Friday, February 08, 2013

Customers want to get closer to the wizard, not the curtain

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The kerfufle over horse meat being passed off as beef in a variety of processed foods in the UK will prove yet another driver towards market authenticity for consumers whose trust in the centre (media, politics, show biz heroes) is being eroded on a daily basis.
While brands try every trick to get closer to their customers (who doesn't want to be 'customer-centric'?), customers are demanding a closer relationship with the wizard behind the curtain of the brand.
They want to get ever closer to the source and are finding ways around the middle men to have their own more direct relationship with that source. I recently suggested the decline of the High Street could be traced to this, at least in part.

A brand is an illusion created by the source, the interpretation of the receiver and the interaction between the two and other receivers.

So what happens when you take the authenticity of the source away? It looks like Findus is about to find out. Because it has revealed it uses third party suppliers in a buck-passing exercise which I doubt will find favour with the British public. They've pulled back the curtain and revealed... nothing is there. The source is long gone.

Some brands exist as arbiters of quality - curators. M&S is a good example. Distributed source - in which the curtain is everything.
But most brand illusions are at risk of disappearing as consumers become more and more savvy about pulling back the curtain and more and more demanding about having a direct relationship with what is behind.

Which takes us back to horse meat. Worries about what enters your food chain should have been quoshed by brands we can rely on (alongside governance regimes we expect to protect us). Both have failed us.
Fixing this requires radical action. As radical as the action that saw the beginnings of the co-operative movement in the dark days of the industrial revolution.

The co-op was founded, fundamentally, to give the working people of Britain a source of food they could rely upon to be unadulterated. In these times flour was often cut with chalk, for example - beer watered down., and much worse that would make horse meat in your lasagne look heaven sent. Yes there were political motivations - but food safety was paramount.

You could trust your co-operative for this as much because the customers were often the same people who grew the food, who processed the food and sold the food. At the very least they would have known people involved. They were local.

Today the co-op owns more farm land in the UK than anyone else. One simple (but big) way to reconnect and to rebuild that trust would be to place its 'out of town' stores on those farms and build farming and processing experiences around them.

It would be one clear example of a brand lifting the curtain, allowing its customers to get closer to its source.

Our trust in one another needs to be rebuilt. And that starts at the source.

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