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I run a multimillion-dollar specialty-coffee business that I started 5 years ago. Here are our 3 main marketing channels and how we measure success.


A woman smiling at the camera in front of a wallSahra Nguyen is the founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply.

Erics Kun

  • Sahra Nguyen is the founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, which sells Vietnamese coffee.
  • She started out with organic social and public-relations marketing and leaned into storytelling.
  • Nguyen now also does paid advertising, but success is measured by all channels working together.
  • This article is part of “Marketing for Small Business,” a series exploring the basics of marketing strategy for SBOs to earn new customers and grow their business.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Sahra Nguyen, the 36-year-old founder and CEO of Nguyen Coffee Supply, about the marketing strategies that have helped grow her business. Insider has verified her business’ revenue with documentation. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

When people see the speed at which I’ve grown my direct-to-consumer coffee company over the past five years, they’re often surprised to learn we didn’t do any paid advertising for about the first 1 ½ years. 

Like many small businesses, we simply didn’t have the money to spend. So we relied on growing our audience more organically for as long as we could. Even though we eventually layered in ad spend, I think this diversified marketing mix has really benefited us by allowing us to meet different types of customers where they are and creating multiple touchpoints to ultimately inspire a prospective customer to buy.

Here are the three marketing channels we rely on most, the unique opportunity each has given us for connecting with consumers, and how all three have worked together to help us gain traction and build a multimillion-dollar company.

We used social media to tell our story and build relationships

A woman brewing coffee in front of a machineNguyen brewing in Brooklyn, New York.

Erics Kun

The core of our marketing efforts has always been about education, storytelling, and building community around our mission: To elevate Vietnamese coffee, especially the robusta bean. Social media has always been such a good place to do that because it gives me and my team direct access to our customer base. 

On social media, I can share ideas for ways to enjoy our beans and insights into how to use our specialty-coffee equipment. I can show behind-the-scenes shots of the Vietnamese coffee farmers we work with directly and explain why Vietnamese coffee is so special. I can dig into my journey as a Vietnamese American founder and discuss the change I want to see in the industry.

A post shared by Nguyen Coffee Supply ⚡️ (@nguyencoffeesupply)

What started as friends and family following us quickly grew to affinity groups who cared about the same things I did: The Asian American community, the immigrant community, and the specialty-coffee community. Finding our people and speaking our truth via social media have not only grown our social following but also influenced our word-of-mouth marketing, I believe, which is the No. 3 way people find out about us, a survey we conducted this year found. Because of our deep commitment to storytelling on social media, followers love to share the brand and have the talking points to do so.

We used PR to educate consumers and shift the narrative

A woman in a magazine store holding a copy

Courtesy of Sahra Nguyen

Much of the success of our company relies on a massive narrative shift around the perception of the robusta bean and of Vietnam as a coffee producer. As such, public relations have been an important channel to layer on top of social media to deepen our education efforts and legitimize our message and product. 

For starters, traditional media allows for deeper and more nuanced education. While on social media we often have mere seconds to get to the point, longer articles or TV spots give us more space to share context or tie our mission to issues facing the world.

It’s also helped widen our audience to people who cared about issues tangential to our mission. We targeted major news organizations to discuss the ethics of visibility in the coffee industry and how the perception of Vietnamese coffee is related to anti-racism activism. We sought out food publications to discuss why Vietnamese coffee deserved a rebrand and what it could offer serious coffee lovers

In the beginning, we’d measure the success of our PR by how many of our pitches were turning into published stories, which helped us evaluate the efficacy of our pitch, hook, storytelling, and macro-cultural relevance. Now that we’ve got the ball rolling, we cross-analyze press pieces, site traffic, and Google Analytics to estimate impressions and site traffic coming from a particular article.

We added paid advertising to push our efforts further

People walking in a farmNguyen visiting a coffee farm in Vietnam.

Erics Kun

At some point, I found that the audience we were able to reach using organic marketing and word of mouth got kind of tapped out — especially on social media, the algorithm limits how many people you can reach organically, and it’s tough to control. 

So we eventually started to add in paid advertising on Instagram, Facebook, and Google to scale our message to newer audiences. In doing so, we had to shift our messaging to appeal to an audience that may be colder, as they call it in marketing speak. Instead of sharing what mattered to me as a founder, I had to think about what mattered to the consumers: They want coffee that gives them energy and tastes good. 

sahra nguyen, nguyen coffee supplyNguyen says success is about all of her marketing channels working together to drive consumers to purchase.

Erics Kun/Nguyen Coffee Supply

I also had to do a lot of experimentation and incremental tests to figure out which paid-advertising channels worked for us. For instance, early on I had a founder friend who had success with YouTube advertising, so I immediately threw a lot of money into it — and it ended up being a total flop for us because the customer-acquisition cost was far too high considering our average-order value.

There are so many channels for reaching your target market, and they won’t all work for every brand, so incremental tests are important.

When it comes to measuring the success of our paid advertising, we’ve found it most helpful to think about how these channels work together. Consumers often interact with multiple touchpoints before they make a purchase. For instance, they may see an ad on Facebook and then read an article about us later and then Google us to click through and purchase. While Google Ads may get the attribution in that case, multiple platforms played a role.

That’s why instead of paying attention only to the return on advertising spend of any given advertising channel, we also look at the blended return on advertising spend (also called the marketing-efficiency ratio) across all channels: How much money are we spending on ads across platforms, and how much revenue are we gaining from e-commerce? That helps us get a full-picture view of how our marketing efforts are working together.

Read the original article on Business Insider