Coffee Shop Marketing How Small Businesses Beat the Competition - Open Sky Copywriting

You need attention. Whether you like it or not, you don’t have a business without the right attention.

Small businesses that fail at marketing try to grab everyone’s attention all at once. It’s like they’re in a coffee shop, shouting at everyone to buy their product. It can work if someone there is desperate for what you’re offering. But mostly you’re going to piss people off.

Business owners dump resources into a disruptive model that places their brand in the middle of their customer’s experience (commercials, display ads, etc.). The idea is to scare, entertain, or impress the customer. The value of the disruption has to be greater than the frustration of being disrupted.

It’s effective when you have millions to spend, but for a small business, it’s not practical to compete with large corporations in this marketing model.

Wouldn’t you rather add value to your customer’s experience? Don’t you want your advertising be positioned as an asset versus being positioned as a distraction?

You Can Get Permission To Advertise To Customers

Seth Godin coined the term “Permission Marketing.” You offer something in exchange for the customer’s contact information. Instead of saying, “Look at our product!” you’re saying, “Have this for free!”

That’s a much better attitude and it will grab a lot more attention than a disruptive model, or “interruption marketing” as Seth puts it. However, you still have to get attention. You still have to insert a promotion in a person’s path. You still have to interrupt them.

Plus, permission marketing is popular now. Everybody is giving out free stuff for email addresses or phone numbers. Our lives are just as crowded with permission marketing promotions as they are traditional advertising.

We get emails from people we don’t remember giving our address to six months ago. We aren’t interested in the companies we give our info to anymore. We just want their free stuff.

So what’s the solution this time?

Become The Best Resource For Answers

It’s one thing to look for a business you know can solve a problem (like a mechanic, plumber, electrician, printer, caterer, etc.). However, much of the time, people are looking for answers, not just businesses.

Think about how people search for answers. The Yellow Pages used to be anyone’s go-to resource to find a business, but when they wanted answers, they went to the library or to the newspapers.

The Internet is the perfect fusion of the newpaper, the library, and the Yellow Pages. That’s where we go for answers now.

The two biggest tools people use when they want answers are Google and Youtube. They also ask their friends on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Social networks are search engines for inspiration, opinions, and advice from people they know and trust.

Many businesses treat social media as another channel for promotion. It can be, but that’s a shallow use for a something that equates to a digital coffee shop. Again, that’s like standing and shouting in a place where people just want to talk or enjoy their reading.

How Coffee Shop Marketing Works

Sit down, chill out, and have a conversation with people.

If you want people to know you’re there, stick a sign outside the coffee shop saying, “Let’s talk taxes. Ask me anything. Some answers will surprise you. Join me at the table by the counter.” It’s an invitation. You still have get their attention, but you’re not clamoring for it. And you’re offering something valuable.

The conversation is wide open in social media though. It’s like the coffee shop just opened up for you to sit down with anyone and join the dialogue. So you could hypothetically sit down at a table of friends talking about tax season woes and offer some insight to make their lives a little easier. They would thank-you for it instead of glaring you down.

Make It Easy To Be Found

The coffee shop metaphor does end at social media.

If you sell gardening products, offer gardening tips. When someone searches Google for “How to grow tomatoes,” it will find your blog or video on the same topic and serve it to the searcher as a solution.

You are contributing to the conversation the searcher has initiated. The winners on social media are the those who contribute the most useful information to the conversation. It’s the same with search engines. Instead of you sitting down at the customer’s table, they are coming to find you because some one they trust told them where to find you.

With Google, you just need the information on an easy to read website. There are technical steps you can take to make it easier for Google to recognize the questions you’re answering. Ultimately, Google rewards practical and useful content.

This isn’t a passive marketing model. You have to find the questions your customers are asking. You are out there, talking to people, hearing their stories, finding out what ails them most and packaging your expertise in a way that is most attractive.

It is passive in the sense that you aren’t standing on the side of the road with a mascot costume on, waving frantically to get their attention.

You still have to earn their attention, but you’re doing it by becoming a part of the conversation they are already having.

Find The Right Coffee Shops

Keep advertising, but find the quiet markets. Find the spaces that aren’t cramped by hundreds of the vendors shouting at people, trying to push samples into their face.

Find the “coffee shops” your ideal customers inhabit. Find blogs, websites, Facebook Groups, Twitter chats, LinkedIn Groups, and discussion forums where people have the kinds of conversations you want to be a part of.

Put ads in the places where your customers are going to search for answers. Frame your ads as solutions, as the answer to their burning question.


When you help someone, they will give you permission to help them again and again. When the help they need crosses into billable time, they won’t have a problem with handing you money.

You’ve built credibility and trust with these people, but more importantly, you built value in their eyes. They are willing to pay the price because they know what they get in return is well worth it.

Earned attention is stronger than anything a disruptive model can get you.

This post originally appeared on Open Sky Copywriting.