Intelligentsia Coffee

Winner of Bain & Co. X Eckhart Consulting Case Competition: Helping a caffeinated client increase foot traffic

Taken after presenting to a room full of judges at Bain & Company

Taken after presenting to a room full of judges at Bain & Company



Team Dream Bean Team

Client Intelligentsia Coffee

Timeline 2 Weeks

Location Chicago

Intelligentsia Coffee

Designing experiential interventions that address the pain points of customers

During Spring Quarter (‘19), I entered my first consulting case competition with a cross-functional team (AKA the Dream Bean Team) that I led and built from my personal network. We were a weird mix of diverse backgrounds—computer science, economics, statistics, psychology, design, and business—but I knew I had gathered the interdisciplinary talent we needed to effectively solve our client’s problem. Ready for action, we eagerly hopped on our task, which was to propose creative solutions to increase foot traffic to their Chicago-based coffee bars.


After two weeks of conducting ethnographic studies and sentiment analyses using Yelp and Reddit data, our team snagged first place (!!!). We presented our recommendations to the VP of Retail as well as a panel of Bain & Co. consultants, and they were all impressed with our ideas and prototypes. Better yet, I got to closely work with a team that was bursting with energy and spunk. It was an experience that was nothing but inspiring, one I’ll never forget.



Intelligentsia is not your average coffee company. As a leader of the third-wave coffee movement, Intelligentsia stands for three key tenets: high-quality coffee beans, ethics & sustainability, and superior customer service. While the press frequently praises Intelligentsia for their commitment to quality, the VP of Retail explained that fewer and fewer people have been walking into their coffee bars in Chicago in the past few years, suggesting a loss of popularity among the general public. It was a problem waiting to be solved.

To make sense of how consumers were really feeling about the Intelligentsia brand and product, we took an Online/In-Person Approach. First, we used a web scraping tool to pull out qualitative data from Reddit and performed a sentiment analysis. We also analyzed quantitative data from Yelp to see if the star ratings correlated with the decreasing foot traffic. Then, some of us went out into the field, immersing ourselves in the coffee bars and observing people in their natural environment. What are employees and consumers wearing? How do people order their beverages? Are they usually alone or with a group? Walking around the stores themselves as well, we took note of the physical environment in which the shops were located.


Based on our data, it was clear that consumers associated with Intelligentsia with high-quality coffee, but not necessarily with high-quality company (given the negative sentiments regarding Intelligentsia’s brand personality). As a result, we decided to tap into the power of brand equity—the process of accumulating positive experiences for cultivating loyalty and trust

I created consumer personae to organize key findings from our preliminary research and identified target audiences for our solutions. For every solution, we focused on building emotional capital, the happy, fuzzy feeling that attracts consumers to a brand, so that Intelligentsia could rebrand itself as a friendly face in the local community. 

When we went outside to explore the physical settings of the shops, we discovered that they often lacked prominent signage and cues for consumers to find and follow. Given that these shops were competing with the chaos that inherently came with city life, another opportunity for design lied in the streets of Chicago.


We quickly devised a roadmap and pitched our human-centered ideas to the judges at the end of the case competition. Each recommendation was tied back to our initial theme of building emotional capital, and we made sure to support our solutions with a detailed timeline and a list of related costs. Our proposal consisted of the following ideas:

  1. Partner up with surrounding art schools by running monthly art contests for students

  2. Create an exclusive app found on mounted in-store tablets for consumers to learn more about the coffee beans and the company in an interactive way

  3. Introduce physical interventions in the form of public transit ads, Instagrammable wall murals, and eye-catching signage

Our team came home after an incredible growth opportunity. We were introduced to the power of finding business solutions that put empathy first. And we were able to validate the viability of our ideas by reading some of the judges’ comments:

"Unique concept with compelling idea. I appreciated the analysis of reviews feedback.”

"Very feasible plan that was straightforward and approachable. Creative as well..."

"Loved the clean aesthetic and creative ideas of this team. Very clear presentation and great job handling the Q&A."

Special thanks to Scott Bernstein, Founder and Chief Strategy + Innovation Officer of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Chicago.