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2024 Coffee Marketing Trends: Drive-Thru Service, Loyalty Apps, and Personalization

Side note: we help coffee, food, and food tech businesses amplify their expertise, delight readers, and generate revenue. See our work and results.

As we embark on another trip around the sun, coffee companies around the globe are setting their business intentions for the new year. For some, this means exploring new entrepreneurial endeavors and expanding their reach. For others, taking their marketing strategy to the next level is on the docket for 2024. 

But what does it mean to elevate your marketing strategy in a niche industry like specialty coffee? Sure, you can experiment with the latest TikTok trends and send out more generic email blasts, but will these really have an impact on your business goals? Probably not.

Like the coffee industry, marketing tactics are constantly evolving. We explored some of the top coffee marketing trends to find out which will move the needle in the new year

In 2024, we anticipate that coffee marketers will:

  • Capitalize on the ever-growing demand for rapid convenience
  • Leverage personalization tactics, beyond knowing a customer’s typical order, to drive repeat sales
  • Continue to invest heavily in educational coffee content

Customers Want Their Coffee Yesterday

Coffee is an integral part of our busy day. And with everyone on the go, customers demand convenient access to their favorite coffees. 

But, convenience takes many forms in the coffee industry. How you provide and promote convenient service to customers can make a world of difference on your bottom line.

The Drive-Thru Boom

Drive-thrus are back and bigger than ever, growing approximately 30% between 2019 and 2022. While the global pandemic drove the resurgence of drive-thrus, it’s easy to see the significant impact they’ve had on the coffee industry over the last few years alone. Drive-thru coffee chains like Dutch Bros Coffee, Clutch Coffee, and Aroma Joe’s Coffee are popping up all over the country. McDonald’s has even gone all in on the convenient coffee trend, opening their experimental CosMc’s brand.

However, it’s not enough to simply have a drive-thru. Convenience alone won’t convert a customer from a one-time visit to a loyal fan. But an extraordinary experience will. 

At Clutch Coffee, a drive-thru coffee company with locations in North and South Carolina, their baristas focus not only on delivering quality coffee but also on doing it in under a minute and with a memorable, fun experience. The combination of operational processes, customer service, and the Clutch Coffee rewards app makes the entire drive-thru interaction convenient and enjoyable for customers.

Drive-thrus are becoming instrumental for coffee companies looking to drive (pun fully intended) significant order volume. In an August 2022 earnings call, Starbucks reported that nearly two-thirds of orders are placed via drive-thru, mobile app, or delivery services. As a result, 90% of all new Starbucks locations will include drive-thrus.

Set It and Forget It

For those who enjoy brewing at home, the convenience of a coffee bean subscription service can’t be beaten. A magical service that delivers coffee beans on demand? Sign me up… but only if the price is right and the value is clear.

eCommerce coffee subscription services saw gigantic growth in 2020. But as we enter 2024, are these offerings still worth it for local and high-end roasters? Has subscription fatigue hit coffee consumers too?

eCommerce shopping as a whole has remained fairly stagnant over the past few years, hovering between 15-16% of Total Quarterly Retail Sales according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. So while consumer purchase behavior still exists, making a coffee bean subscription service profitable is a real challenge for coffee roasters—especially after you factor in the costs of packaging, labor, and the real kicker, shipping.

To capture the subscription market in 2024, roasters will have to provide more than the tired promise of “fresh beans delivered to your door.” Instead, coffee marketers will need to define and capitalize on what makes their subscription truly different from the competition.

This can be a functionality advantage such as recommending specific products to repeat customers, based on past purchase behavior (ultimately increasing the average order value of loyal customers.) Or, this competitive advantage could be in the form of an added value such as a built-in rewards program for subscribers, resulting in free gifts or points to be redeemed. 

In an interview with Fresh Cup Magazine, Dan Cohen, subscription expert at Upscribe, recommends marketers focus on optimizing their customer experience through a seamless portal and ordering flow. “Making customers jump through hoops and needing to call somebody to take an action increases friction, reduces brand loyalty, and increases the chance of an overall bad experience,” says Cohen.

Toss the Punch Card

Beyond rewards, loyalty programs embedded in mobile ordering apps provide customers with an intangible benefit: convenience.

In 2024, look for ways to make your loyalty program and mobile ordering channels more convenient for your customers. It might mean finally ditching the confusing punch card system.

Platforms like Joe and Odeko combine both mobile ordering and loyalty programs into a single platform, providing the ultimate convenience for repeat customers. With pre-loaded funds, customers can order their favorite meals and drinks with a few taps and receive rewards instantly. Personalized pricing promotions driven by past purchase behaviors mean it’s quick and easy to save money on their coffee. The goal is to combine convenience with value to encourage repeat purchases.

You Really Can Have It Your Way

Personalization goes beyond understanding what a customer’s coffee preferences are. It’s about anticipating what a customer wants and delivering it in a timely and memorable manner. 

A great example of personalization comes from my childhood. Every day before dropping my sister and I off at school, my Mom would stop at Dunkin’ Donuts and order a medium French Vanilla coffee with skim milk and two Splenda. Every single day

The employees knew her and her daily order. But this is just the result of repetition. It was when the employees began having the order ready and marked with my Mom’s name – all before we even got out of the car – that this Dunkin’ Donuts chain stepped into personalized promotion territory.

Personalized marketing experiences aren’t a new idea in the coffee industry but will continue to prevail in 2024. We’ve seen these tactics used by loyalty program apps delivering timely discounts for your most purchased beverages and quizzes matching customers to the perfect coffee or subscription plan. Consumers enjoy feeling like a product or experience was created just for them.

There’s a reason Starbucks has maintained its prominence in the minds of consumers. Their mastery of personalized marketing

By focusing on providing tailored experiences through their loyalty app, Starbucks is able to collect a myriad of customer data and use that to further establish a relationship with their customers through small, yet powerful, features like identifying the song playing in the store as they pick up their mobile order.

Home is Where the Coffee Is

The global pandemic forced consumers to switch from their daily coffee shop visits to learning how to brew better coffee at home. Fortunately for the coffee industry, at-home coffee consumption remains above pre-pandemic levels.

So what does this mean for coffee marketing? An ongoing reliance on educational content.

Customers are constantly searching for the answers to all their coffee questions. 

What’s the right grind size for a French Press?

Why does my coffee taste bitter/sour/burnt/watery?

How do I make espresso at home?

What does extraction mean?

Even with the increased competition in the market, both regionally and online, coffee companies still have the opportunity to create educational content that helps guide their customers toward brewing better coffee from the comfort of their home.

Topics can include everything from why the type of milk you use in an espresso beverage matters to the difference between a blend and a single origin coffee. Your customers want answers, so make your website and brand the trusted source for all their information.

Naturally, marketers responsible for promoting cafes may wonder how this can work in their favor. Look for ways to plug both in-store experiences and coffee knowledge into your promotional efforts. This can look like:

  • Coffee classes at the cafe — Get your customers off of Google and into the cafe by hosting a variety of coffee classes. This can range from a Coffee 101 tasting class to an intensive home barista course. These in-person opportunities position your company as the expert while pushing sales of your coffee, merchandise, brewing equipment, and in-store visits. 
  • “Ask a Barista” content — Highlight your staff’s expertise by running a social media campaign where customers can submit coffee-related questions for baristas to answer. This can range from coffee preferences to tips on how to steam milk at home. Since baristas know your products and services best, they’ll be more apt to weave these recommendations into their responses.

By combining coffee education with cafe experiences, you prove to customers that they can brew great coffee at home (using your roasted coffee, of course) and always have a place to come for a top-tier coffee experience. Retail sales plus cafe sales are a win-win!

Going Beyond Coffee Education

As customers continue down the coffee rabbit hole, they’ll inevitably discover topics far more complex than what grind size to use with each brew method. They’ll begin to learn about pricing transparency, sustainability practices, supply chain ethics, and much more.

While your coffee brand doesn’t need to be the expert on these topics (and, we’d argue unless you should leave it to the topic experts), you do need to be ready to speak with your customers about them.

Your customers will look to your brand as the source for all things coffee-related and in-depth topics such as these are part of operating in the coffee industry. As more and more consumers become educated about the specialty coffee industry, coffee marketers and business owners must be prepared to have these conversations with inquisitive customers.

Now, are we suggesting you champion stories and topics that aren’t yours to tell? Of course not. 

We’re recommending that you engage in a dialogue with curious customers and provide reputable sources where they can further research the topic.

This can look like:

  • Working with a producer or importer you partner with to host a live conversation on Instagram or TikTok about the effects of climate change on coffee production
  • Stocking a library full of coffee books at your cafe for customers to comb through while sipping on their latte
  • Interviewing industry experts about various topics and sharing those interviews in a podcast, video, or article on your website

We know these conversations can be heavy and difficult at times. But, your customers are searching for answers. Help them find the right ones.

Incorporating AI Into the Coffee Marketing

Mention anything about automation and artificial intelligence and someone will chime in with a “robot barista” joke. But in all seriousness, AI is here to stay—and coffee marketers should take note.

AI is implemented at every stage in the coffee value chain. While many companies are using AI capabilities to provide transparency for green coffee transactions or monitor the health of coffee plants, savvy coffee marketers are leveraging AI to foster lasting connections with consumers. 

Many of the tools we use as marketers already have AI built in. Tools in Adobe’s Creative Suite allow you to leverage generative AI, along with an understanding of design principles, to create visual marketing assets. Email marketing platforms like Mailchimp now offer content generators to help those facing writer’s block.

In 2024, it’s about how you use these AI-powered tools to execute a marketing strategy that effectively builds relationships with your audiences. 

Coffee marketers can use AI to…

  • Generate personalized product recommendations for email subscribers who made a purchase from your online store within the last six months
  • Launch a chatbot on your mobile app designed to answer customer questions, drive repeat purchases, and onboard new customers on demand
  • Forecast peak hours, days, and seasons for your cafe and create new seasonal beverages accordingly. (Bonus points if you ask ChatGPT for creative drink ideas!)
  • Discover what coffee topics their audiences are interested in learning about

Don’t use AI or ChatGPT to create mediocre marketing content, solely for the sake of creating content. The coffee industry is already full of that.

Instead, leverage AI to develop content, campaigns, and interactions that have an impact on each customer in your audience.

It’s Always About the Customer, No Matter the Year

Trends come and go, as do marketing tactics. Seasonal drinks go viral on TikTok for a few weeks and fizzle out. There will always be a new, shiny piece of equipment to add to your cafe or roastery. But what remains constant in coffee is the customer.

Marketing has always been—and always will be—about focusing on what the customer wants and needs, whether that means optimizing drive-thru technology to manage their need for convenience or educating them about coffee through captivating content. Wondering what your 2024 coffee marketing goals should be? We have a few ideas. Give us a shout.

Anne Mercer

Anne is a content marketing manager at Alimentous Studio and Fresh Cup Magazine. She is also a co-owner of Victus Coffee, a Connecticut-based coffee roastery and cafe.

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