A Denver business learns about gentrification

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Let’s say you’re a local coffee chain. You have 16 locations throughout Colorado, with a majority in or around Downtown Denver. You work with a local ad agency to come up with some new messaging. One of your stores is in Denver’s RINO neighborhood – a part of town that is undergoing rapid redevelopment. Some use the more loaded term gentrification. Your shop in RINO has been open for almost three years, so surely you understand your customers and your neighborhood. Right? Your agency is right up the street, so they also have a sense of the community. Right?

For you gentrification means new stores, increased services and rising home values. Brooklyn. Harlem. Portland. Los Angeles. Atlanta. If you dig just a little there are negative stories about gentrification – unaffordable rents, cries of displacement and accusations of racism. Maybe you look. Maybe you don’t. It’s just a sign out in front of your shop. What can go wrong?

You put the signs out the day before Thanksgiving, 2017.

Someone steals the sign overnight. The words “White Coffee” are painted on the outside of the store. The media show up. Protesters show up. You’re the subject of stories across the country, including in national news outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post and Fox News. Fox News is up in arms that people are up in arms. You apologize with a joke. Your agency apologizes. You apologize, again. A simple mistake, you say. You did not understand how loaded a term “gentrification” is, overall, and specifically in a neighborhood that is being gentrified. You hope it will all blow ever.

A few months later the coffee shop across the street wins an online contest and is named the best coffee shop in Denver. No protests there.

Businesses make mistakes in communicating with their audience. You clearly made one here. Yours started local and grew national in scope. Some start nationally and become the focus of ridicule. The apologies are offered and the spots are quickly pulled. Hello to Pepsi, Kendall Jenner and those police officers whose minds are so open to change when offered a Pepsi.

We look at Ink! Coffee’s experience as a missed opportunity. They didn’t know what they were walking into by putting out those signs. They didn’t understand their neighborhood, their potential customers and the climate into which they were communicating. Whatever outreach they undertook was not enough – assuming there was any.

That’s where we come in. At Consumer Research Associates we help companies understand their customers – current and potential – by building from empathy. We help them to test messaging and to understand the experience and cultural soup into which the messages are sent and received. We help them avoid costly mistakes and discover opportunities by learning from people. We listen to their stories and build an understanding of what it is like to be them, in their world, so crises like Ink!’s don’t happen to them.

If you think that what happened to Ink! Coffee can’t happen to you, we urge you to give us a call.

 

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