Novices and Experts differ in their choices: Why Nespresso are Trying to Turn People Into Coffee Connoisseurs

George Clooney. Who else?

Nespresso sell a range of specialist coffee machines that use capsules sold exclusively by the company via their mail order service or via the Nespresso boutiques located in London, Manchester and Birmingham. To be able to order the capsules online you need to sign up to become a member of the Nespresso Club, which is “dedicated to providing the ultimate coffee experience”.

Nespresso capsule range, which work out around 30p per capsule. Still cheaper than Costa!

Rather than targeting the crowded coffee shop market, Nespresso have positioned themselves as a luxury coffee company in home and office settings. Along with your first order they send you a little booklet that really flowers up the whole coffee experience, describing each aspect of the coffee making experience in amazing detail. They have profiles of all the ‘Nespresso Experts’, the individuals involved at all the different stages of the coffee making process, and everything in the booklet seems designed to mythologise and ritualise the coffee drinking process, arousing all the sensory characteristics of coffee.

They explain how to distinguish between the different aromas, notes, body and flavours, how the different roasts affect the intensity, and really encourage the user to take their appreciation of coffee to the next level (their regular magazine also features countless articles promoting the ‘art of coffee’).

A sample of the range of coffees available for your Nespresso machine. The descriptions apply just as easily to farts.

Let’s face it; on one level this is all very pretentious stuff. Charlie Brooker has derided the magazine Nespresso send out as “an aspirational lifestyle marketing exercise by desperate lunatics”, and indeed, many aspects of Nespresso’s marketing mythologise and ritualise the coffee drinking process to absurdity. Then again, wine and whiskey experts are equally pretentious, so why shouldn’t Nescafe jump on the bandwagon?

Criticisms aside, there’s actually a really powerful psychological aspect of turning consumers into knowledgeable experts. Nam, Wang and Lee (2012) investigated the different criteria on which expert and novice consumers make their choices when buying electronic goods, and I believe these differences can be generalised to other goods as well.

Novice consumers base their choices on differences in basic features that are easy to compare. So, in the case of coffee, a novice might make a choice between a cappuccino or an Americano, which taste very different, and differ strongly in bitterness. In contrast, experts base their choices on more specific, unique attributes of a product. Crucially however, the consumer need to first be made aware of and understand these unique attributes, and this can then change their buying behaviour.

For example, the authors of this study found that the novices reliance on easy to compare features, (known as alignable features) could be attenuated when they were motivated or provided with greater category knowledge. Essentially, increasing novice consumers’ knowledge led to consumers using unique, non-alignable attributes as their basis of judgements.

Nespresso exemplify this perfectly. By making their customers more aware of the subtleties and differences between different types of espresso, they are providing their customers with knowledge and motivation to become coffee experts, and in doing so, are potentially changing the way that their customers judge coffee, in alignment with Nespresso’s model of having a wide range of espresso coffees that differ in a number of subtle ways.

Clearly, the idea of informing and educating the consumer, turning them into experts is a powerful one, which has many implications for the way that companies design and market products.

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4 comments
  1. I have personal experience of the Nespresso effect. I didn’t drink coffee between the ages of 16 and 23. But then, Mom bought Dad…..a Nespresso (this is the same woman who used to buy him de-caff, and put it in a full-caff (?) jar because she thought he drank too much coffee). Within 2 weeks of this purchase, my 7 years without coffee came to an abrupt, full bodied and aromatic end. I never even liked coffee as a teenager, but the luxury of Nespresso captivated me. Mom even bought fancy little cups especially for the Nespresso. I still don’t really like coffee that isn’t Nespresso Coffee. I rarely drink coffee out, and all I drink are espressos. Over the course of my year at home, me and Dad sampled and chose our favourite flavours, which are now the only ones my parents buy. I feel invested in the coffee, and seeing as I was part of choosing the ones we use, I know I like the coffee I drink at home. At least I think I do. Don’t I?

  2. Your experience with Nespresso is very interesting to me. What was it about ‘the Nespreso experience’ that all of a sudden had you drinking coffee?

    I know you say the luxury appealed to you… but I really want to delve deeper into that. Given that you are so stoic in your non-drinking, non-drugs, no-coffee way, what specifically about the luxury was so appealing to you? The fancy names? George Clooney? The awesomeness of the machine? The tiny shot of pleasing brownness that trickles out of the machine? What if you went on a business meeting, and someone cracked out a bottle of vintage single malt, worth thousands…would you drink it? What if you were hanging out with Snoop Dogg and Doctor Dre in Jamaica, and they were rolling up a blunt of the finest greenery known to man, would you consider smoking it?

    Clearly, you did ‘invest’ in the coffee so to speak by being involved in the choosing process, which may be one reason why you still drink those flavours when you go home. Perhaps the arousing and aromatic sensory qualities of the Nespresso experience are associated with pleasant memories in your brain.

    If you went to London or Manchester and walked past a Nespresso boutique do you think you would go in and have a sip of your favourite flavours? Or if you went to a friends house and they had some there, would you partake?

  3. psub06 said:

    Rasmussen (1999) suggested that ‘novice’ consumers will be more likely to have lower levels of personal involvement in a products, and a lower usage level, but that ‘experts’ are likely to have high level of involvement and high usage level of a product. This is pretty understandable since you don’t become an ‘expert’ overnight having only used a product once. But perhaps the booklet that comes with the coffee describing the small differences in taste between each on the coffees make users feel more expert in the area, therefore increasing their use of the product.

  4. Ah nespresso. Last year, I worked in an an electrical retailer in Dublin, and Nespresso was one of the best selling products on the floor. We literally could not keep them on the shelves. For €99 you could buy a present that looks fancy as hell on your mates kitchen countertop. I was fortunate enough to get sent on a nespresso training session, which comprised of two days in a local hotel, with salespeople from all over Ireland that were in contact with the brand. Let me tell you, we were treated like royalty, with fancy dinners, constant cups of coffee and croissants. The training was really comprehensive. We were all given big folders with fancy training documents with information on everything about the product. They called it, The Nespresso Academy. By the end of the two days, I really thought I was an expert on coffee. They even have like an alumni board that you can sign up to and talk to previous attendees of the academy. Nespresso not only want the customers to think they are a luxury brand, but they want the sales people to aswell. Obviously they believe that this translates well into sales.

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