Originally established in Minneapolis in 1992, Caribou has reinvented the coffee experience, an experience that focuses on making a connected bond whereas customers come to play and have a conversation. With the tagline “Life is short. Stay awake for it”, Caribou engages the customer’s mind to envision the brand as a personal experience that ignites their passion. Caribou collaborated with the Minneapolis-based Colle+McVoy to create a memorable and inspiring brand experience. The Berries interviewed Mike Caguin, Chief Creative Officer of Colle+McVoy, to give us some insights on how they captured the true spirit of the Caribou brand.

BB: The marketplace of coffee brands is getting too stuffed with players, to be able to cut through the clutter, a coffee brand should find its market niche. Does reviving the Caribou brand come with a new brand strategy?

MC: It’s true. The coffee category has no shortage of players. From premium coffee brands like Caribou and Starbucks, to fast food players like McDonald’s, to the local coffeehouses and beyond. The category is completely saturated. We found that Caribou Coffee enthusiasts value high-quality coffee as much as they do high-quality life experiences. This led us to our strategic and creative approach.

BB:Reflecting on the brand tagline “Life is short. Stay awake for it.”, Caribou is a brand that wants to inspire, engage and change, positioning itself as not just a coffee brand but a positive lifestyle brand. Please elaborate.

MC: What I’ve always loved about “Life is short. Stay awake for it.” is that it’s an intrinsic part of the brand. The tagline came from Caribou’s founders, John and Kim Puckett, not from an agency. They were sitting upon a mountaintop in Alaska watching a herd of caribou running along the valley when they decided to quit their day jobs and pursue their dream of opening a coffeehouse. The spirit of the line is meant to inspire people to make the most of each day, which starts with a great cup of coffee.

BB: Caribou is a brand that refuses to have a traditional mission and vision, it is a brand based on an aspiration to be “The Community Place I Love,” how is Caribou working towards achieving this?

MC: First off, their coffeehouse experience feels like an escape from the everyday grind. Their baristas tend to be friendlier than most and really do know the names of their regular guests. They make you feel special. From a communications standpoint, we always aimed to surprise and delight people with experiences, not just ads. For example, when we launched their hot breakfast sandwiches we transformed bus shelters into what we called oven shelters. They even had a heating element to help those waiting in the cold stay warm. We found that the more unique experiences we made, the more communities loved Caribou.

BB: The caribou icon is causing quite a controversy between the likers and dislikers, how do you see the brand refresh? Did it capture the essence and reflect the personality of the brand?

MC: Generally speaking, people are resistant to change so it’s no surprise to us that not everyone loves the update. But we feel strongly that the brand needed to modernize its look and feel. In terms of preserving Caribou’s essence, that was a main objective. How can we update the caribou graphic in a respectful way? How can we maintain the equity of the shield while giving it a new vibe? How can we freshen the color palette without walking away from it entirely? These questions and more were always on the forefront of our minds in order to honor the brand’s essence.

BB: “Life is more than coffee.” Brand loyalty is all about creating a compelling experience. What brand experience will Caribou offer to create customer engagement?

MC: Caribou does a great job striving to make every brand touchpoint a memorable experience. From their hand-crafted drinks to a motivating message on a napkin, everything is scrutinized as part of the Caribou experience. But my favorite project was when we crowd-sourced visual inspiration on Pinterest to launch a new roast called Real Inspiration Blend. The visuals become the direction for flavor cues that went into the product. It directly connected our most loyal fans to the roast masters in a never-been-done approach to product development.

BB: One of the most important factors that effectively strengthen a bond with a brand is its internal culture that is reflected in its customer service experience. Can you shed some lights on Caribou’s internal culture?

MC: I’d say more than most cultures, Caribou employees are fiercely proud of where they work and the brand’s mission, which fosters impressive departmental collaboration. They work hard, but have fun doing it. As they would say, “We take our coffee seriously, but never ourselves.”