Proud Mary cafe
Melbourne’s a city that’s obsessed with pop-up stores, gin bars and fusion food. Where coffee culture is a part of everyday life, we’ve become accustom to our flat whites being served  to us by a beard with sleeve tattoos. The tattooed beards have been with us on the journey of this food revolution, we know them of course as hipsters. More recently, business hipsters. Hipsters are not unique to Melbourne, they pop up in previously run down urban areas the world over, said area becomes up and coming, then rent prices soar within months. But I’m not here to rag on hipsters, I’ve become fascinated with their entrepreneurial ability, more precisely their ability to build powerful engaging brands that inheritantly understand their customers and connect with them on their own terms.

Consumer habitual change
As consumers, our habitual path to purchase has changed drastically since the introduction of the smartphone. We browse less in retail stores, and do our homework online before deciding to purchase, weighing up our options, based on price, authenticity and relevance.  This means we are far less loyal to one brand. Each market is saturated, meaning brands have to fight a lot harder to remain meaningful to their customers. This in turn means brand advocacy is at an all time low for the majority of brands. There are a number of global brands that have managed to keep their loyal fans, Apple being the leader of the pack in terms of popular culture but for the majority, it’s getting harder and harder for consumers to solely consume one product in a category. Insert generic hipster cafe, and across the board they seem to be doing a fantastic job  in spite of the change.

Hipster cafe brand formula

Hipster cafes are thriving for the following reasons:

1. Build a meaningful and cool brand
Building your brand with your customer at the centre is so important, and this is where many large corporates tend to cut corners when it comes to investment. These cafes are setting the bar in clever brand engagement, with really cool identities, interesting names, through to the brand experience in the premises. From the moment you step into the ‘space’, you’re experiencing their brand. There’s exposed brick, concrete floors, edison lamps, your meal is served on chopping boards and jam-jars, the brand experience is thoroughly considered at every touchpoint. The staff are tattooed, unshaven and really fun, they involve you in their conversation while you wait for your coffee.

Hipster cafe

2. Be all about the product
The product is premium, with locally sourced produce, superfood infusion and exotic ingredients that you wouldn’t normally find with your bacon n eggs. Ethical coffee, gluten free, dairy free doesn’t come cheap. Which has a knock on effect to their business strategy, they are uber cool and can charge through the nose for some smashed avocado. The menu is complicated, with traditional breakfast dishes re-imagined: I ordered a BLT from a said cafe near the office the other week, and it consisted of B: slow roasted pork belly, L: spinach puree on brioche, T: gazpacho soup. Now isn’t that something! Likewise ethically traded coffee direct from the farmers is a common site around Melbourne these days, with some cafes roasting their own coffee on site. All this adds to the brand story. We feel reassured that more of our $5 is going towards the poor farmers in Colombia, for 5 seconds.

3. Customer is central
Walk into any cool cafe in Melbourne and you will feel right at home with friendly staff asking you how your day’s been, they seem to genuinely care. They are also having a great time together and time and time again, I’ve been caught in a funny conversation with a happy go lucky barista. This customer engagement is really powerful and will encourage customers to keep coming back, because of the relationships they are building upon each day. This is no revolutionary customer service module, they’re just better at it. And not every customer is a hipster, we’ve become accustomed to overpriced brunch and commonly seeing baby boomers happy to indulge with their scruffier counterparts in overpriced trendy food.

4. Staff advocates – they believe the bull.
The right staff is crucial to cafe success. Unlike the local Thai restaurant I went to the other night, where our waitress scowled at us when we ordered, staff in these cafes genuinely seem to be happy. They are obsessive about what they do, they love their job and it really resonates with the customer. Think of the thousands of dollars HR departments in large corporates spend on trying to develop a similar culture within the organisation. They are brand advocates not only to the brand they work for, but also the industry. My local barista near my house has COFFEE literally tattooed on his forearm. Mightn’t be everyone’s cup of flat white (sorry), but he loves his job so much, he got it tattooed on his body, forever! How many engineers or insurance brokers would do the same?

tattoo brand lover coffee

5. Keep it local

Hipster cafes also listen to their customers. Large corporate brands like Starbucks don’t survive in Melbourne, they are limited to the CBD for tourists, we like local neighbourhood cafes. Cafe owners around the city, who have multiple premises have opted to keep their businesses separate to keep the neighbourhood feel and not run the risk of becoming a corporate chain because that’s ever so not so trendy!

We’ve helped many local businesses in Melbourne define their strategy and build compelling brands, here are a few we’ve worked on.


Gemma Tedford
Director of Brand Projects – Part time hipster-cafe lover but also partial to an auld greasy  BLT