Social and Shareable: Email Lessons from Jackson Coffee Company

Jackson Coffee Company, a coffee shop in Jackson, MI, has won “Best of Jackson” four years in a row without ever asking their customers to vote for them. And they beat out national chains like Starbucks and McCafe.

How do they do it? Effective email marketing mixed with a strategic social media presence helps Jackson Coffee build a strong following of loyal customers.

We spoke with Robert Ernst – graphic designer and social media manager – to get the scoop on how email and social media has benefited the business and see what advice he had for other local businesses trying to grow their lists and lift their sales.

Give Customers What They Want

Jackson Coffee Company maintains an impressive number of email lists – one for their main newsletter and 12 separate lists for their birthday club. I asked Robert why he didn’t just segment the main list for the birthday club.

He answered that not everyone who comes into one of their store locations is interested in receiving the monthly coupons that Jackson Coffee’s main newsletter offers. Many only want the annual coupon on their birthdays. Keeping separate lists – as opposed to segmenting – makes it easy to mail those customers at the frequency they prefer.

Robert’s advice for other small businesses is to be mindful of what subscribers want. Not everyone is interested in frequent newsletters. Ask your customers for their preferences and honor those preferences for a successful email campaign with lower spam complaints.

Managing a Social Media Strategy

As Social Media Manager for Jackson Coffee, Robert has established a rich online presence for the business. Customers can connect with Jackson Coffee on Facebook, YouTube, Foursquare, Google+ and their recently opened Pinterest account.

Sound like too much for one person to manage? Robert has some tips for establishing your online presence without taking too much time out of your day:

  • Get more hands on deck. Robert enlists other employees to update Jackson Coffee’s social sites. Ask other people on your team to pitch in with your social media updates so you can focus on other areas of your business.
  • Automate updates when you can. One of the reasons that Robert loves Facebook so much is because of all the apps that can connect to your page. Many of these apps allow Robert to update Jackson Coffee’s other social profiles with the new Facebook status. Linking profiles like this helps to save time.
  • Use networks that make sense for your business. Jackson Coffee Co has a Foursquare page with coupons for every check in. But he wouldn’t recommend the social check-in service for all small businesses. Foursquare is most effective when you have some kind of discount or coupon to offer for checkins. Before you sign up your business for another social media site, make sure its features make sense for your target audience.
  • Be prepared. Facebook makes frequent changes to its service, most recently with its introduction of Timeline for fan pages. Robert encourages that “when Facebook makes a change, remember the three A’s: Accept, Adapt and Act.” When Jackson Coffee heard about the Timeline changes, they acted quickly to adapt their page around the updates. Make sure you have your own plan in place to adapt when the function of your network changes.

Although Jackson Coffee connects with customers on a number of social networks, one does stand out from the rest, especially for businesses dipping their feet into social media for the first time. Robert says that out of all the sites they’re on, “Facebook has been the most prolific.”

While plenty of niche sites have value for small businesses, Robert believes that Facebook has the most to offer. He appreciates the ease of posting a variety of media – from photos to videos to contests to simple status updates. Facebook has the flexibility he needs for Jackson Coffee’s marketing, and also has a wide and diverse user base to connect with.

So if you’re just starting out and don’t know which network your business should join, get on Facebook first.

Email is Still The Most Valuable

Where does email fit into the mix for Jackson Coffee? When asked how valuable email is to his business, Robert replied emphatically, “It’s been insanely valuable! I don’t even know how to describe how valuable it’s been.”

Jackson Coffee’s email campaign is an extension of their customer service and shows how getting invited into your customers’ inboxes can build a sense of loyalty. For the last four years, Robert has sent out a link for customers to vote for the Best of Jackson, but doesn’t explicitly ask subscribers to vote for them. And for the last four years, Jackson Coffee has won for best coffee shop. That’s some customer loyalty right there!

Robert credits much of his campaign’s success to the shareable nature of email. Emailing monthly coupons helps business grow by word of mouth: many of Jackson Coffee’s customers share email coupons with their friends, who bring more business into the store and sign up for their own monthly coupons. Encouraging coupon sharing might seem bad for business, but it’s resulted in even more loyal customers for Jackson Coffee.

Finally, Robert says to stay positive when communicating with your customers through email and social networks. “Email newsletters and social media should focus only on the positive aspects of your business. Any complaints should be taken seriously, and responded to with expediency. Negatives can be acknowledged, but should be paired with sharing with your customers a promise for change, and a plan of how to make the change.”

How does your own campaign drive business? Share your marketing strategies below!


  1. Aileen

    4/18/2012 9:58 am

    This post really pinpoints an important point in dealing with your customers about remaining positive. Responding promptly and appropriately, not giving in to any impulse to flashback is really vital to maintaining an acceptable social presence and creating good communication with your customers.
    I am really impressed with the attitude expressed on this AWeber site for being simple, open, honest, caring, hardworking and sincere, qualities that go together in a business activity that you rely on to maintain strong communication lines with your customers.

  2. Robert

    4/19/2012 8:28 am

    As Aileen pointed out, staying positive is a great way to build loyalty to your business. Gut reactions and impulse responses are oftentimes not well planned, and can offend your customers.

    Staying positive not only pertains to your reaction to customers, but also to how you script your email blasts and status updates. Always be thinking whose inbox the email is going to before sending it. It may be funny to you to make a joke about “those California hippie surfers”, since you may be located in another state, but if you have some subscribers that are native Californians, they may take offense to your innocent attempt at humor.

    Aweber allows you a search feature, so that you can search your database to keep your responses to customer comments private, and off your Social Media feeds. If you have a complaint on a social media, checking your email database for that person’s email, and contacting them directly is the most mature and least damaging way to handle comments. Once the issue has been resolved in private, you can ask the individual to remove their comment. This is one of the best forms of damage control!

  3. Tanmay Sawant

    4/22/2012 11:37 pm

    I always had doubts regarding email marketing.This cleared much of them. Just came across your blog. Would keep on reading few things untill my doubts get clear.Learned a few important things. Thanks

  4. Emily Jane Bernstein

    4/24/2012 1:19 am

    I cannot add to what has been said by the others, but i can say one thing that I have NOT found with any other autoresponder and that is training and first class customer service.

    I highly recommend Aweber to anyone and everyone. I was with another autoresponder for 4 months and they could not explain nor would they try to explain what I needed to do to set up my account…..

    I finally left them and came to Aweber and love it, I have found a home that cares about its clientele…and the clientele’s customers……

    Thanks Aweber and staff for putting up with me…took me a while but I am flying now….

    Emily an empowered woman
    a/k/a thefinder

  5. Roque

    3/14/2013 2:18 pm

    Thanks for the info. Email marketing is such a great thing. Learned a lot from this. Keep posting 🙂

  6. Edie Baxter

    11/23/2013 6:15 am

    Being aware of what your costumer needs is the basic thing that a service company should know.You need to satisfy us in any ways to keep us… 🙂