Coffee, anthropology, and marketing
We recently came across a fascinating piece by anthropologist Robert Kozinets on his"netnography"- internet-based ethnography - of online coffee aficionados.
By studying these connoisseurs exchanges, Kozinets was able to learn how they construct their identity differently from that of Starbucks customers.
Although Starbucks was itself created to offer a more distinctive experience, the chain expanded too far and fast to retain its ultra-specialized image. With a Starbucks now in almost every Target, what kind of unique experience can the chain really offer? Coffee-lovers took the process of specialization way further, building far more intricate worlds of beans, techniques, and machinery in the process.
To some Americans, a Starbucks grande may still be an overly expensive way of accessing caffeine, twice or three times the price of a cup at the local diner. To the coffee-committed, however, even the grande has become an uninspiring, mass-produced knockoff of something much more sublime.
Using Kozinets' research, any savvy marketing firm could devise a suite of bundled products that would appeal to consumers at all levels of the richly nuanced coffee-drinking spectrum.
Even the most statistically representative of surveys, by contrast, could never identify all the available options.
Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu wrote long ago that ever-finer distinctions create a sense of taste, quality and status. The more distinctions individuals make between categories of similar-looking things, the more expert, and the higher-status, they become.
And connoisseurs, of course, are more willing to pay for quality.