I love coffee.

At least once a day I head out to my caffeine fix.

I’m pretty well known in the local coffee shops. The baristas know me so well they’re already fixing me my four-shot espresso before I’ve even placed my order.

A lot of people feel the same, which is why staff in British offices are no longer content with chucking Nescafé granules in a mug during their break.

Now they want the same sort of stuff they get in Costa, Café Nero and Starbucks.

However, a lot of workers either don’t have the time or spare income to go out for coffee.

There might not even be a coffee house near their office. And to be honest, if I had to get EVERY coffee from my favourite cafe I think Heloise would put a lock on the office door.

For business owners, having staff nip out for coffee throughout the day wastes time.

On the other hand, having good coffee in the office raises moral and boosts productivity.

As the old advert goes… “Coffee makes work lighter… life brighter”.

This is why many businesses decide to get a proper coffee machine. They go online, type “office coffee machine” and there are plenty of options for them.

Which brings me to my point…

How can a small business hope to compete?

The big challenge for someone trying to sell one of these coffee machines online is similar to almost anything else…

  • If there’s so much competition, how do you stand out?
  • How can you create interesting online content something fairly boring like a coffee machine?
  • If the competition can beat you on things like price, brand history and advertising spend, how can you attract customers?

Well, thanks to one of our occasional Digital Upstart contributors, I can share a powerful insight.

If you’re a fully paid-up member, you’ll have come across articles by Emily Rees. She’s a marketer and designer who not only runs her own part-time home business, but helps clients reach new customers.

I trained Emily in digital marketing back in the early noughties, so I like to think of her as one of my secret agents out in the field, gathering intelligence.

That’s because while I have experience in many publishing niches, it’s important to hear from marketers tackling all kinds of businesses trying to find new customers online.

This week she told me a story about a client that’s so relevant to what I’m trying to help you achieve, I just had to share it (she’s protected the names of the clients for confidentiality reasons).

Discovering your secret marketing weapon

Recently, Emily was talking to a small family-run business that sell coffee machines to offices.

They understood that their customers (office managers and MDs of small companies) were looking online for machines, but they’d been struggling to get enough website traffic.

They tried a few agencies who wrote them content for their website.

The result was a load of bland “why coffee is good for you” blog posts and images of a cute cats peering out of coffee mugs.

Unsurprisingly, this approach didn’t work.

However, when Emily made a chance call to the MD to ask him a routine question, he launched into a passionate rant about how almost everyone had the WRONG idea about coffee machines.

Most office managers thought that they wanted “bean to cup” machines, he declared, because they’re seen as more swish and authentic… real coffee just like in the café.

But what happened when they bought those machines?

The machines got dirty.

Every time someone wanted a coffee they had to clear the grounds from the person who’d been prepared a drink before them.

So after a brief burst of enthusiasm the machines ended up abandoned.

Across the country, coffee machines say in offices with nobody using them.

Far better, he said, are PODS.

These are like tea bags full of coffee that you place in the machine.

You can take them out and throw them in a bin leaving no residue.

Most people wrongly presumed that the taste was inferior, but this was a myth.

Plus for a busy office, they were really the only way to make the system work for the staff.

Anyway, after about 10 minutes of this man ranting passionately about the business his own family founded, Emily asked:

“Has anyone sat down and talked to you about this?”

It turned out, nobody had.

None of the marketers.

None of the copywriters.

This was totally crazy – because here was business’s secret weapon.

It had been there all the time and nobody had realised it.

If somebody had sat the MD down, turned on a microphone (or taken notes) and let him speak his mind, they’d have not only had enough material for several blog posts… they would have been totally unique posts in a unique voice, brimming with passion and authority.

No clichéd cat memes or boring ‘coffee’s great’ blog posts.

Just an expert sharing the truth about coffee – showing that his interests and the clients’ interests were the same.

He was a crusader fighting to solve their problem.

After all, who wanted to end up with an expensive machine that nobody used? Why make extra work for staff or cleaners in maintaining the machine?

Small businesses would end up with unhappy, distracted staff – the every opposite of what they intended – and paying for the privilege.

Meanwhile he loses out, too. Because the only way to make ongoing profits was to sell refills – and that would only happen if clients kept using their machines.

So here’s what Emily advised their business:

  • Create blog posts that contain the MD’s photo, his signature, and his family business credentials. They will give the online content personality and authenticity.
  • Shout about the common myth about office coffee machines with the same passion, frustration and despair your MD genuinely feels.
  • Get across the very real costs of machines that need cleaning and the power of the alternative.
  • Help the potential customer understand that the cause you’re fighting for actually benefits them as well as making you money.
  • Show that you’re the expert in coffee machines, not all these other pretenders online, and that you care about the ongoing success of the businesses you supply your machines too.

The lessons here are simple…

First, the secret weapon in any business is that bundle of quirks, passions, strengths and weaknesses that is YOU.

It cannot be copied, stolen or discounted by your rivals, so use it.

Make sure you put your personality at the forefront of your marketing, or you risk being like everyone else blogging, tweeting and posting to Facebook.

Secondly, nobody knows your business or your customers like you do.

So if you ever hire marketers, copywriters and designers to carry out work for you, don’t let them do anything until they’ve talked to you first.

Otherwise you’ll end up with the same identikit marketing they supply to every other client.

How to let your personality shine

I appreciate that it’s hard to get personality into blog posts, emails and other written forms of communication, particularly if you’re not a writer.

So try this technique…

Get an audio recorder (or use a smartphone), pour yourself a coffee (or something stronger) and have a good old rant about what matters to you most in your business, or what you think is most amazing about your products.

Let it flow.

Don’t worry about stammering or pausing.

Later, go back and listen to it, taking notes and using what you’ve said to form the content of your emails and blog posts. Write it as you say it!

You could also cut up that audio and post short clips online (upload it first to www.soundcloud.com, then embed the SoundCloud file in your website). This will add voice and authenticity to your site.

If you’re uncomfortable speaking to a microphone alone, then try getting a friend, colleague or family member to interview you.

Again, you can post this as a podcast, or cut it into clips to add to blogs, About Me pages and emails.

Oh, and talking of which, if you missed my own attempts at podcasting, you can catch episodes of The Laight Show by subscribing on iTunes here. Alternatively, if Stitcher or SoundCloud are your preferred platforms, you can also find it at the links.

That’s it from me. I really need a coffee.