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The reinvention of Second Cup (Q&A)

Vanda Provato on how the coffee chain is trying to win back customers

After losing ground to its competitors for more than a decade, Second Cup is turning up the heat. In December, the Canadian-owned coffee chain unveiled its redesigned “café of the future” in Toronto, which will serve as a test ground for elements the chain may roll out across its 350 cafés. The company also has a new name: Second Cup Coffee Co. and is getting ready to launch a national loyalty program called Perks. Marketing spoke with VP of marketing Vanda Provato on how Second Cup Coffee Co. is aiming to win back coffee lovers.

Second Cup Coffee Co. Cafe of the Future - Interior Image - December 4, 2014There are obviously a lot of competitors across all segments in the coffee category. Where is the opportunity in the market for Second Cup?
There are a lot of brands in our space that are branching out into new and different areas. But for us, it’s not necessarily about being the biggest. It’s about being the best at what we do, which is being really focused on coffee and the coffee experience. Premium quality and innovation has to be an important part of that. How we designed our brand, the café, new product ideas and the experiences that we’re trying to create for our customers all hinge on that vision and brand purpose. There are five key pillars that fall under our new brand position: community, collaboration, superior quality, creativity, and optimism. At the end of the day, having a coffee or having a great coffee experience is one of life’s simple pleasures. We really wanted to celebrate that.

What was the thinking behind the new loyalty program?
We want to create a premium brand, but we also want to celebrate who we are at our core, which is an independent spirit. Deepening our relationships with our customers, creating a relationship with customers and rewarding them for their loyalty is just one aspect of what we need to do to reinvent the brand.

What was the strategy behind the pilot loyalty program in Calgary?
Our strategy behind that was around having a simple program that isn’t about creating a mass experience. We’re trying to move away from a one-size-fits-all mass experience to creating a more personal one-on-one experience for our customers. We took what worked and what we could improve upon from the pilot and applied it to the [national] program. One of the biggest differences with [the national program] is that it’s going to have a mobile app to go with it. Obviously that wasn’t something that we were able to test in Calgary.

You mentioned having an independent spirit. What do you mean by that?
This was a really critical point of differentiation. Second Cup turned 40 this year in Canada. We are a Canadian brand. We are a network of independently owned and operated cafés. Our franchisees are very passionate about coffee, passionate about their business and very involved in their communities. So we said we really have an opportunity to embrace that. We want to celebrate the fact that we are Canadian and celebrate our independent spirit. Again, we don’t want to create a one-size-fits-all experience, but celebrate the things that make us unique and different.

[For example], we’re working with Canadian artists across the country to design our cups. Our wall mural at the [revamped] King and John St. café is done by Canadian artists. The music program that we’re [rolling out] in all of our cafés is a custom playlist that is predominately Canadian music, a lot of which is by up-and-coming artist. And we are partnering with local bakeries to provide the food in our cafés.

Second Cup Coffee Co. Pour-Over - December 4, 2014Tell me more about how you’re changing the food program.
Our vision is to reinvent the food offering at Second Cup. We started with bakery because that is predominately one of our biggest programs in terms of the breakfast items we offer. It was really important that if we were going to be about premium food and have more of an individual experience, then regionally the food had to be very relevant for the market. We wanted to work with best-in-class bakeries and in some cases we are working with smaller, family-owned operations. The new bakery program rolled out in Ontario and Montreal and we’re exploring other markets across the country. We’ve also started working on a new lunch program as well.

What is Second Cup’s strategy on the marketing front? Will we be seeing any new creative?
It’s not going to be about going out with big, mass campaigns. Experiential, digital and social are really big parts of it. A lot of it is around generating trial for new products. In the fall, we launched the Flat White with a sampling tour using a custom-built Piaggio truck. We were the first brand nationally to bring Flat White to the Canadian marketplace. We wanted to do it in a very authentic, real way. We brought our Piaggio, which was a very fun, unique little coffee vehicle, to cafés to do patio tastings and we created local events. We did actually air a 15-second spot on specialty networks that romanced the Flat White and helped people see what it actually was. So it’s not necessarily about not using mass channels, but using them in a very targeted way. That’s more of the approach that we’ll be taking: very targeted, experiential, social and PR, building relationships with bloggers and having conversations with people who share our passions.

Do you find that’s just a better way to reach people than, say, a 30-second TV spot?
Yes. I think everyone is so overwhelmed with the amount of information and communication that is coming our way. And it’s getting more fragmented and it’s getting more overwhelming. Having a great loyalty program that helps me understand who you are as a customer and be able to talk to you directly, whether it’s through email or in café or through mobile… really does allow the customer to experience the brand as opposed to just [seeing] a message.


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