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Darron J. Burke of Don Pablo Coffee: “Education ”

…Now more than ever it seems that people want to identify with a product, rather than just consume it. Branding helps to communicate a lifestyle message to help make that possible. As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Darron J. Burke, […]

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…Now more than ever it seems that people want to identify with a product, rather than just consume it. Branding helps to communicate a lifestyle message to help make that possible.


As part of our series about how to create a trusted, believable, and beloved brand, I had the pleasure to interview Darron J. Burke, Founder and CEO of Don Pablo Coffee.

In 1989, Darron J. Burke, founder of Burke Brands LLC., moved to South Florida in search of adventure. Little did he know he would soon meet the love of his life, Eliana, and his life would change forever. While visiting Eliana’s family in Colombia, Darron fell in love with Latin culture and the country’s delicious coffee. The couple quickly recognized an opportunity and began to learn everything they could about coffee growing and roasting in Colombia and traveled the rest of Latin America to further their education and forge relationships with other coffee growers. The couple chose the name “Don Pablo” from the nickname Eliana’s grandmother gave to Darron. As a native Spanish speaker, she had great difficulty pronouncing his real name, so she called him “Don Pablo” after a character in her favorite tongue twister.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I met a Colombian girl in Miami 32 years ago and fell in love. She took me to Colombia to meet her family, and I fell in love with the country, culture, and the coffee. I remember waking up to an amazing cup of coffee the day after I arrived and freaking out about it. Everyone thought I was crazy, but they agreed to take me to a coffee farm so I could learn more about why it was so good. The rest is history as they say.

Can you share a story about the funniest marketing mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When we first started we wanted to test our Cafe Cubano coffee on Cuban-American customers here in Miami, where we are located, and we asked the Grandmother and Aunt of one of our people to take a blind taste test with two other traditional Cuban espresso brands (including one of theirs). They tried them all and ended up raving about ours, going on and on about how good it was, but when I asked them if they would like to take some home as gift, they said no, because they already had enough of their brand at home. I learned something about brand loyalty and culture that day, and the exercise sort of foreshadowed how difficult it was going to be to wrestle people away from their favorite brands and gain some market share for ourselves.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

My wife and I have personally given out over a million cups of coffee while doing demos at warehouse clubs every weekend for over 10 years, and because our pictures are on the packaging, we often get recognized around the country.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We started a show called “The Coffee Fix,” where we go around the world and use the knowledge and resources we have gained in the coffee business, to help entrepreneurs start or improve a businesses.

Ok let’s now jump to the core part of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define the difference between brand marketing (branding) and product marketing (advertising)? Can you explain?

​We wanted our brand to convey authenticity, that’s why we put ourselves on the packaging. We think it is important that customers know that we are specialty coffee growers as well as roasters, and also have personal relationships with farmers all over the world. We think this kind of branding is different from simply advertising features and benefits.

Can you explain to our readers why it is important to invest resources and energy into building a brand, in addition to the general marketing and advertising efforts?

Now more than ever it seems that people want to identify with a product, rather than just consume it. Branding helps to communicate a lifestyle message to help make that possible.

Can you share 5 strategies that a company should be doing to build a trusted and believable brand? Please tell us a story or example for each.

Quality — we are unique for a coffee roaster of our size, in that we roast to-order in multiple small batch roasters for all of our customers large and small. It is a very inefficient and expensive model, but we are able to produce better quality. We have many die hard fans of our brand, and these are the folks that recognize and appreciate this process.

Transparency — We think it is important to be completely transparent as a company, and we use all the social media platforms to try and communicate who we are and what we are trying to accomplish in terms of quality and value. We think our new show, The Coffee Fix, also does a good job of this.

Education — Because 4 companies control 95% of the global at-home coffee industry, it tends to influence what consumers perceive as quality, but in fact, because of their scale, lengthy supply chains, and laser focus on margins and creating value for their shareholders, these companies are unable and unwilling to produce real quality. We have had to educate customers that what they are tasting in our product is the result of superior coffee beans, small batches, and roasted to-order freshness. We make it a point to say that this information doesn’t mean that they have to like ours better, but we do think it’s important that they have the information.

Sampling — We have always done either live sampling or have sent samples to anyone just for the asking. We think this shows good faith, and a good percentage of people who receive samples become life-long customers, so it is a win-win.

100% Guarantee — We stand behind our product 100% and if anyone ever has an issue or simply doesn’t care for the coffee and wants to return it, we issue a refund no questions asked.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved brand. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Sierra Nevada beer comes to mind. They’ve been around a long time, and are not small, but they produce legit craft beer. I had a question recently, and their customer service was excellent. I was very impressed. I think to replicate that you really have to walk the talk. In other words care; care about quality, and care about the customer experience. Also care about your employees, because when they know you care about them, and the quality of the product they are creating, they care too, and that automatically gets communicated to the customer.

In advertising, one generally measures success by the number of sales. How does one measure the success of a brand building campaign? Is it similar, is it different?

​Sales are obviously very important, and when you can show an increase, that means something is working, but more importantly I think, is customer retention. I think that speaks more to brand building. Consumers have A LOT of choices, and when they decide to stick with your company and product, I believe there is sometimes more to it than just taste profile and price.

What role does social media play in your branding efforts?

Besides allowing us to be more transparent as I mentioned earlier, I think social media helps us to expand our reach and increase sales by enabling an introduction of our company and brands to new customers, and it also helps us to build a community around our brands.

What advice would you give to other marketers or business leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Not sure if I’m qualified to give advice on how to avoid burnout but I think delegation is an obvious choice. I know some folks personally that are micro-managers, or even control freaks, and they seem to stay small and get burned out quick. I’m a control freak when it comes to quality and the customer experience, but I spend a lot of my time trying to create a culture in our organization and trying to build our institutional knowledge as a company, so that it is second nature for our Team to go the extra mile to please customers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The most important thing is love. It might sound corny to some people, but if everyone were to start there, always, in every situation, I believe the result would be awe-inspiring. I have also discovered that it is absolutely true that the more you give, the more you get. That formula has not failed our company, not once, not in our history.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There’s a lot of them, and I have mostly relied on scripture to inform and guide our company, but there’s a quote that has been attributed to Gandhi (maybe falsely, not sure) that says; “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then they accept you.” That is exactly what has happened to us as a company from the beginning. Fortunately I feel like we have made it through to the acceptance phase.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’ve been trying to get the attention of Mike Lindell, the My Pillow guy. I’m a big fan and have what I think is a very good idea for him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow us on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at @cafedonpablo and learn more at https://donpablocoffee.com/.

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