A "go-to market strategy" framework: The Bigface Coffee business case
Updated: Feb 3
On October 2021, NBA Superstar Jimmy Butler formally launched a new business that he hopes will be the foundation of his professional life after sports. Bigface Coffee is his premium coffee D2C brand that also leverages on NFTs (relying on Blockchain technology) and apparel to complete its value proposition. In Butler´s own words, “after my basketball career, and people are like ‘Man, what is Jimmy doing nowadays,’ you know where to find me,I will be in my cafe behind the bar making coffee.”
In this post we will analyze Bigface Coffee´s go-to market strategy, as we believe it will provide a few ideas you can pick up to develop your own strategic framework and apply them to your sport related business.
Validating the idea: Premium coffee in a very specific market context
The first thing Butler did was to identify a real interest for premium coffee within a reduced sample of the potential market. Three elements stand out from his approach:
He is a huge coffee lover and understands what "quality coffee" is about with regards to the market standards; he has a deep knowledge of the product.
The market context and the origin of the idea: Back in 2020, the NBA decided to play the remaining portion of the season in the Orlando bubble. The problem was that in the bubble there was no quality coffee around and the market was constrained.
"Scratching your own itch," developing an MVP & price testing: As reported in this CNBC article, Butler decided he could not put up with the available coffee and decided to brew his own using coffee beans from El Salvador he owned. Soon he realized that he was not the only one in the bubble "suffering" from a lack of quality coffee and that there was a significant group of people willing to pay for premium coffee. As a result, he started to sell cups of coffee for $20 each to coffee lovers inside the bubble.
A deep knowledge of the product, a particular market context, the lack of relevant competition and a significant volume of potential customers willing to pay a premium for a quality product were the factors that validated the MVP for Bigface Coffee.
Leveraging existing market trends: NFTs, D2C & player relevance
At the same time, there were certain market dynamics in place that helped refine the business model:
One of the highlights of 2021 was the rise of NFTs and how brands and celebrities embraced them to offer unique products and experiences to fans who purchase a given NFT. Liam Killingstad, from Front Office Sports, summarized well the three uses NFTs in sports:
IP Monetization via NFTs: content, collectibles, etc.
Digital Ticketing: Relevant for the secondary market
Social Tokens: Currency & Assets (VIP experiences)
Bigface in particular, currently seems to fall within the first bucket, as it offers coffee, accessories and even its own apparel brand as NFTs in its website. As we will see below though, we believe there is opportunity to enter the "social tokens" space as well.
Embracing D2C: Not many years ago, Butler would have probably had to go through a major retailer to have a chance at entering the market. Thanks to the technological and supply chain dynamics however, Butler could develop his own "Direct 2 Consumer" model and skip the middlemen. In addition, the projections around the rise of D2C eCommerce sales are quite favorable, as shared by the team at eMarketer:
The era of player relevance in which athletes have powerful personal brands and they even rival teams and leagues in the potential to reach fans around the world. Such is the case, that in 2020´s PWC Sports Survey, 82% of industry participants were planning on growing "athlete generated content."
In fact, as of October 2021, Jimmy Butler had 6.3 million followers on Instagram while his team had 4.9 million, which is a good indicator of how player´s generally enjoy greater popularity than the teams they play for. Another prime example was the amazing increases in followers that, according to KPMG, both Manchester United & PSG enjoyed across all social media platforms days after announcing the signings of Cristiano Ronaldo & Leo Messi.
Defining a specific segment of the market to target
Given the context of the market and the way in which the idea was validated, Bigface Coffee was able to identify a very specific groups of customers to target:
Premium coffee lovers with an additional interest in new technologies and unique experiences
The brand tries to go beyond "functional" benefits of good quality coffee and enter the realm of new technologies as a way to become relevant from a "pop culture" stand point.
The product: Limited edition premium coffee sourced from different parts of the world minted as NFTs
Obviously, the main angle of the brand is "quality" coffee and to make sure the brand delivers on it´s promise, it sources beans from different parts of the world with Butler personally making trips to different markets and taste the coffee himself beforehand. In addition, to enhance the fact that it is unique, the boxes are minted as NFTs and, for the moment, there are 500 units of limited batches of them that will be made available.
Then, the brand has also launched line extensions in the form of accessories and apparel, although we would have not chosen this avenue of growth for the brand just yet, as you can see further below.
The price: Aligning to the brand positioning it wishes to achieve
If the product is aimed at being something quite exclusive, it makes sense that prices are more on the top tier end, as shown on their website:
The limited 500 units of coffee varieties and the non-fungible artwork, are available for $500 each.
The website also makes available a $25,000 preparation unit that includes beans, a bean scale, a manual coffee grinder, an electric kettle, a glass chemex, mugs,etc.
Finally, a mobile espresso station is available for $100,000
The channel: Using Shopify as a mean to adopt a D2C business model
Butler could have sold his products to consumers through mass retailers or coffee boutiques. He could have also gone to top tier restaurants or hotels and adopt a B2B model. Instead, he decided to partner with Shopify and adopt a D2C model.
As explained in the CNBC article referenced above, Shopify offers athlete entrepreneurs a creator program to launch their own initiatives into the market. Under this program, Butler does not have to share the profits or any equity stake with Shopify, but the eCommerce brand reinforces its brand image by partnering with an NBA superstar and is also allowed to use his image for content and promotions.
Generating demand & pre-selling the product as a way to test demand
Butler has been raising awareness about the brand for months now on his own social media platforms and even some of his current teammates have talked about it (in their own platforms, interviews, etc.).
At the core, the objective is about generating demand and creating expectation to test the market prior to launching the product. This has been reinforced by the fact that some items have been pre-sold before actually hitting the market, thus creating a higher sense of urgency among those fans interesting in buying.
A focused communication strategy with hopes of expanding in the future
In this sense, it is worth analyzing the communication strategy the brand has adopted:
Owned media: So far, Bigface Coffee only has opened an Instagram account and its own newsletter. However, given they are only at the very initial stages of the brand´s launch, it does seem logical that they will open new platforms to reach new audiences in the near future. Our bets are Tik Tok (especially given its partnership with Shopify), Twitter & Discord (which is where the NFT community is) and Facebook (which seems to be the place their target audience is at the moment). Another possibility could be Pinterest, since the content they could create would fit the context of the platform, but it really depends on where the attention of potential customers is.
Paid media: To our knowledge, they have not carried out paid advertising campaigns just yet, although it will not be surprising to see them in the upcoming months. We do believe though, these would be more around selected events and specific audiences rather than "mass-market" advertising.
Third-party generated content: This includes content published by teammates, sites like ours covering the topic, interviews, media that Shopify develops to promote the creator program, etc. which for the moment has been abundant. Once the actual product is launched, we expect to see customers and fans generating content as well, feeding the overall content machine.
The hero´s journey: telling a compelling story
Bigface Coffee is also a textbook case of using "The hero´s journey" storytelling technique around Jimmy Butler´s persona.
Fundamentally, it is a simple story than then has many levers around it to make it unique.
Butler (The hero) experienced a problem (lack of quality coffee) and is on his way to offer a solution to the market. He then builds the elements around it such as trips to the different parts of the world to personally select the beans, showing off the apparel brand, minting the NFTs, building his own store, etc. Moreover, he also hopes to “tell the story behind the beans and the farmers and their families. The time, the effort, the energy put into a cup of coffee.”
4 growth opportunities for the future of the brand
As we usually do in these types of posts, we like to share our ideas around how, in this case, Bigface Coffee could explore avenues for growth in the future, although these are just personal opinions and by no means are sourced from any insider information.
As we mentioned above, one of the interesting use to cases that celebrities are giving to NFTs is the possibility to have exclusive access to one of their events, share 1 to 1 moments with them or receive exclusive merchandise. This is pretty much the approach that GaryVee is adopting with VeeFriends and in that sense, we believe the stage is set to have a "Coffee with Jimmy" moment. This means that those with a Bigface Coffee NFT of some sort could be able to sit down for a cup of coffee with him, enjoy VIP tickets at one of his games or even workout with him at some point!
Embracing Blockchain technology to trace the origins of the coffee beans. Part of the brand´s promise is to deliver quality coffee and the Blockchain makes sense within the business model, as customers could trace the entire value chain all the way back to the farmer.
In the medium-long term, the brand could consider opening their own set of brick & mortar stores across the United States. It seems the role of the store for retail brands in the future will be to enhance the overall customer experience. Precisely on that topic, Joe Preston (CEO & President at New Balance) shared his opinion on this report developed by McKinsey:
"Firstly, I think we need to redefine what a sporting goods store is today. Many stores are niche-oriented, while this crisis has underscored the breadth of how sporting goods can contribute to everyone’s activity. Secondly, stores can have a significant role in enabling the last mile: stores can literally serve as a warehouse for a specific market area. Consumers expect more in terms of experience, and the most important is a seamless omnichannel experience. In conclusion, if we just re-open our stores under the old model, we’re really missing an evolution of consumer needs that has taken place, and a great opportunity. Sporting goods retail needs to cater to the everyday person that wants to be inspired to be more active."
In that sense, imagine a coffee store in which you could have a showroom with Bigface Coffee products but also with a basketball court in which customers can shoot around for a while...That would be awesome!
We believe that Butler has a unique position, given the power of his brand, to own the coffee market among younger consumers and make it something cool among them, although it would probably would need to be a less "premium positioned" product. To reach these consumers, the brand would need open new social platforms as we mentioned above. It seems to be a "given" that they will open a Tik Tok channel and leverage from the partnership that both the social platform and Shopify announced to foster "in-app" shopping experiences. In addition, it would make sense to consider testing new platforms to validate that they can acquire long term customers from them.
For the time being, these are the 4 main ideas that come to mind, although as the brand grows, it surely can consider other ways to grow such as international expansion, bundles, product diversification, etc.
Coherence & consistency: Two critical factors that define your go-to market strategy
In essence, Jimmy Butler has been able to build Bigface Coffee on the back of his own need, validating there were potential customers willing to pay for his solution, leveraged from the market dynamics and build an aligned brand & marketing strategy around his premium product.
A successful go-to market strategy will depend on the alignment between the market´s need, the brand promise and the coherent and consistent commercial execution around across all touch points to create a unique experience.
Let us know if you found this useful to generate a few ideas of your own, and, if we can be of service to define the go-to market strategy of your sport, fitness or sportswear brand, feel free to get in touch and we can make try to make it happen!