewer staff and higher costs. The group expects to transition back to a full menu later in July.

“Very quickly when everyone is in panic mode, they want to do a million things. It was making sure we had the answers as quickly as we could and make those operational so our franchisees could be providing that experience to customers in-store,” Magill said.  

Such reasoning has also seen the group grow its virtual brands pool. Each of these brands is delivery-only but runs out of existing The Coffee Club kitchens. The first to launch prior to the COVID-19 crisis was ‘Burgers with Bite’, aimed at extending sales for franchisees by tapping into existing ingredients to provide options on delivery platforms.  

Another spun up during the crisis was ‘Sir Benedict’, a brunch brand using eggs benedict as the hero product. The group is now trialling ‘Burgs and Shakes’ with a more family occasions style menu.

“Although the virtual brand are only available in delivery platforms, what’s interesting is you get different customers buying into that and aligning to those brands,” Magill said. “This supports a franchisee, and they can provide the great product through the kitchen. It’s just about making sure it’s in the right packaging and going out the door in the right way.”  

On top of this, customer surveys showed a demand for coffee pod products in addition to The Coffee Club’s coffee beans retail products. Pod products are due to arrive in-store and online in coming weeks.

“Those things got pushed up the list where they may have taken longer and not been seen as much of a priority,” Magill said. “It’s been a terrible time for so many people and businesses. But it has also pushed teams to do things differently. Sometimes the best decisions get made when you’re in crisis mode.”

Stakeholder management

Throughout this process, Magill’s team has had to be mindful it’s working with a network of small businesses.

“You can’t change everything quickly, you need to bring everyone on us with journey. We had to made sure we test and learnt as we went,” she said. It’s this process, for instance, that highlighted quality of photography as key to the new brand look, as well as an overarching desire for the brand “to be refreshingly honest”.

And of course, navigating legacy feelings towards the 30-year old brand take time to work through. “Stakeholder management internally is a big part of that. We have founders who are still part of the business, plus international owners to bring on that journey, the senior leadership team, and ensuring it makes sense to customers and our network of franchisees,” Magill said.  

Fluctuating marketing budget has been another hurdle Magill has contended with. At The Coffee Club, marketing is funded as a direct percentage of sales. With COVID-19 forcing many stores to shut or only offer takeaway and delivery, this hugely impacted the plan and strategy.

“We were reforecasting every couple of days – I became a forensic accountant,” Magill said. “If you plan a year of budget but you don’t have that fund upfront, you have to keep adjusting and keep changing quickly. We had to say responsibly if it made sense to continue with a campaign if we didn’t even know we’d be open in the next couple of months.

“Now we’re looking at what that looks like for the next six months, and we’re moving quite quickly as we’re quite comfortable on our forecasts and seen how sales improved.”  

Customer confidence has been a huge part in this, and to help, The Coffee Club has been monitoring New Zealand consumer behaviour to get a gauge on how Australians might behave in coming weeks. Magill said the trend is positive, with New Zealand sales up year-on-year now as people get out and make the most of it physical dining and café experiences once more.

“We’ve seen a few blips when those couple of people tested positive. Whether Australia is as sensitive, we’ll see with Victoria in coming days. Staying so close to the numbers is crucial here,” she said.  

As things become a little more normal, Magill is confident The Coffee Club’s brand positioning around ‘Your happy place’ still makes sense.

“It’s a feeling, not just a physical place. And suggests safety. How we take messaging around that may adjust slightly, but the core of the platform is right. And we can deliver on that promise,” she added.  

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