Lessons in a Cup: Pursuing your post-pandemic ambitions

by David Doze

5 min read


My coffee consumption hasn’t declined during the pandemic. In fact, I am up a cup on most days. What has changed though is where I am buying it. This shift in my coffee buying habits is a microcosm of the massive change that has taken place over the past sixteen months—something that we are all part of. It is a change that should have more brands paying very close attention, as we ease our way out of this time, and begin to consider what re-entry into post-pandemic life looks like for their businesses.

I live in downtown Toronto and have been a fan of Pilot Coffee Roasters for years. (It is only a coincidence that they share our agency name.) My loyalty is based on their exceptional coffee roasting program for which they have been richly rewarded, growing from a single location in 2009 to a mini coffee empire today. 

Pre-pandemic, I would purchase a mid-morning cup made from their beans at a favourite local spot and regularly buy a bag to take home for the start of my day. Occasionally (very occasionally), I would venture to their website to purchase some of the single-origin options not available in-store. Ordering coffee beans for delivery felt like a real extravagance. 

I think you know where this is going. 

So, shortly into the pandemic, I established a regular coffee delivery cadence with Pilot. I loved opening the box on delivery day and drawing in the scent of freshly roasted coffee beans. Yum! And then I noticed that they were delivering nationally on any order over $30 dollars. It was a revelation. I couldn’t travel, but perhaps great coffee could travel to me!

My life has now changed forever. Last week, I finished an exceptional coffee from Montreal roaster Kittel. Three weeks before that, I enjoyed some beautiful coffee from Quebec City’s Cantook. And today, I opened up a fresh bag of Ethiopian beans from Vancouver’s 49th Parallel. All wonderfully crafted and on my doorstep at no greater cost than if I was a local walking into their shops. And, honestly, it has been a boost to my mental health during the lockdown. 

For brands, there is much that can be learned from this experience, all from a simple cup of coffee. Here are a few thoughts to sip on. 

Your customers’ post-pandemic habits and expectations are being established now

We are now living in an open retail market. Those who never thought of themselves as online brands are now investing in mobile-first e-commerce experiences. There will be no going back on this in the post-pandemic landscape. Consumers who previously shopped online for price advantage and convenience are now seeking out quality and craft, at scale. This means that brands face more competition today than yesterday and will face even more tomorrow. Providing a polished online experience is critical, but decent usability is now table stakes. Investing in UX is essential but it will only deliver results if it’s driven by a core narrative. The real magic lies in the brand stories you tell.

Great brands don’t just develop on their own – they are designed. In our practice, we measure brand effectiveness in five critical areas through a unique process we call Story Design. Ask yourself these five questions about your brand.  

Does your brand have perspective, a reason for the audience to engage with it?

Pilot Coffee Roasters parameter guide - Pilot PMR - post-pandemic brand strategy

Pilot Coffee Roasters is committed to educating their customers on how to get the best out of their beans. They are not just selling coffee, they are working to ensure that you have an amazing cup, based on the bean selection, by publishing what they call parameter guides.

Can your consumers call up and repeat your story?

Vancouver’s 49th Parallel strongly connects to place and all that it represents – clean, natural, pioneering, forward-looking. It is an easy story to connect with, recall, and share. 

Is your brand unique, unexpected, differentiated?

Montreal’s Kittel has done something entirely original in its packaging. From their biodegradable pouches to the artwork on the box, nothing is predictable or left to chance. The packaging illustrations by Amsterdam-based illustrator Timo Kuilder are a welcome and original choice.

Does your brand inspire action?

Kittel Transparency Report Cover - Post-Pandemic Brand Strategy - Pilot PMR

What are you doing to make me choose you? Determining what you are going to do to drive actions is entirely dependent on knowing your audience. In my case, I care deeply about my social and environmental impact as a consumer – so ordering coffee from outside my city is a real concern. The fact that Kittel has committed to publishing an annual Transparency Report allows me to choose them more often. 

Does your brand communicate essential emotional qualities that are grounded in real human experiences?

cantook ig - pilot pmr post-pandemic brand strategy

It is one of the most important aspects of any successful brand, yet so many brands struggle with this. They are afraid to let down their guard and connect on a human level. Take a look at Cantook’s Instagram and you’ll get to know them as the catalyst for a lovely community. 

If you have a coffee recommendation for me, please send it along. I’d love to hear from you. 

Thank you for reading and stay safe!