A Guy, a Cup and a Coffee Shop

I'm a passionate person. I like to talk about things I'm fired up about. I get really excited when I can convince other people to get fired up, too. But, there's a problem.

I don't know how to sell. It's not because I'm shy or spent too much time playing video games. I have a firm handshake, I speak up and I look people in the eye. I just don't know how to initiate conversation about my product.

It shouldn't be that hard, should it? We "sell" things all the time, just through our recommendations to others. That should carry over to business, right? I mean, that's what word-of-mouth marketing is all about. If I like the product I'm selling, why can't I be the one to get the ball rolling?

Andy Sernovitz, the word-of-mouth marketing guru, had an excellent "Andy's Answers" post about the three characteristics of a great word of mouth topic. The topic must be emotional, portable and repeatable. While I think the e-edition experience ties in to all of those, my opinion isn't the one that counts. So, how can I transfer that? And why doesn't a coffee shop demo do the trick?

First of all, there's a huge lack of trust, especially with something as impersonal as handing out coupons. People coming into the coffee shop don't know me from Kim Nussbaum. All they know is I'm standing in between them and their morning cup o' joe. And of course I'm going to say I like it. That's my job. Even if they can tell I love it, they still know I'm trying to sell it. It changes the tone of the conversation. I mean, how do you sell something without sounding like you're selling it?

They also don't know the product. Most everyone is familiar with the Reporter-News, even if they've never turned a page, but e-editions are still not widely available, especially not ones attached to smaller newspapers. Since I wasn't giving away a million dollars or trips to the moon, it wasn't worth stopping to ask a lot of questions.

Don't worry. I sound like I'm spreading doom and gloom, but I promise this story has a happy ending. After several disappointing demos at competing coffee shops and a very early Tuesday morning, I finally met him. James from Java City--this wasn't quite a Taylor the Latte Boy situation, but almost. He was great. He knew the name of every person that walked in the door and their order--apparently only regulars brave the early morning hours. Anyway, they're on good terms. So, when he tells them they should come check out what I'm doing (plus lets them know they'll get a 20% discount on their next cup of coffee if they do), they're a lot more likely to come talk to me. They trust him because he's formed a (gasp, there's that word) relationship with them.

Java City, at least the one in Abilene, seems to understand the value of forming relationships. Unlike Starbucks, which I'd visited the Friday before, Java City patrons weren't gasping for air as they rushed in and out the door. Most of them took a seat. James behind the counter took the time to introduce himself, hear exactly what it was I was doing there, and give me a free cup of coffee. And the manager decided that a 20% discount for customers that talked to me was worth getting Java City on the newspaper calendar for 3 days before the event. Don't get me wrong, I think Starbucks has decent coffee and a great marketing team. I'm not ragging on them. It's just comfort v. chic, Starbucks being the latter, of course. But honestly, (talking about word of mouth), I'll be inclined to head to Java City now, because of one experience.

I want the e-edition to be something people talk about. I want to give them the same warm, fuzzy feeling I got at Java City. I don't want to scare anyone off or annoy them. But, I know you have to see a product before you buy it. How do I walk that line between respect and attraction?

Maybe a coffee shop on the moon...

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