I met Juan Valdez — yes, the “actual” Juan Valdez — this week (more on that at the end of this post)! The fact that I am genuinely excited about this, and that you likely know who (and what) I’m referencing here says a lot about the success of this brand. Café de Colombia is a brilliant example of what can happen when relationships are placed in the forefront of all aspects of an industry – from production, to sales and distribution, to marketing, and beyond.
I had the honor of spending time in Colombia as part of my involvement in Social Media Week in Bogotá (#SMWBOG), sponsored by Café de Colombia. My colleague, DJ Edgerton, co-founder & CEO of Digital Innovation Firm Zemoga asked me to speak at the event, and provided this amazing opportunity to visit coffee-grower farms and directly engage with Café de Colombia representatives. This was one of those “MUST write a blog post!!” experiences!
First, some history and a few important facts … then on to what Juan Valdez and Café de Colombia are doing so very right from a branding perspective.
- Colombia is the world’s largest producer of mild-washed Arabica coffee.
- Early 20th century, large coffee plantations broke down and smaller farms began producing coffee…. the beginning of what has now become the norm.
- 95% of Colombia’s coffee is produced in plantations that are 5 hectares (~ 12 acres) or less. In other words, SMALL.
- Independent growers are organized by (and committed to) the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC), which was established as a response to the need of better ways to access int’l markets and gain greater stability in producer’s revenues.
- The FNC is an NGO that supports coffee growers and sustainable coffee-growing methods while positioning Colombian Coffee as the best coffee in the world.
So what is Café de Colombia doing to gain ubiquity and such impressive market share? Focusing on relationships and human factors in their business and in their marketing! Following is a sampling of what Café de Columbia does so well.
They are a beautiful example of an incredibly high ROR (Return on Relationship). . .
- The slogan, 100% Colombian, has strong national (in Colombia) and international appeal. This instills pride and a sense of ownership in all aspects of the coffee production/distribution/sale cycles… which comes across to the consumer as QUALITY.
- 100% Colombian is not just a slogan – it is a lifestyle of living 100%. In other words, they are not just selling a coffee product, they are selling an experience. Consumers worldwide share this “living 100%” lifestyle experience and feel a sense of relationship to other consumers and to Colombia.
- Juan Valdez gives the slogan a face. The soft-spoken, gentle Columbian man (and his mule) is familiar to Colombians and Americans alike. Colombians identify with the culture and lifestyle suggested by Juan Valdez, and Americans have a “person” to associate with Colombia, making 100% Colombian a personal experience.
- The 100% Colombian slogan suggests “it” (the coffee and the lifestyle) is the real thing. Nothing added, nothing taken away… just authentic and authentically 100% Colombian.
- Juan Valdez is wearing traditional, clothing, has a weathered look, and is always shown with his mule. Nothing about this visual seems contrived or “manufactured” – just authentic.
- The FNC is known as a highly democratic organization, a fact that scores high points for authenticity by giving the people behind the brand a voice.
- The brand is strongly associated with an organization (the FNC) that genuinely cares about serving the growers by supporting them with a social structure for collaboration and sharing of their ideas and resources.
- Every person in every part of the coffee commodity process, each relationship, is valued – and Café de Colombia consistently tells the story of its growers, product, and country to the market.
- The Café de Colombia industry is built on leveraging networks and each part of the supply chain serving other parts.
- Juan Valdez and Café de Colombia understand the value of social networks, sharing stories and information through Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. See more about those networks (called “the family”) here.
As you can imagine, the ROR (Return on Relationship) for Café de Colombia has been profound, reaching all the way into the nation’s social stability:
- The Colombian Coffee Sector represents 25% of Colombia’s agricultural GDP;
- The Colombian Coffee Sector represents 27% of its agricultural employment;
- Two million Colombians directly depend on the income generated by coffee.
So what was it like, visiting the “grass roots” organizations of this incredible brand? Here are a few highlights from my trip:
- Juan Valdez! Meeting Juan Valdez was a shocking surprise. When Santiago Echavarria, the representative for Cafe de Colombia who so graciously spent the day with us and gave us the tour, brought Juan Valdez from out of a coffee field at our last stop we were so excited. It truly was like meeting an icon!
- DJ Edgerton (@wiltonbound), my host who introduced me to Cafe de Colombia and Juan Valdez, took the wheel of a Willys Jeep, with me and the inimitable Carlos Pardo (@pardopaux) in the open back, and provided the thrills of the trip with a heart pounding drive up the mountain to a farm owned by Evelio Herrea. There we experienced Chaqueta, an original fresh morning brew sweetened with sugar cane, picked our own beans (you never know … in the future, the cup you drink may have a bean I picked!), and were walked through the process of preparing the beans for roasting, testing the coffee and best practices. Truly amazing.
- We were treated to a traditional Colombian lunch of Bandeja Paisa (a huge plate of varied delicious foods) at a beautiful open-air restaurant nestled in a scenic mountain location.
This truly was a remarkable trip, made possible by the amazing and brilliant Zemoga team including… Operations Director Carlos Pardo who watched over me and saw to my every need, Co-Founder Alejandro Gomez, Head of Social Media Briana Campbell, Tatiana Gonzalez, Jennifer Puglisi and Carlos Ferro.
If you EVER get a chance to spend time in Bogotá, do whatever you can to take part in the 100% Colombian experience!