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Consumed by Coffee

Helping an artisanal roaster get noticed in coffee-soaked Boston

Tea in Boston Harbor? That’s so 1773.

These days, the liquid that Bostonians obsess over isn’t tea: it’s coffee. According to the Boston City Clerk’s Office, the city has more than 1,000 locations where you can buy a cup of joe, including 93 Dunkin’ Donuts and 60 Starbucks. Talk about Beantown.

The Suffolk Neighborhood Coffee Scene

George Howell Coffee

The Godfrey Hotel
505 Washington Street
Boston, MA

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So how do you stand out if you’re an artisanal roaster that focuses on single-farm-sourced beans and wants, most of all, to educate consumers about the wonders of coffee? That’s the dilemma George Howell Coffee faces—and why they approached students at the Sawyer Business School for help raising brand awareness and increasing traffic to the company’s three cafés.

As of March 2017, 62 percent of Americans drank coffee on a daily basis.

–National Coffee Association, USA

A heady blend of experiential learning

Working directly with a client is a common occurrence for students in the Sawyer Business School; last fall’s experience with George Howell Coffee was particularly hands on for students in the “Customer Insights and Decision Making” course.

President and Founder George Howell came to one of the first classes to talk to the students. And during what’s called a cupping event—where students did a deep-dive tasting—COO Rebecca Fitzgerald answered dozens of questions from students on numerous topics: the vendors George Howell Coffee uses, the farmers who grow their beans, who designed their interiors, what are the busiest times of day, the industry as a whole. In addition, the students ran actual focus groups, conducted real surveys, and did hours of primary and secondary research. It was all in keeping with the immersive, real-world vibe of the course.

Students participate in a cupping event at George Howell Coffee.

“Through the questions we asked Rebecca, I was able to find out more about the tactics that they’re currently doing, like collaborations with other brands,” said Jaliyah Jones-Robinson, BSBA ’18. “And that gave us other collaboration ideas that we can take back to her.”

Some Ingredients for a Great Marketing Plan:

Surveys

Focus Groups

Infographics

Primary Research

Secondary Research

Estimated number of 60kg bags of coffee consumed October 2015 to September 2016: 151.3 million

–International Coffee Organization

A full menu of marketing ideas

After months of hard work, the students presented their marketing plans to Howell and Fitzgerald in early December. Armed with PowerPoint slides, detailed handouts, and compelling data, students in each of the groups took Howell and Fitzgerald through their research, findings, and conclusions. This was no simulation—this was a real presentation to real clients, eager to hear the ideas the student had come up with.

“To be able to present a complete marketing plan to George Howell Coffee? It’s a great honor,” said Michael Bonetti, BSBA ’18. “It’s really our first big client.”

Some of the Recommendations the Students Presented:

  Install slideshows of the coffee farmers in the windows for passersby to see.

  Implement a loyalty program called “George’s Friends.”

  Sponsor latté art workshops.

  Utilize their point-of-sale system better.

  Increase social media across all channels, especially Instagram.

Out-of-home coffee consumption reached a high of 46 percent in 2017.

–National Coffee Association, US

Their cup runneth over

“We have a lot of ideas we can put into action right away,” Fitzgerald marveled minutes after the presentations were over. “Things like customized cups and putting imagery in certain places around the café. I didn’t expect to have such detailed recommendations that we could actually execute immediately.”

Howell, too, was impressed by the level of thinking the students brought to the process. “We got new ideas, but we also got ideas to help us clarify and bring into focus ideas we’ve already had,” said Howell. “That was a big piece for me.”