As stated by Al Reis and Jack Trout in their classic text..."Marketing is in it's essence Positioning of the Mind."
This is a fundamental law of the land and the McD's, DD's and the Sbux of the world have beaucoup $$$ to position themselves in the consumer mind and create position that we in the specialty business only dream of.
A lot of life in the USA is about money, particularly as we all face this incredibly challenging economic environment, and while I wholeheartedly agree with MAtt that quality first and always will serve us all well consumers do not always know what quality is.
I have lived this. For a couple of years I had our coffee in some local Costco stores. We we offering prime specialty beans at a very, I say VERY competitive price just about the time when Dunkin Donuts came out with their coffee push and had John Goodman telling all of us that "America runs on Dunkin." We did road shows and demos until our grinding burs wore down! We promoted at the local level and sold about 800lbs of coffee a week in a couple of stores. We had to maintain $500.00/week to keep our pallet spots in the stores. Now before all of you espresso weilding freaksd jump on me and say that isn't specialty please allow me to bring another dog to that fight on another day. In america most people drink brewed coffee and the beans we were selling we everybit as specialty and sweet as anything coming from your portafilters! It was just brewed coffee rather than espresso. That said, we worked our little assess off at great expense to gain even a tiny tiny fraction of the coffee share in the Atlanta market. When we left the coffee alone in the store with no demos, no support, the sales plummeted. But, even while we were there trying to eak out $500.00week (Costco's Minimum for any pallet space) Dunkin was selling at a clip of $1,500-3,000 wk with no demos, no sampling no nothing xcept those orange and purple bags sitting on an endcap and people threw them into their carts like
they were the only coffee on earth. Did we make our minimums, sure..barely but the coffee we were selling was so far superior to the Proctor and Gambel Folger roasted Dunkin Donut coffee that was flying ou of there it wasn't even a fair fight in terms of quality. We had them licked hands down! I even offered one of the store managers a blind taste contest promo to the customers (which of course he declined) to try and prove my point. So to digress, yes, quality matters a lot and again I say MAtt is absolutely right. Buy Quality, hold quality and service quality at all cost, but be aware perception of the mind of the consumer is what is key. We little Specialty coffee people are up against it. I m not sure I have a dog big enough to get into the Starbucks/MickyD fight. Matt didn't mention that Howard Schultz has also launched a huge advertizing campaign to fend off the attack declaring " It isn't just coffee, it's Starbucks!" And as you are probably aware for years Starbucks absolutely abhored the media advertising game, and really didn't need to pay it to much attention because they were the only game in town. Problem now of cours is that Ronald and the boys have now bought a stake to play and they have a lot of freaking chips.
Point is this. Quality is great but when Dunkin, or McD's or Sbux can waylay the consumer with far reaching ad budgets the consumer becomes "positioned" to think that this is what quality is and sadly many times feel no need to look any further.
Remember Juan Valdez...."Colombian Coffee is the Richest Coffee In The World" and so many still buy that madison avenue masterstroke of marketing genius.
"Brew Unto Others"