Don’t you love it when over-caffeinated people get into screaming matches over how they think coffee should be served? As long as its not happening in front of me in line, I consider it a form of reality TV – it just serves to reaffirm that whatever my faults, at least I’m not those people.

Maybe you heard how a week or two ago, a guy tried to order espresso over ice at a coffee shop where such a drink was “really not ok” and this turned into a minor media flurry (I saw it when it first hit boingboing) and eventually degenerated into bilateral threats of arson and assault. See the original rant here, and a rantbuttal from the coffeeshop guy here.

Anyway, this got me thinking. The fancy coffee shop here thinks they’re enforcing their brand, a “coffee without compromise” brand, rather than a “have it your way” brand, which is what the customer thought was in force. (I’m at a Starbucks now, I wonder if there’s any permutation of the stuff behind they counter they won’t serve?) A basic failure to communicate, perhaps? Hardly an excuse for the level of verbal violence on both sides.

Elite, even prickly or hostile brands do exist and can succeed. Hardly anything is truly for everyone, and smart brands have to find ways to appeal to the people they want and to ignore or even drive away the people they don’t want. “Everybody” is just not an actionable target market. High prices and high pricing signals (like no price tags) are the most obvious way that brands drive off undesirable customers, but sometimes you want to segment on something other than price.

I met up with an old friend and colleague at podcamp last weekend, and he expressed some concern that he had developed a negative brand as “not for everybody” for being aggressive and opinionated. I agree. He’s not for everybody. Neither am I and neither are you. But if you’ve got a particular kind of problem, you need a particular kind of solution. This guy shouldn’t try to broaden his appeal, he should accentuate his specialization. Look at Listerine, Altoids and Moxie – they are strong and aggressive and not for everybody, and proud of it.

I think there’s room (maybe even a need) for a Murky Coffee in every industry – a strong and bitter dose of exactly what you need, whether you’re man enough to admit it or not, served up the right way, no substitutions – and that comes with the need to clearly communicate how and why your brand is so tough. And finally, there’s an obligation to be respectful of people as you steer them away to other, less demanding vendors.