Updated: Sep 1, 2022
I am Laurie Pillings Rinker, a passionate brand and marketing consultant, and principal of Brands That Deliver.™ This the second in a series of articles highlighting companies that deliver on their brand, and who produce bottom-line results while operating consciously and giving back.
Use this series to reflect on how YOUR brand does or does not deliver, and what you can do to achieve your company’s goals through more thoughtful and impactful branding.
EQUATOR COFFEES IS A "BRAND THAT DELIVERS"
First, let’s review what a brand is.
You, everyone, and everything is a brand.
A brand lives within everyone it touches and is the sum result of all
its impressions, experiences, facts and feelings derived.
What is Branding?
Your brand is the driving force behind your business and should be continually and thoughtfully managed. Strong branding should fuel the company’s efforts to optimize sales and build loyalty among customers. If you don't thoughtfully manage your brand, your competition, your employees, and the world around you will manage it for you, and you will not be happy with the results.
The process of branding is so much more than the creation of a name, a logo, or a cool website and visuals. Branding is the disciplined strategic approach a company takes to both craft and deliver their brand, to ensure the brand remains target-relevant and stays true to its brand promise.
So what is a “Brand that Delivers”?
I tell my clients a strong, well-managed brand, and a “Brand that Delivers” includes the following attributes:
Is financially successful
Displays a clear, unique and relatable brand identity
Keeps its promises
Has a relatable story
Conveys messages that are engaging, authentic, consistent, and relevant
Value-Centered with a focus on a higher purpose
They are thoughtfully-managed through Conscious Capitalism efforts, a Quadruple/Triple Bottom Line framework, Fair Trade practices, or as a B-Corporation, Personal Benefit Corporation, or works for the greater good. (To learn more, see links at the end of this article.)
The new wave of entrepreneurs and executives are leading their companies with passion, purpose, conviction, and increased profitability. In the Harvard Business Review as far back as 2013, Tony Schwartz writes, “
“Companies that practice Conscious Capitalism”
perform 10 X better than their peers.”
Equator Coffees is a model for how successful companies should think and act.
“Equator Coffees is an award-winning coffee roaster, retail operator, and coffee farm owner headquartered in Marin County, CA. Founded in 1995 by Brooke McDonnell and Helen Russell, Equator is committed to a sustainable, transparent, socially responsible business approach (conscious capitalism) for its employees, partners, customers, vendors, and to all that they connect with in the world.”
I first became aware of Equator Coffees and its bright red tiger icon a number of years ago when they opened on a downtown corner in charming Mill Valley, located in Marin County, CA. Soon thereafter, I noticed many of the local bakeries and grocery stores were carrying the unique and delicious fresh Equator Coffees blends. I also noticed their coffee was higher-priced than similar brands, and I thought that they were just another higher-priced product, indicative of the local Marin County economy and ever-increasing standard of living. What I did not know, is their prices were a reflection of their value proposition and what they stood for as a company.
The more I learn about Equator, the more I am impressed
with the Equator brand and with the way the company “lives” their brand.
This all became clear to me when, later on, I had the privilege of hearing Helen Russell, Equator Coffees' co-founder and CEO, speak at the local work space in Marin County, VenturePad. As a marketer, I was moved and inspired by Equator’s story and values, and to this day, her talk still resonates with me.
A Strong Company Strategy
Vision: Equator Coffees believes in the power of human connection and kindness through the portal of coffee.
Mission: They believe that they can be more than just a coffee company, and their actions demonstrate that they truly are. They believe that by delivering on their values, working hard, every moment and interaction can be extraordinary. Equator Coffees has created a community that believes in drinking and crafting the very best, authentic, and sustainable coffee possible.
Values: Excellence, contemporary, connection, conscious, socially responsibility, kindness, and concern for the “chain.” Helen Russell says:
“When I look into a cup of coffee I see the faces of all people
in the supply chain and I know the hands that have touched this product
from the tree all the way into the cup…”
Their brand to-date has been thoughtfully managed and delivered. As companies grow, this presents a challenge. As part of their 2019 marketing strategy, I recommend including a formalized brand strategy to best deliver and protect the brand.
A Well-Defined Brand with a Strong Point of Difference
They are a “Chain of Well Being”, and they champion human connection and kindness through the portal of the finest coffee.
They are a B-Corporation and the first B-Corp coffee roaster in California. This reflects clear intentionality in their efforts to be a “force for good.”
They support Fair Trade practices and endorse an economic system that provides opportunities for international farmers, artisans, and workers to "lift themselves out of poverty."
Service-focused: Equator says, “if we hire for kindness, we can teach how to make coffee.”
A focus on diversity
Distinctive Brand Attributes
Name: “Equator Coffees”, reflects the fact that the majority of the world’s coffee is grown along the equator.
Logo: Strong, clean, and used consistently in all materials.
Tagline: Presently, they do not use a tagline. However, I would recommend that they consider using “A Chain of Well Being”.
Visuals: Are reflective of the global brand with a focus on their coffee growers and people. They incorporate the Bengal Tiger, which evokes the grace and strength they strive to embody as a company and their commitment to social responsibility.
Messaging: They have so many endearing, heart-warming,and relatable stories to share, all with many arms and legs. It would be challenging: however, I would suggest they condense their messaging.
They Deliver on their Brand Promise
Brand Promise: Freshness; roasted coffee is shipped from their roastery within 24-hours.
Service: They empower their cafe staff to do whatever it takes to make guests happy, and if you are not entirely satisfied with your purchase, they offer a fair return policy.
Target-Driven Innovative Products
They own the experimental Finca Sophia Coffee Farm, in the highlands of Panama with the goal to grow the highest quality coffee, produced using ethical practices.
Impact for Good and Giving Back
The B-Corporation solidifies its role as part of a global movement that is redefining impact and success in business while valuing everyone in the supply chain. Additionally, they donate product, money and time to a multitude of causes, including:
Micro Loans for Equator Coffees cooperative member partners in Ecuador: supports efforts to combat food insecurity and implement quality control measures on-site.
826 Valencia: dedicated to improving writing skills for under-resourced students.
World Bicycle Relief: mobilizes people throughout rural parts of the world.
Tierra Madre, Women’s' Land Rights in Nicaragua: funds legal services to ensure ownership of land by the women farmers living on it.
Future of Hope: empowers orphan girls and women in coffee-growing communities in Zimbabwe to transform agricultural surplus into nutritious food through mushroom farming.
Tiger Trust: protects the limited remaining habitat of the Sumatran Tiger and funds anti-poaching activities.
Mercy Corps: offers humanitarian support in conflict areas, sometimes in areas where Equator Coffees purchases.
A 2019 Entrepreneur article on Conscious Capitalism shares:
“A 2015 survey from Nielsen found that 66 % of consumers would pay more
if a business supported a social or environmental cause,
representing a 16 % jump from 2013.”
Successful Marketing Efforts
Most of the marketing is focused on the human connection, individual experiences, and chances for people to taste the coffee via support events, competitions, and sponsorships.
Financial Success & Winning Awards
While the goals of quality, sustainability, and social responsibility have remained the same, their revenues and growth are strong.
They now have 500+ wholesale accounts and multiple national partnerships, seven retail cafes, and in just a few years their team has grown to more than 100 employees.
They are on track to grow their eCommerce 50% last year.
Awards: For the last 15 years in a row, Equator has remained on the San Francisco Business Times’ list of the Top 100 Women-Owned Businesses. Additionally, Equator Coffees was the first Certified business to win the National SBA Small Business of the Year award. See more.
They are planning on slow and steady growth that “lifts all boats” for their global and local communities.
They will continue to buy more and more coffee for a fair and high (sustainable) price.
They continue to grow their team, adding more well-paying jobs that offer benefits, and adding stores in Los Angeles.
Founder Helen Russell’s Advice For Other Entrepreneurs
~ “You can’t be socially impactful if you aren’t successful, so don’t shy away from success.
~ Know what you don’t know and hire for your weaknesses.
~ Be fairly Intelligent. (It’s okay to hire people smarter than you.)
~ Stay optimistic for when it gets tough because it will get tough.
~ Don’t start a business if you aren’t driven. Entrepreneurs must be driven.
~ Be able to focus on what matters.
~ Every business needs people, product, and processes.
~ Hire for Kindness, you can teach the rest.”
I encourage all of my clients to follow the Equator Coffees’ lead and to consider how they can integrate conscious and thoughtful capitalism into their mission while growing their business.
How does your brand stand up?
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Check out the other blogs
#8 Why you need an updated Brand Strategy? (Are you fumbling your brand? )
About Brands That Deliver™ and Laurie Pillings Rinker: Laurie is a brand and marketing consultant, an author, speaker, and podcaster. As principal of Brands That Deliver ™, she helps businesses grow through strengthening business strategies and brands. Her approach creates a foundation of collaborative and customized brand and marketing programs that get results.
Read about her new brand at BrandsThatDeliver.com.
You can also reach Laurie at 415-209-8659.
Look for Laurie’s next article in the series “Brands That Deliver,”
and thanks for taking the time to read this article.