Understanding your brand: what would you look like as a coffee shop?Stephen Farah
One of the tremendous gifts we have inherited from Jung is a better appreciation of the power of imagination. The imaginative (image making) faculty grants us access to areas of psyche that are not accessible in any other way. Images from the unconscious (which is where our images come from in any imaginative exercise) have a holographic-type nature, in that they contain a depth of information that goes far deeper than the surface of the image and affords access to otherwise inaccessible areas of the psyche.
The particular imaginative exercise I will take you through in this post I call simply “The Coffee Shop”.
It is a deceptively simple exercise that provides a very useful tool for self reflection, a better understanding of your unconscious ideology, your social values, and, perhaps most significantly, what your personal brand either is, or aspires to be, in the world.
The coffee shop exercise
Imagine a scenario where you are given a brief to establish and run a coffee shop. The parameters are fairly generous:
You have unlimited budget, time and resources.
You can open this shop anywhere in the world.
Whilst making the shop profitable can be a priority it needn’t be; that is to say profitability is a permissible but not necessary (essential) concern.
In constructing your coffee shop these are the parameters, amongst any others that occur to you, that you should focus on:
The look and feel of the shop, exterior and interior, shop fittings, layout, colours etc.
The ambiance and atmosphere you would create.
Particular area/s of focus.
Where and what you would be doing in your shop.
Any other areas or parameters that occur to you.
Assuming you are doing this exercise on your own I suggest you take the time to write out the answers to these questions; if with a companion you can simply verbalise them, either way the act of concretising the answer through some medium is important and increases the value you will get from engaging in the exercise. Simply imagining without some form of expression seems less valuable for some reason.
Please do the exercise before reading any further.
Once you have done the exercise let me unpack for you what you have done and what is symbolised in the exercise.
A hermeneutic analysis of the image (understanding the significance of your coffee shop)
The coffee shop is a symbol of your persona. It expresses in an imaginal form a metaphor of who you are in the world, what face or mask you show the world, what your social/public values are, who it is you wish to attract to yourself and what you are putting out there to attract those people and, more broadly, your value proposition – what you offer the world.
Consider the various symbols (images and ideas) in your coffee shop and how they comment on who you are and what you are putting out into the world. It is also helpful to try and invert your vision – see your coffee shop form a customer’s perspective, what are they encountering and how do they feel upon entering your coffee shop. Alternatively if you have a friend to do this exercise with, let them comment on how they react and feel about your coffee shop.
An example (my own coffee shop)
My coffee shop is located is 7th Street, Parkhurst, Johannesburg, South Africa. It trades from 4.30pm in the afternoon until 8.30am in the morning, it is, in other words, a location for nightowls, who frequently arrive in the early hours of the morning and stay for breakfast which is served from 6.30am.
It is located in a converted double story house. The shop is located downstairs. The main area consists of four long benches which can be shared by different groups or individuals offering a communal seating arrangement. This space is dominated by a long, bar with a heavy wood counter. Beyond the main communal section of the coffee shop, in the back, are four private booths, for those in search of a more solitary or private space.
Behind the bar is Georgas, the mid forties, heavy set, slightly balding, always jovial, but with a vaguely menacing undertone, Spaniard, who manages the shop.The shop is staffed by a few young Spanish exchange students, young men in their early twenties. On occasion the shop is graced by the presence of Bella Donna, a classic beauty of indiscernible age, who, when the spirit moves her, acts as a hostess welcoming customers on their arrival, chatting to the regulars and flirting scandalously with the younger patrons.
The patrons are fairly heterogeneous but in the main consist of Greeks, a few complimentary Lebs and a few Jews , mainly middle aged men, inveterate gamblers for the most part, who make up the “regulars”. The regulars wonder in anytime but generally pretty late, and for most of the evening the shop vacillates between various stages of quiet. There is a spike of activity, and sometimes even a little drama when the youngsters, returning from “the jol” at various night spots around Johannesburg, more often than not tripping on some or other narcotic, in that luminal state when the main jol is over but home seems too far away and in too great a contrast to their prior ecstasy, and they are not quite ready to depart from their nocturnal companions.
The fare is simple, good coffee, some alcohol is served although the range is limited and really good sandwiches, some say the best in Johannesburg. The denouement is definitely breakfast when the place comes to life with a buzz amongst the patrons and much ado in the kitchen as Georgia’s prepares his by-now-pretty-famous ham and eggs. Everyone crowds around the long communal benches to eat and chat and generally commune together as the sun comes up and everyone basks in the warm promise of a new day.
Although the shop has no explicit mission statement it seems to me that it provides a place of sanctuary for nocturnal travellers who feel they may have lost their way for a time and are not quite sure where to go or what to do next; for those who find themselves in fear of being swallowed by the night beast, or simply rest uneasy under the moons eerie glow –a place for them to come, to be amongst like minded souls, a home away from home, a place to get a decent sandwich and a hot coffee amongst those who share their love-hate relationship with the night .
Understanding the image (applied hermeneutics)
I will refrain from too detailed an analysis of my own image, that didn’t end too well for Narcissus. However I trust that some aspects of who I am, what I love, what I care about, what my values are and what I may be able to offer, are hiding in plain sight in the image of my coffee shop.
Beyond my example, these are the types of questions you might ask, and aspects to reflect on, in analysing your own coffee shop:
Location is significant – this says a lot about where your soul longs to be, where your real home is. In doing this exercise with around three dozen people during the course of last year, I noticed how frequently their location is frequently either literally or metaphorically where they spent their childhood or very early adult hood.
What values are represented in your coffee shop? What dominates: aesthetics, quality, profit, the fare, the standard of the coffee, the type of customers, the atmosphere, is it about connectedness, communication, elegance, etc.
Are you in an introverted or extroverted role: are you behind the scenes or front of shop – are you even present in your coffee shop?
The customers are very revealing, presumably this is the type of person you want to socialise with, I think that is a reasonably intuitive inference to draw. Who are these people? How selective are you in your customer type – how is this reflected in your actual life? If there is a real contrast between the customers in your coffee shop and the people you are mixing with in the real world then this bears further reflection – why the contrast?
Trading hours: when are you at your best?
What do you offer? Why would customers frequent your shop, and what would keep them coming back?
The image of your coffee shop is obviously an idealisation, that is to say it is aspirational, not necessarily indicative of the status quo. So what it brings to light are your ideal rather than lived values, but once again any contrast here is worth noting and reflecting on.
One last thought, if you are reasonably accustomed to, or even just acquainted with, the analysis of personal symbols, such as most typically found in dreams, then this exercise should be a piece of cake 🙂 . My sense is that even if you are new to this type of reflective work this exercise is pretty intuitive, and that you should be able to map the majority of images/symbols in your coffee shop onto your life – you can figure out what they represent. That being said, the question I want to leave you with is what exactly do you think the coffee (in the coffee shop) symbolises?
Until next time,
PS. Please feel free to share your own coffee shop in the comments section.
 The persona is the expression of your personality “in the (outer) world”, in contrast to say the anima which is an expression of your personality in the inner world. Much of Jungian work focuses on the inner world, in this sense the persona is an important contrast with many other concepts we work with in Jungian psychology. When referring to the outer world I typically refer to this as simply “in the world” and contrast this with work in the “inner world”, which I signpost accordingly.