Alterra fans woke up last week to something eye-popping, and it wasn’t their coffee: it was the news that the beloved coffee shops would now be under the name Colectivo, a name representing the colorful public buses of Latin America. While the switch has gained significant traction in news outlets, the founders have assured that the only change is the name, a move serving to distance themselves from their agreement to share the Alterra name and certain recipes with corporate giant, Mars, Inc.

The reasoning behind choosing the name Colectivo is well flushed-out, communicated mainly through a seven and a half minute video. The founders found parallels with the culture of their brand and the public transportation used in Latin America: “an iconic part of everyday life [that] they represent for everyday people”.  But when it comes to branding, is there ever a simple change?

Founders Lincoln Fowler, Ward Fowler and Paul Miller knew they had developed incredible brand equity when creating Alterra: funky day-of-the-dead skull designs, warm and bright colors in a casual atmosphere that blends seamlessly into the Milwaukee landscape – one location is even housed in a former 19th century Milwaukee River Flushing Station. As such, Colectivo follows the same theme with little deviation. The company’s newest acquisition, an authentic 1958 Colectivo bus, signifies how they are blending old with the new: bearing the familiar skull design while following the traditional Latin American style by being painted in bright colors. Ward Fowler acknowledges the bus’s resonance with the brand, saying “If our cafes could be put on wheels, I think they’d be colectivos” (a new kind of Pedal Tavern, perhaps?). The founders have also promised that the menu will not change, stating that the baked goods and famous coffee will go unaltered.

It all seems to be rolling smoothly on the Colectivo bus, mainly due to a “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” approach with their brand equity, but what are the ways the company can improve communication and capitalize on the brand identification they’ve worked so hard to solidify for the past twenty years?

  1. Concise Information

    Colectivo does a fantastic job on their new website of creating a story around their history as well as describing their hopes for the future. They segment their story into five sections, outlining their beginnings, their successes and why it all resulted in a new name. However, providing simple succinct answers through an FAQ format about what it means for the beloved brand and coffee can more instantly quell concerns about the Milwaukee staple. Where the story serves to confirm that the company’s values still align with their target market, concise answers can serve up simplicity by confirming that the change of name is a straightforward move with minimal consequences.

  2. Social Media Engagement

    I was dismayed when searching Twitter that no Colectivo account exists yet. Instead, all questions regarding the name switch are being handled by @AlterraCoffee. The account directs engaged users to the Colectivo website, but it creates confusion in consumers’ eyes as to whether or not this partnership is temporary, or if Colectivo will be an extension of Alterra. If the new brand name capitalized on a new handle, they could monitor conversations and create conversions and followers to their page to share information in the future.

  3. Emotional Connection

    As noted previously, the seven and a half minute video on the new Colectivo website goes to great lengths to tell a story behind the new name. What’s missing from this video is any reference to the Milwaukee connection. Part of Alterra/Colectivo’s brand equity is founded on how the café company is unique to the city. While the cafés are sprinkled throughout greater Milwaukee (with one location in Madison) creating a sense of familiarity, it still boasts itself as unique and local compared to coffee giants Starbucks and Caribou. The video, however, focuses only on the Colectivo founders in Latin America and the culture’s influence on the brand. Had the video shown the Milwaukee influence, or even displayed the new Colectivo heading into the city, there would have been higher brand identification for viewers.