Sleepy Owl Coffee is one of the top consumer brands in India right now. They have a great collection of products, great product-market fit, decent branding, and exceptional brand recall value. It is one of my favorite brands right now. Strictly from a point of branding and creativity, though.
Being involved in the Indian coffee space and with an interest in branding and marketing, I have a feeling Sleepy Owl might have lost its way. Their recent steps, launches, campaigns, and ads, seem to concur.
Before we look at the wrongs steps they've taken, let me first give you some background.
The Sleepy Owl Brand and Early Days
During its early days, Sleepy Owl was all about making coffee brewing simple.
I remember their ads showing you how complex brewing specialty coffee could be, and their brew bags as the perfect solution. The passionate home brewer in me was sort of furious. Still, those ads were one of the most clever ones I've seen. And they seemed to have done pretty well for them too.
The Sleepy Owl brand was built on a foundation of convenience, simplicity, and accessibility (at least to some degree). Which is a great segment to target, maybe even bigger than specialty coffee. They might have even owned a word in the consumer's mind, although I'm not exactly sure what it was (my money is on 'convenience').
Right now in the coffee industry, there's a great push from the coffee roasters segment to educate the consumer about what coffee really is. That coffee, just like tea, doesn't dissolve. That it has to be extracted. And that instant is cheap and tastes horrible in comparison. Undoing the work instant coffee brands did over decades.
Market leader Blue Tokai, together with other roasters, is doing a great job educating. All the while Sleepy Owl is running its own campaigns about the same, which are doing well too.
But what seems to be wrong you ask.
Recently it launched roasted coffee beans and ground coffee. Which is a bad move on multiple fronts.
First, this collection is priced at the same baseline price that specialty coffee roasters offer. Comparing the two offerings, Sleepy Owl's is not transparent on the origin and other details. Not even specialty as far as I understand.
Two, this launch and the ad campaigns target the roasters directly. With pricing and creativity. The reason it's wrong is that this is not the market they need to go after. The roasters segment needs to grow, and Sleepy Owl needs to take away the segment that's looking for a convenient solution. So when the roasters grow, Sleepy Owl naturally grows.
Three, this directly contradicts and opposes everything the Sleepy Owl brand stands for. This is undoing their own work, diluting the brand. One they've spent so much, building.
Taking a closer look, the messaging is messed up too. Their tagline says, 'Real good coffee'. Instead, it should be something like, 'Good coffee, brewed simply'. With an emphasis on convenience.
There seems to be a problem with their merch too. While merch in any D2C business is great for revenue, there has to be a limit. Until now, whatever merch they have released seems good. But the direction I see them going, I expect a French Press or some other piece of equipment coming out. This would be another inconsistency in their image and target.
So perhaps, the point of 'too much merch' is closer than it seems.
But all these wrong moves can be corrected.
Focus, Focus, Focus the Brand
Great brands are built when they focus their efforts in a single direction, own the word (synonymous with the brand) in the customer's mind, and just carry on like this.
At this point, this is precisely what Sleepy Owl needs to do. Focus its effort on a singular thing (the idea of convenience here) and carry on.
Once they build a concentrated brand, going global is the best thing they can do.