A tale of product differentiation
What’s the difference between Perrier and sparkling water? A story.
As far as products go, sparkling water is simply water that has been made effervescent through the addition of carbon dioxide gas. Perrier is just sparkling water with a story attached to it. A story that begins: “120 million years ago, on the Languedoc plain in southern France…” and goes on to include volcanic gas, Julius Cesar, a French doctor, bowling pin shaped exercise clubs and a British lord.
This is the story that helps the150-year-old brand sell about 1 billion bottles across more than 140 countries every year.
In a me-too world where actual brand innovations are often slim, achieving product differentiation may be more a matter of capturing your market’s imagination. And this is where the story comes in.
Reuben Mattus used the essentially meaningless words Häagen-Dazs to generate a hazy story of Danish origin for his product. The fabricated mystique he created yielded wild sales success for his Bronx, New York-based ice cream company. Similarly, a fictional character named Juan Valdez sold a lot of coffee for the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.
These stories can be fabricated, but they are much more powerful if they are authentic.
In a recent issue of Martha Stewart Living, an entire page was dedicated to an endearing tale about a young poet and a young artist who fall in love, get married, buy goats and start making caramels. This is the story of Big Picture Farms. Sure, it helps that their sea-salt-and-bourbon-vanilla took top honors at the Fancy Food Show. But it was the romance of their story that made the difference between landing a full page in a publication with total circulation of over 2 million or being satisfied with just a small company profile in a show directory. The rack rate for a single insertion of a full page, full-color ad in Martha Stewart Living is $172,700. That’s the power of a good story.
The alcoholic beverage industry – especially craft spirit distillers – have made good use of finding and leveraging their stories. High West distillery, the first legal distillery in Utah since 1870, situated at the base of the Town Lift ski lift in Park City, is talked about as the only ski-in distillery. Breuckelen micro distillery, in Brooklyn, N.Y. has gotten a lot of mileage out of the fact a person can tour the complete distillery in 20 paces. These are just some of the story elements craft spirit consumers enjoy recounting with a highball glass in their hands.
Essentially a food product’s story is the equivalent of an elevator pitch merged with a cocktail party anecdote. It sells by making the teller feel good about themselves and the products they use.
When it comes to marketing food, sometimes the ingredients not in the product can prove the most essential. Don’t overlook a good story. If told correctly it can be a powerful competitive advantage.