As consumer appetite for anything ‘craft’ or ‘artisan’ continues to rise, companies are increasingly focused on conveying the story behind their brand, having an opinion and making a stand in order to satisfy this craving for authenticity.
Mainstream brands are, of course, eager to get involved with this trend too but they need to tread carefully. Restricted by a corporate machine, they can lack the freedom enjoyed by smaller, niche companies that are increasingly using content marketing to effectively tell their tale.
These brands are steadily growing their customer base among people who love what they do, connect with the founders’ principles or have empathy for the production and cultural values they stand for.
Larger brands can succeed in the craft space using content but there are rules to adhere to. These include keeping the brand experience genuine by using real-life human stories and having evidence to back up a brand’s opinions. Marketers must also think carefully about their brand’s tone of voice and consider curating content from other sources that share their culture or point of view on an important issue.
Perhaps the most difficult rule big brands struggle to abide by is that they must take risks with their content if they are to be viewed in any way as craft.
It is possible, though. Food chain Pret A Manger has 350 stores across the world, and although McDonald’s had a 33% non-controlling stake in the US branch of the company until 2008, the brand started life in London in the mid-eighties with a mission to create handmade, natural food. The business also prides itself on its ethical stance and has even been a vocal opponent of corporations that avoid tax. It has demonstrated how a brand can be both large and craft, and it uses content marketing to remind people of its culture and values.
The chain regularly reviews its sustainability strategy, and all the ingredients used in its food are farmed to British Farm Assured standards.
Its content marketing strategy includes sharing recipes with customers across online and offline channels. In January, Pret A Manger published the latest recipes for its new dairy-free, gluten-free, under-250 calories soup range. These were available as postcards in shops and digitally via Facebook.
Marketing director Mark Palmer says: “These recipes have been a big hit with customers, with the ‘no cream of chicken soup’ proving the most popular recipe so far. There is no secret to our food. Anyone can make it at home should they want to. We have published a beautiful book of our recipes called Pret DIY.”
Big brands can use craft cues
The ‘Re-Thinking Craft’ study published by creative agency Cubo asks whether ‘craft-wash’ is creating weariness among consumers, especially when larger brands behave in a particular way to exploit the trend.
The report also explores the role of semiotics, which is how consumers interpret the words, images, sounds, gestures and objects they see, in this case from different brands.
Larger brands cannot claim to be tiny back-room artisans but they can ‘walk the walk’ of craft by having a story to communicate and being passionate and rebellious.
According to the study, big brands fall into three camps when using content to be craft. The first group work with artisan designers and suppliers, and include brands such as supermarket Waitrose and clothes retailers Topshop and Asos.
At the other end of the spectrum are brands such as Coca-Cola and Google which have a large corporate structure and find it difficult to change their culture but can work with niche suppliers. The middle group of companies embrace craft culture by demonstrating that it is at the heart of what they do. Pret A Manger is one example.
These companies are corporate but they are not pulling the wool over their customers’ eyes when it comes to craft. The Cubo report suggests big brands should use content to be thought leaders and not cliché makers, by bringing genuinely new ideas to their sector. They should also be understated rather than over-confident and be as excited about the future as they are about what they achieved in the past. Ultimately, they need to stand for something.
Arla Food’s butter brand Lurpak is another example of a product that has connected with craft culture. It has linked its content to the current public interest in cooking by building relationships with popular food bloggers.
Lurpak has also produced apps such as the Mighty Meal Timer to assist people cooking the traditional Sunday roast. Meanwhile, Waitrose conveys craft by working with niche suppliers to support and underline its culture, which includes being a co-owned business.
In January, Waitrose became the first grocer to stock a new suncare range from children’s toiletry brand Childs Farm. The products are aimed at younger children and made in the UK using natural ingredients such as sunflower wax, aloe vera and shea butter. Content marketing, including videos aimed at parents, are an integral part of the marketing strategy.
Childs Farm founder Joanna Jensen says content marketing is crucial to build trust among parents and retailers. The videos show parents how to apply products correctly to protect their children.
“Content allows us to develop a long-term relationship with parents and schools because we can share and provide advice,” says Jensen. “We can measure the number of views and shares from YouTube, while schools and nurseries can get in touch via web links.”
Stephanie Chafor, head of non-food buying at Waitrose, says the chain has stocked Childs Farm products since 2014. “Customers are looking for natural products in this category, especially for children with sensitive skin,” she says.
According to the Content Marketing Association (CMA) and Enders Analysis, spend on content is growing at around 25% a year; the market is worth more than £5bn.
CMA managing director Clare Hill says craft is another way brands are being consumed. Craft used to be about aspiration to a niche lifestyle but it has grown in scale because of the internet.
“You used to have niche audiences that would be attracted to a particular brand with a story or culture within their own country, but the internet allows craft to be global,” says Hill. “We see this with youth brands involved in something like skateboarding, which is a niche global trend but the people involved all subscribe to similar values. Niche doesn’t mean small; it means well-targeted.”
She says larger brands that want to be viewed as craft must ensure their content is not too corporate and allows them to have an ongoing relationship with each consumer. Just printing stories is not enough; marketers must use alerts, updates and digests strategically.
Share the brand story
Smaller niche brands can also use content to grow their business. Jimmy’s Iced Coffee was launched in Selfridges and Harvey Nichols in 2011 and is now sold in most supermarkets, but continues to convey its brand story.
Founder Jim Cregan travelled around Australia for a year with his wife Sophie and fell in love with the iced coffee he drank after surfing and long road trips. Believing there was nothing similar in the UK, he returned home and used his sister’s cafe as a test laboratory until they found the right recipe.
This kind of storytelling can engage consumers with a brand before they have tasted the product.
Cregan produces music videos filmed around Dorset where the business is based. One video, ‘Keep Your Chin Up’, features the founder rapping about his product and became a hit on YouTube last summer. The three-and-a-half-minute film was later used as an ad on Channel 4.
“Content is [the most effective marketing], but it has to be authentic and your idea,” he says. “It cannot be drab or ‘me-too’ content if you want it reposted or blogged about. As for the rules; there are no rules when you are a smaller brand. There is no need to get lots of people to approve an idea.”
The corporate approval process will always be a challenge for larger brands but, when it comes to being perceived as craft, content marketing does enable them to achieve the necessary credibility. Done well, it allows brands of all sizes to have a connection with their customers by informing and entertaining them, but they must have attitude and a story to tell.
Enter the ‘compelling content’ category at the Marketing Week Awards. For more details visit mwlinks.co.uk/2016categories
Growing a craft brand using content
People love their pets and content marketing is helping a number of animal-led niche craft businesses grow and compete.
Poopy Cat is located in the Netherlands but sells its biodegradable litter boxes and cardboard playhouse blocks to UK customers.
The company was formed by physics and psychology graduate Thomas Vles, who tried traditional advertising but discovered that using social media to talk about issues that interest and educate cat lovers was the secret to greater sales.
“We chat about our own cats and publish funny stories and videos of cats doing tricks as well as writing informative articles that [feed] in our messages around sustainability and fun,” says Vles. “One of our videos received more than three million views and we are linking the content to sales by including discount codes.”
He adds: “Content extends our reach and gives us credibility as a niche brand [but] one difficulty for small craft companies is finding the time to produce good content.”
If dogs are more your thing, then a similar business called Houndworthy is making and sourcing dog accessories for a global market.
The Somerset-based business has a mission to encourage dog owners to make the most of every moment with their pet.
Founders Morgan Cummins and Jo Holdaway used to work for advertising agencies, so they understand the value of high-quality content. “Our background gives us an advantage from a content generation point of view because a lot of startups are product- rather than brand focused when they launch,” says Cummins. “Yet you need to find your tone of voice as a craft business, and content helps you discover this. We had a clear vision from the beginning because we know that pet care and accessories is such a massive market in the UK.”
He says the internet has enabled craft businesses to be global and operate 24 hours a day. This means content must be produced regularly and the quality must be consistent.
“We are a lifestyle brand so our written or visual content must reflect that philosophy and be authentic, not ‘salesy’,” says Cummins. “You must be clever about creating strong content on a small budget. We upload pictures to Instagram three or four times a day, for instance. I’m convinced people gravitate towards brands that feel real to them.”