I’m a coffee snob, one who gives more thought to bean provenance, grinder setting and water temperature than most people would consider necessary. On most weekends, I’ll make a trip at some point to visit a friend, a skilled amateur barista who has spent a small fortune on commercial grade coffee equipment, so we can drink a few espressos. I’d like to say we set the world to rights while doing so, but in truth we normally just talk about coffee.


Sad, I know.


The weekend just gone we were drinking coffee brewed with beans from the London roastery, Square Mile. As usual with their produce, it was excellent.


This weekend also saw a different conversation: the packaging. Square Mile changed their packaging not too long ago. The better, one supposes, to represent the authenticity, quality and values behind the brand. Obviously the new design would have cost money, but the ongoing cost of the new packaging itself, including beautiful bespoke boxes, also has to come from somewhere.


My friend, who outdoes me as a coffee authority by some distance, simply saw a waste of money. His argument went something like this: the product is wonderful as it is, and we both evangelise about it at any given opportunity, as other customers undoubtedly do. So why spend money on new branding? He got on a (caffeinated) roll. Surely any money spent on branding was money that was being directly added onto the final cost of the (already premium) product that we were buying. Why are we paying for this? All of this money should either be snipped off the cost of the product or given directly to the ongoing process of improving it.


I would like to say that, having worked in and around the industry for years, I gave a slick defence of branding, and of why it was in this case very much worth the money. The truth is, I did what I usually do after too many double espressos have fried my brain, and garbled excitable nonsense.


Better late than never: here is what I should have said.


We have become, as per Marty Neumeier in his seminal book The Brand Gap, information rich and time poor. We are lucky to already be customers of Square Mile. For those who aren’t (and the organisation themselves), the brand is a method of reaching out to those, all of us really, who haven’t the time to compare the features and benefits that we might once have been able to do with all the coffee roasteries in a region.


Our perception of Square Mile has already been, largely, formed. But for new and potential customers that perception is still entirely up for grabs (with the space it occupies being fought over by the competition). The product might hold huge value, but as Scott M. Davies in Brand Asset Management has it: The image and perception of the brand helps to drive value; without an image there is no perception.


We can see then that the new and improved branding helps potential customers to at least positively recognise a brand that they may want to identify with. But this isn’t just about potential customers, I’d further argue that the branding is just as relevant to current (happy) consumers too.


We agree with Alina Wheeler (in Designing Brand Identity) that brands have three, basic, functions: to help with navigation, reassurance and engagement. The navigation is briefly discussed above, and it refers to helping a potential consumer through the overwhelming selection of information, and in our case an ever increasing number of coffee roasters, to reach a particular brand. The other two aspects, reassurance and engagement clearly also refer to the existing consumer, helping to assure them that they have made the right choice, to encourage identification and an ongoing relationship with the brand.


In the case of Square Mile, the new packaging is luxurious, but also tempered with necessary information and local detail. The labels have been improved to include all of the detail and value (origin, tasting notes etc) that you expect from the organisation, while the packaging has a new background; a beautiful hand drawn map of London’s Square Mile by a local illustrator.


The packaging represents an eye for detail, knowledge and authenticity, and in doing so only matches the quality of the product within. The brand proposition is accurate – and as a result our, ongoing, relationship with it is based on truth and respect. It delivers what the packaging suggests. Simply, the accurate branding and packaging makes it easier for us to connect with and to return to the company, and if it adds a little onto the cost (to us or the company), it’s a price worth paying because the overall value is improved.


Now, what are the odds I get this all mixed up after too much coffee this weekend?


By Oliver Brown