Do you run an artisan business with an interesting back story? Did you leave a well-paid job to follow your passion for boat-building? Or, have you ever sat in corporate meetings dreaming about running a village bakery?
If so, you are sitting on a golden marketing opportunity. Authentic back stories are very appealing. Consumers love them, and that’s why big corporations want to cash in. A cutesy, folksy tale removes the corporate taint and gives their products a more human feel.
Your story, however, is the real deal, which is why you should shout loudly about your humble beginnings. Make it part of your marketing strategy to blog regularly about the problems and rewards of running an artisan business.
The whole rustic, artisan vibe has become really popular over recent years. So, as expected, where there’s money to be made, big business will step in. The homespun image of an artisan business being a case in point.
When is an artisan business not an artisan business ?
Last year, Channel 4’s consumer programme, Super Shoppers, dedicated a whole show focusing on the way big companies hoodwink us into believing we are supporting artisan producers, when we buy certain products
To prove the point, co-presenter Anna Richardson took to the streets with a tray of glass jars with hinged lids – the type Nigella uses for storing her home-made pickles. The jars, which contained Heinz baked beans, received the homespun treatment with a simple cottage-style label saying May’s Yard Local Produce. The label was tied on with string.
Passers-by were asked how much they would pay for a jar of what they assumed were home-made baked beans, cooked to a special recipe using local ingredients.
A tin of beans costs around 50p, so it was a surprise to hear that most of the people Anna spoke to would spend £4-£5, based on the packaging alone. This was based on the belief that they were getting something lovingly crafted by hand. Only one shopper, a middle-aged man, saw through the facade and quite rightly asserted that the jar probably contained Heinz beans.
The big conglomerates know this and cynically exploit our willingness to pay a bit extra for artisan products. Why do we do this? Is it because we understand small-scale producers have higher costs? Do we believe small businesses are more ethical? Or do we feel we are helping the environment by buying breakfast cereal in rustic-style packaging?
But look beyond the packaging and you’ll see it’s a set up. Market any product with a hippy-style back story and we’ll swallow it hook, line and sinker.
Big business is pulling the homespun wool over our eyes
The show highlighted Tea Pigs as an example. You might think that a country-dweller packages Tea Pigs on their kitchen table in a quaint cottage on an organic farm. The truth is that from day one, Tea Pigs has been a Tata company. That’s the same multi-national conglomerate that also owns Tetley, but there’s a world of difference between the two. The difference being that a box of 80 Tetley tea bags costs £1.75, whereas a box of 15 Tea Pigs’ “tea temples” would set you back £4.15, or a whopping £22.13 for 80.
Other brands unmasked included Rachel’s Organic Yoghurt, owned by Nestle International; Vitacress, Europe’s biggest grower and packer of salads owns Steve’s Leaves, which bears the legend “Small is beautiful” on the bag. My own personal disappointments are: Naked owned by PepsiCo, and Innocent, acquired by CocaCola. Products dressed as David but owned by Goliath.
There is a solution to all this. If you really want to help small producers and artisan companies, then do what people always used to do, shop and buy local. And if you are a genuine artisan business, start blogging and get your story out there. If it works for the industry giants, it will work for you, After all, you are the real deal.