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”.
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’).
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.