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David Smith of High Brew Coffee : “Content development ”

Content development — telling a whole brand story on an 8 oz. can is tough! Sometimes it takes an investment in content to help shape a brand story. For example, our Direct Trade relationship is an amazing process. It helps coffee farmers more than any other process out there, but it requires consumers to listen to us. […]

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Content development — telling a whole brand story on an 8 oz. can is tough! Sometimes it takes an investment in content to help shape a brand story. For example, our Direct Trade relationship is an amazing process. It helps coffee farmers more than any other process out there, but it requires consumers to listen to us. By going to Colombia and developing content to help tell that story in a compelling way, we offer something new to the consumer or retailer that they hadn’t realized before.


As part of our series about “Brand Makeovers” I had the pleasure to interview David Smith, founder and CEO of High Brew Coffee.

David Smith, who founded and eventually sold Sweet Leaf Tea, first discovered the benefits of refreshing cold-brewed coffee during warm nights navigating unchartered waters in 2012 when he was on a sailing trip with his family. At that time, consumers were less familiar with cold brew, and largely unaware that the brewing process delivered a much less acidic beverage with a bold, less bitter taste. Smith realized strengthening the brew to contain twice as much caffeine than regular coffee essentially delivered a cleaner version of an energy drink. When High Brew Coffee products first hit shelves, it was not only the premier ready-to-drink (RTD) cold brew, it was one of the only brands of its kind in an emerging market. The brand’s mission to educate the consumer on cold brew was very successful, paving the way for other brands to enter the category.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

When I first graduated college, I interviewed for several large companies and realized early on the corporate gig wasn’t for me. I connected with my childhood friend and we started Sweet Leaf Tea. Because neither of us had any prior beverage experience, it was really a big learning experience. We literally started brewing tea with 25-gallon crawfish pots and filled the first bottles with a garden hose — we were scrappy! We even used pillowcases as giant tea bags to make the perishable product that had only a 14 day shelf-life. It was the worst business model ever, but we never gave up and tried hard not to repeat major mistakes. Once I started start building relationships with retailers and distributors, the beverage business was in my blood and has been a very rewarding career.

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

During the early Sweet Leaf days, we would put our products in the cold vaults of convenient stores, and would barely sell 1–2 units per week. We were picking up more credits from expired product than we were selling and quickly learned we’d be out of business soon! We had to get the product noticed in order to turn any volume. So we went to the local hardware store and bought metal wash tubs and constructed wooden legs to merchandise the product ice cold and next to the cash register. Before long, we were delivering several cases every week. You have to get your beverage off of the shelf and cold to be discovered by consumers and capture the impulse buy.

Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Is there a takeaway or lesson that others can learn from that?

For me, it was when we began outsourcing production and distribution to people who were much better at it than us. This model allowed us to focus our limited time on sales and marketing — our team’s bread and butter — and leave the complexities of the supply chain to the experts. This happened around our third year in business and that’s when we started to build scale and increase efficiencies. It’s important to know what you’re good at and focus your time on those activities. Hiring strong people to handle the other pieces of the business will be extremely beneficial in the long run.

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

In less than 10 years, we’ve been able to revamp the original High Brew can to convey to consumers exactly what they want — high caffeine, low calories, quality coffee and an independent brand story. With a fresh coat of paint and colors designated for various flavors that make new and current cold brew consumers look (and think) twice, the brand’s new (unofficial) mantra reads, “Escape the dark, dull world of cold brew. And take your coffee black, red, green, blue and any color your taste buds can dream of. Because it’s not how you take your coffee, it’s where your coffee takes you.” Sometimes folks need an energy boost to accomplish that workout, or crush their next zoom call. Whatever it is, we hope to be able to brighten up your mood, day or your life.

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

While everyone is going to have a different thing that helps, it’s important to always seek outside assistance and opinions. Whether it’s a trusted agency, employees or key ambassadors, enlisting the right folks who care and associate with your brand and have the ability to inject new thinking can help in two ways. First, they can have amazing and fresh ideas. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it can re-invigorate you as a marketer to know that those ideas are out there. If they get you 80% of the way there, the other 20% can help turn something good into something great.

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?

The ethos is what separates the two. Despite a fresh coat of paint, High Brew’s philosophy has remained true to its roots. I created the High Brew brand to be bold, simple, functional and ethical. Those values lie at the core of our being and all of our product marketing, but certain campaigns can push the boundaries of that ethos to reach a certain consumer.

Product marketing can be dictated so much more by the consumer you’re targeting. We built this new look to be optimized across multiple consumer groups and give the consumer (both our super fans and new consumers) exactly what they’re looking for when they shop: hitting on the key attributes but also telling our story. For this refresh, we’ve built out ad sets with different objectives. Since the very beginning, High Brew has offered the color in the RTD coffee category, and now we’ve leaned into that much more. We’ve developed a set of ads, for example, to target new consumers that lean into color more and less into brand ethos. Once we’ve got their attention, they’ve given us an ear to tell them about our brand, our story and why we’re the best cold brew on the market.

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?

It all needs to circle back to the story and authenticity. Many larger brands in our space, as well as the CPG universe in general, do not have a story. They are corporate entities with dollar signs on each consumer’s head — and consumers can quickly tell when something is not authentic. They vote with their wallets and want to support brands they can identify with. We’re a business, but our story and our reason for being is what makes our brand special. We invest to tell that story and make sure it’s told appropriately both on packaging and in the advertising we do.

Let’s now talk about rebranding. What are a few reasons why a company would consider rebranding?

The consumer should drive any and all rebrands. After being in the market for 7 years, High Brew did a deep dive and spoke to consumers (both ours and the category) and decided it was time to make a change. We needed to truly optimize our package to give them what they want and make sure our brand was noticed on the shelf. The original High Brew packaging had the color brown on the bottom half of the can to help consumers understand it was a coffee beverage. When we first launched, you mostly found RTD coffee in glass bottles so wanted to make sure our messaging was grounded in coffee. Since then, many more brands have launched and our fans now know that coffee can come in a can, so we were able to depart from the original direction. Our new graphics are much more meaningful and make a visual impact.

Are there downsides of rebranding? Are there companies that you would advise against doing a “Brand Makeover”? Why?

Brand maintenance is a must for any brand, no matter the size. There are always ways to optimize brand messaging, but the hope is that you don’t have to do it often. Brands should consistently be listening to consumers, and constantly taking in information to ensure that the brand is delivering on its promise and bringing something that excites new and current consumers. It should never be just about needing a new look, it should be rooted in data and conversations, and done with a reason aside from just changing things up.

Ok, here is the main question of our discussion. Can you share 5 strategies that a company can do to upgrade and re-energize their brand and image”? Please tell us a story or an example for each.

  1. Update packaging — brands need to meet consumers where they are, whether that is evolving industry/market knowledge or changing visual wants
  2. Discover a new selling point, and market appropriately. Sometimes you find that consumers want something different from when you launched, and it doesn’t require a full refresh to account for that change.
  3. Take a step back and evaluate messaging hierarchy. Identify what attributes consumers are saying are most important to your branding. Make sure that aligns with the attributes and messaging that the brand is putting out that they are seeing first. Evaluate and optimize.
  4. Content development — telling a whole brand story on an 8 oz. can is tough! Sometimes it takes an investment in content to help shape a brand story. For example, our Direct Trade relationship is an amazing process. It helps coffee farmers more than any other process out there, but it requires consumers to listen to us. By going to Colombia and developing content to help tell that story in a compelling way, we offer something new to the consumer or retailer that they hadn’t realized before.
  5. Identify who is talking about your brand — both consumers and the media mix. It’s important any brand influencers and press outlets are targeting the right audience. By getting your product in the right — and new — hands with fresh views and opinions, it can give your brand a much needed boost. This can be especially useful as a brand matures and the need to fight complacency of current consumers happens while simultaneously trying to bring in more new consumers.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job doing a “Brand Makeover”. What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Two Austin-based beverage brands have captured my eye in terms of a brand makeover. Mighty Swell did a great job of reevaluating their original package and brought the real fruit to life on their current cans of spiked seltzer. Austin Eastciders, a brand I’m involved with, has kept their packaging simple and authentic. There tagline is great, “How about dem Apples?!”

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. 🙂

High Brew is built on an attitude of good, positive vibes. It’s at our core, from providing better lives for the farmers who pick our beans through our Direct Trade relationship, to inspiring doers to use High Brew to fuel whatever drives them. From a cause to a climb, we want our energy to inspire. Cold Brew for Those Who Do is a tagline we’ve had from day one, and kept in the refresh because doers come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Whether you do by achieving personal milestones or community ones, we’re here to help with that journey.

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

“Sail wherever you heart desires and know when to drop anchor!” The entrepreneur spirit is alive and well, there are a ton of great ideas out there. However, the hardest part is taking the dream and making it a reality. Execution is the key so know what to stay focused on to make your idea real.

How can our readers follow you online?

They can follow us across social media: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, check us out at HighBrewCoffee.com or find us in retailers nationwide.

Thank you so much for these excellent insights! We wish you continued success in your work.

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