My local Tim Horton’s is a meeting place. 

It’s the designated gathering spot for the 50+ crowd in my community to get together each morning. Over cups of coffee, tea and other drinks, they catch up on each other’s lives, discuss politics and gossip.

Like many other gathering places, Timmies is now offering free wi-fi. It’s not uncommon to find a few young folk, their backpacks dumped on the tiled floor beside them, hunched over their laptops as they sip away at Ice Capps.

Outside, a line of cars forms as folks headed to work or school or play offer up orders and collect their beverages at the drive-up window. 

Tim Horton’s is a busy place. I’m not sure, though, if it’s a busy place because the coffee is so amazing — although people certainly rave about it to me, a non-coffee drinker. More so, I think Tim Horton’s is a popular stop in the morning because it offers something else.

Convenience. Indulgence. A few extra minutes of snooze time.

Marketers are brought up to be ever-conscious of four things: product, place, price and promotion. We call these the Four Ps and if marketing had a bible, you’d find the Four Ps in the Book of Genesis (likely contained in commandment right after Adam and Eve were punted from the Garden).

But if you consider the discussion I’ve proposed about Tim Horton’s, you have to stop and ponder the value of the Four Ps (again — product, place, price and promotion) and weigh it against the value of understanding the consumer.

Consider this: is there a difference between a Tim Horton’s customer and a Starbucks customer? I would suggest there is. Tim Horton’s tend to pop up all over the blue-collar and rural landscape; Starbucks is urban, trendy. Its more upscale drinks go for upwards of $4 a mug; you can buy two and sometimes three hits of Tim Horton joe for the same amount.

Does that mean a Starbucks coffee is a superior product? Ask that at Tim Horton’s and the patrons there will give you a resounding “no way.”

Neither Tim Horton’s nor Starbucks got where they are today — giants among the gourmet coffee companies — by ignoring their clientele. In fact, both Tim Horton’s and Starbucks understand their clientele — and they market to them, although in completely different ways. Timmies spends its advertising dollars on television and radio, staples in the working class, rural diet. It tends more towards family values: it sends kids to camp, offers opportunities to earn the good life with a simple rrroooll of the rrriim. 

Starbucks is much more subtle. You won’t find a Starbucks ad on television, on a billboard or even in your favorite newspaper or magazine. But you will find Starbucks cups on a lot of desks, with happy patrons eager to show off their “badge” and spread the Starbucks gospel by word of mouth.

So where does this leave the upstart or struggling small business or non-profit agency? Many new ventures have limited capital and consequently virtually no advertising budget. But as the Starbucks success proves, you don’t have to put hugs gobs of money into advertising to make the big time. What you do have to do is get a good grip on your target audience and then connect with them.

How do you do that? The place to start is with a client profile, a kind of biography for each segment of the target audience you hope to reach. You want to know as much about them as possible, especially what’s important to them, their goals and aspirations, the struggles, problems and frustrations they face each day. You can give a name to each profile, putting a face to each of the client types you want to walk through your doors or visit your website. 

For example, perhaps Starbucks has Brian the Biker. He’s a young, athletic office worker who lives downtown and rides his bike to work each morning. He takes the same route everyday and stops for the same beverage each morning, which he takes away in a spill-proof container that he can slip into his backpack for the remainder of his bike ride to work. It’s a tough job that keeps him busy and cuts into his social life, but Brian has had his eye on another cute twenty-something who also stops at the local Starbucks each morning on her way to work. Brian now pedals to Starbucks after-hours in hopes of having an opportunity to bump into her when he has a little more time. He even brings his laptop or favorite book so he has a reason for lounging while waiting for her to return.

Can you see from this how Starbucks can evolve from a step-up coffee stop into an urban-centred meeting place?

It doesn’t matter what you have to sell: identify your market and build client profiles.  You likely find that, just like Tim Horton’s and Starbucks, you won’t be selling a product or service. Rather, you’ll be marketing something else: convenience, indulgence, security, a few extra minutes of snooze time or an opportunity to meet the girl.

Whatever your product or service, there’s something else beneath the surface that is more valuable to your clients — and consequently something of far greater value to you.


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