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My loyalty to Peet’s Coffee is absolute. I have loved Peet’s since it was a single store in Berkeley. I told my wife in 2001 that I wouldn’t move anywhere outside the Bay Area unless there was a Peet’s nearby. That pre-qualified Santa Barbara, where we live now. When we travel to where Peets has retail stores, we buy bags of our favorite beans (which tend to be one of the above) to take to our New York apartment, because there are no Peets stores near there. When we’re in New York and not traveling, we look for stores that sell bags of one of the bean bags above.

Since our car died and we haven’t replaced it yet, we have also taken to ordering beans through Peet’s website. Alas, we’re done with that now. Here’s why:


I ordered those beans (Garuda and New Guinea) two Thursdays ago, June 16, at 7:45am. A couple days after I ordered the beans, I checked my account online to see where the shipment stood, and the site said the beans would be shipped on Monday, June 19. According to the email I got yesterday (a section of which I show above), the beans didn’t ship until the following Wednesday, June 21. Now the estimated delivery is next Wednesday, June 28.

While this isn’t a big deal, it’s still annoying because we just ran out of our last batch of beans here and we’ll be gone when that shipment arrives. Subscribing (which Peet’s e-commerce system would rather we do) also won’t work for us because we travel too much and don’t settle in any one place for very long. True, that’s not Peet’s problem, and I’m a sample of one. But I’ve experienced enough e-commerce to know that Peet’s shipping thing isn’t working very well.

And maybe it can’t. I don’t know. Here’s what I mean…

Way back in the late ’90s I was having lunch in San Francisco with Jamie Zawinski, whose work as a programmer is behind many of the graces we take for granted in the online world. (He’s a helluva writer too.) At one point he said something like “Somebody should figure out what Amazon does, bottle it, and sell it to every other retailer doing e-commerce.” And here we are, nearly two decades later, in a world where the one e-commerce company everybody knows will do what it says is still Amazon. (I’ll spare you my much worse tale of woe getting new air conditioners bought and shipped from Home Depot.)

So that’s a problem on the service side.

Now let’s talk marketing. A while back, Peet’s came out with an app that lets you check in at its stores for rewards when you buy something there. You do that this way at the cash register:

  1. Find the app on your phone.
  2. Click on Check In, so a QR code materializes on your phone’s screen.
  3. Aim the QR code at a gizmo by the cash register that can read the QR code.
  4. Hope it works.

I’ve done this a lot, or at least tried to. Here are just some of the problems with it, all of which I offer both to help Peet’s and to dissuade companies everywhere from bothering with the same system:

  1. It doesn’t work at every Peet’s location. This is annoying to customers who break out their phone, bring up the app, get ready to check in, and then get told “It’s not here yet.”
  2. Workers at the stores don’t like it—either because it’s one more step in the ordering process or because, again, “it’s not here yet.” Some employees put a nice face on, but you can tell many employees consider it an unnecessary pain in the ass.
  3. The customer needs to check in at exactly the right point in the purchase, or it doesn’t count. Or at least that’s been my experience a time or two. Whatever the deal is, the narrow check-in time window risks bumming out both the customer and the person behind the counter.
  4. The customer reviews are bad, with good reason. On the app’s page in iTunes Preview it says, “Current Version: 17 Ratings (1.5 stars) All Versions: 94 Ratings (2 stars).” The only published 4-star review reads, “They are a little vague on the rewards system – do I get a point per visit, or a point per drink? Also not a very rewarding system, esp when compared to starbucks or non chains I know of. However, I’ve had no problems with the app malfunctioning, so although I dislike the system it’s not the apps fault.”
  5. It sometimes doesn’t work. I mean, bzzzt: no soap. Or worse, works poorly. For example, when I opened the app just now, it said “Hi, Peetnik” and told me I have 0/15 reward points, meaning I’ve checked in zero times. Then, when I clicked on the “>”, it said “15 more & your next cup’s on us.” Finally, when I fiddled with the app a bit, it woke up and told me “4 points until your next reward.”

Here’s the thing: None of this stuff is necessary. Worse, it’s pure overhead, a value-subtract from the start. And Peet’s is one of the all-too-rare retailers that doesn’t need this kind of crap at all. It has already earned, and keeps, the loyalty of its customers. It just needs to keep doing a better job of making better coffee.

In The Intention Economy I tell the story of Trader Joe’s, another retailer that does a good job of earning and keeping its customers’ loyalty. You know how they do that? With approximately no marketing at all. “We don’t do gimmicks,” Doug Rauch, the retired President of Trader Joe’s told me. No loyalty cards. No promotional pricing. No discounts for “members.” (In fact they have no discounts at all. Just straightforward prices for everything.) Almost no advertising. Nothing that smacks of coercion. And customers love them.

My recommendation to Peet’s on the service side is to ship as fast and well as Amazon, or to stop trying and let Amazon handle the whole thing. Amazon already carries a variety of Peet’s beans and other coffee products. Either way, there is no excuse for taking almost two weeks to deliver an order of beans.

On the marketing side, I suggest dropping the app and the gizmos at the stores. Save the operational costs and reduce the cognitive overhead for both personnel and customers. Personal data gathered through apps is also a toxic asset for every company—and don’t let any marketers tell you otherwise. Like Trader Joe’s, Peet’s doesn’t need the data. Make the best coffee and provide the best service at the stores, and you’ll get and keep the best customers. Simple as that.

You’re in the coffee game, Peet’s. Keep winning that way. For everything that isn’t doing what you’ve always done best, less is more.


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Branding has jumped the shark. The meme is stale. Worn out. Post-peak. If branding were a show on Fox, it would be cancelled next week.

I can witness this trend by watching links going to three posts I made last month:

The latest to point this direction is People Aren’t Brands, by one of these guys here (I see no byline) in UKSN, the UK Sports Network. After pointing generously to the second of the posts above, they say,

In the current business world, brands aren’t human beings. They should be, and any social media practitioner worth her salt will be working damn hard with their clients to try and make them more so, but as it stands they are companies, corporate vehicles which are not set up to deal with human error…the kind we are all susceptible to, especially some high profile celebs.

Well, all due respect (and UKSN deserve plenty), brands aren’t people. True, it’s good to humanize companies, turn them inside out, tear down the walls of Fort Business, and otherwise cut out the pro forma BS that tends more commonly to bottle up a company’s humanity than to celebrate and leverage it. But doing that isn’t branding. It’s just good sense.

True, branding is a helpful way to align a company’s distinctions with its identity, or to make it more attractive, memorable and stuff like that. But it matters far less than a well-earned reputation. Consider these statements:

  • Nike has a reputation for making good shoes.
  • Apple has a reputation for making artful technology.
  • Toyota has a reputation for making reliable cars.

Now let’s re-phrase those using the word “brand” instead of “reputation.”

  • The Nike brand makes good shoes
  • Apple is the brand for artful technology.
  • Toyota is the reliable car brand.

Two points there. First, it’s hard to re-phrase reputation as brand, no matter how you put it. Second, branding is not positioning. By that I mean it would be easier to make positioning statements about any of those companies than to make a branding statement.

That’s because brands are nothing but statements. At best they are a well-known and trusted badge, name or both. At worst they’re a paint job, a claim, a rationalization or an aspiration. Branding can help a reputation, but it can’t make one. Real work does that. Accomplishment over time does that.

Consider for a moment the value of Toyota’s reputation as a maker of reliable cars. This reputation was earned over at least five decades. Millions of people have had good experiences with reliable Toyota cars and trucks. That reputation has kept Toyota’s head above water through the trials of the last year, when an endless string of bad news stories about sudden acceleration and other faults have been streaming through the news media. In the tug between bad news and good reputation, branding was a no-show.

Judged by the standards of real branding companies (such as Procter & Gamble, which invented and named the practice), Toyota’s branding work has been mediocre at best. It has created cars with confusing names (Corolla, Corona, Carina, Celica, Crown, Cresta, Cressida) and weird hard-to-pronounce names (Camry, Yaris), and has produced relatively little memorable advertising, considering the size of the company and the quality of its cars. Worse, those Toyotathon ads by local dealers, which ran until the Daily Show’s Toyotathon of Death segment buried them for good, were among the most persistent and annoying pitches of all time. In fact, Toyota dealers in general had relatively bad reputations. The one thing Toyota did well was make reliable cars. Toyota’s reputation persists because it was earned, not just claimed.

Branding is jumping the shark now because, on the whole, the Net favors reality over bullshit. Saying stuff may get more attention than doing stuff, at least in the short run. But doing stuff is what makes the world work.

The hard thing for social media folks is that they’re still working the Saying Stuff beat while  Doing Stuff is what matters most. Getting companies to do different stuff, or to do the same stuff differently, is hard. Getting companies to do either of those things for long enough to earn a reputation for it is harder still.

But, good luck with that.

Meanwhile here’s how UKSN (in its People Aren’t Brands post) advises companies aligning with sports figures:

Corporates need to let go of the term ‘brand’ and all the connotations it brings when they are working with celebrities. When they hire the celeb, they think that person is now representative of the brand…something which humans can’t do! They can be themselves and if the company is comfortable with whom they are and what they stand for as a human being…then there is value to be derived by association. Expecting the person to fit into the perceived brand of a company is a recipe for (potential) disaster.

All good advice. What makes branding especially difficult in the sports world is that celebrity itself, and the fashions surrounding it, are part of the game. Sports figures endorse, and are endorsed by, “corporates,” and both benefit from each other. This morning I heard that money offered by teams shouldn’t have that much influence on which team LeBron James signs up with next (so long as they’re all within a few million dollars of each other), because he’ll make far more from his corporate affiliations. This is a set of considerations where UKSN knows far more than I do, and where branding of the old P&G sort still matters a great deal.

Sports is a special case. So are fashion and celebrity, and how all three of those overlap.

In most of society, however — including most of the business world — who you are and what you do matter more than how you look and how famous you become. Because who you are and what you do are what make the world a better place. And not just something to talk about.

[Late addition…] Tom Ford with Tina Brown on marketing and branding. Great clip.

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