January 24, 2023

Let’s take a selfie: What marketers can learn from their local coffee shop’s bathroom

Maya Guevara

Marketing Intern

In 2014, The Chainsmokers released their iconic (infamous?) song, #Selfie. Whether you relate to the song or not, it details a cultural phenomenon that persists today: If you didn’t take a photo, did you even leave your house?

Maybe it’s embarrassing to admit (although  I’m hoping it’s relatable more than anything), but if there’s one thing Instagram has conditioned me to do, it’s to bring my phone into the bathroom with me. I mean, I can’t pass up a chance to take a photo in the comfort of a private, aesthetic space. And if you aren’t providing that space, I’m going to feel a bit let down.

So as a business professional, why do selfies matter to you and why should you care about a random bathroom? Because bathrooms are too often misunderstood and seen as wasted space, when they could be doing your marketing for you. 

Bathrooms are underutilized, and not in the sense that you should be using them more frequently (don’t worry, your bathroom habits are not under scrutiny). For most businesses, a bathroom is just another building requirement. There’s a toilet, a cheap bottle of soap, and maybe a few plants or a photo on the wall. What most businesses lack, which your local coffee shop probably understands, is that a bathroom can (and should) surprise and delight. By transforming an otherwise overlooked space into an environment that not only welcomes guests but excites them, you’ll score big and have people coming back for more.

This is my call to consider the bathroom of your business plan – the underappreciated, boring space – and apply design thinking to instead make it fun and necessary.

Bringing business to the bathroom

Defined as ‘the process in which you seek to understand your users, challenge assumptions, redefine problems, and create innovative solutions’, design thinking urges us to rethink our problems. In fact, the first step of the process is to forget about our preconceived notions and instead step into the shoes of our consumers. With design thinking, we are urged to find those hidden needs we otherwise wouldn’t consider, and take a step further by getting creative in addressing those needs. The result? A tailored experience that puts consumers, rather than product, first. This way, we can understand that a bathroom isn’t just for, well, using the bathroom, but that it’s also used as a private space where people can take a breath and rejuvenate. And maybe snap a selfie too.

If you’re a coffee shop owner wanting to upgrade your consumer experience, the bathroom is a great place to start. If you’re a marketing professional, however, it gets a bit more complicated. Here are a few questions you should be asking – inspired by the bathroom, tailored by design thinking, and formulated for your marketing plan. 

Questions to sink into

How do my consumers feel?
  • The key to taking a human-centered approach to your marketing plan is simple: understand your consumers. As marketers, this is a skill we often pride ourselves in (after all, our jobs are to analyze, empathize, and speak to our customers). However, I urge us to deepen that connection. Forget your job and instead look at your business with new eyes. Are people connecting with your business? Are wants and needs being met? These questions will act as a starting point for areas you can focus on and improve.

How can I get innovative with underappreciated space?
  • What is your marketing plan missing?  It can be easy to run through the motions of your marketing plan. However, if you take the time to spot unused space and get creative with solutions, it will make your business that much better. This approach can look like reimagining how to appreciate the full capabilities of a tool, a platform, or a team member. It can also look like delving into an entirely new communication channel, such as how Duolingo joined TikTok when the app had been written off as useless to businesses (it is not, and now we’re all learning from their success). 

Where can I create synergy? 
  • Everything you do is an extension of your brand.  Just as a poorly lit, undecorated bathroom can make a customer pause, so can an off-brand photo, or an ad that doesn’t quite connect the dots. We create brand guidelines for a reason, so let those guide every public (and not-so-public) decision you make. 

There are multitudes of books, blogs, classes, and websites that will tell you the best way to run your business. In reality, you can get the majority of that information from your consumers. All you have to do is step into their shoes to understand their frustrations, wants,  and needs. Then, set yourself apart from the competition by pushing youself to find creative solutions to these insights and painpoints. After all, if the local coffee shop taught us anything, it’s that surprising your audience with an experience – instead of just a bathroom – can help convert loyal consumers into advocates. #Selfie

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