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Coffee cakes should have coffee in them: marketing coffee adjacency

 Coffee tables do not come with coffee when you buy them from IKEA. The concept of a coffee table is that it is a table that is the ideal kind of table to put a cup of coffee down on. However, the presence of coffee is not required. It is a table. Similarly, coffee cakes do not have any coffee in them.  A coffee cake is a cake that would be great to eat with a coffee. But, again, it is not a requirement to eat with coffee. Products can be differentiated to appeal to coffee-loving audiences without actually containing any coffee. I find that the effectiveness of coffee adjacency marketing is up for debate. 

         The world revolves around coffee. It is such a common beverage of choice that people have strong opinions about what kind of coffee is better and what brand should be enjoyed, sometimes without even being a coffee drinker themselves. Coffee has a large follower base. There are specific cups to drink coffee out of, machines to use, and coffee shop rewards cards to acquire. What follows is that there is a large market for coffee adjacent products.

         Tables are not inherently interesting or exciting. It is a table. It can be made out of anything that provides a flat surface to put objects on, and can have at least one leg or support stand. But now, if one markets a table as a “coffee table,” the table then perhaps becomes more intriguing to a coffee drinker. Now, the coffee drinker can imagine a world in which they have a coffee table to leave their cup on while they work on their computer or can imagine a cozy study spot to use while drinking coffee. But here is the catch. It is just a table. Just like the batteries in so many children’s toys, coffee is not included. 

         Furniture companies have succeeded in making a table specifically for coffee enjoyers. This is a brilliant move on their parts. But I want more. I want to see more product differentiation in the realm of tables. Let us see a Lego building table (to build Lego on) or a letter-writing table (to write letters on). Only the name needs to change, so companies only need to incur a minimal or negligible cost in changing the name of the table. What makes a coffee table different from all other tables? Only the name. 

         The case for coffee cakes is even stranger. Again, the cake product has been differentiated to separate it from other cakes and to suggest when the cake can be enjoyed. It seems strange to name a food product “coffee cake” when it does not involve coffee. However, this sets anyone ordering the cake up for failure by setting false expectations for what will arrive on the plate. Nevertheless, there is a difference between food product and furniture product differentiation. With furniture, it is perfectly acceptable to name a table as to suggest what can be placed upon it. With food, however, something is off. It would not make sense to create a dish called “salmon broccoli” when it is in fact just a kind of broccoli dish that would go well with salmon. There are different rules to follow. 

         Coffee adjacency is perhaps a slippery slope that highlights how products can be differentiated across industries to varying levels of success. It is common knowledge that tables are tables and will not arrive with anything on top of them (no coffee resting on the table in IKEA). It is also well understood that recipe names should contain what is in the food (coffee should be in a coffee cake, surely). What this demonstrates is that we have different expectations in different markets on what we expect to find in each product. 

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