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19 Jan

Unpacking the "gourmet" in a gourmet brand

Do you recollect those absurd toothpaste and toilet cleaner ads on TV? A dentist or a TV anchor barging into your house, and asking you absurd questions?

The ad’s absurdity stuck with you. The next time you went to a supermarket you urged your parents to at least try the salted toothpaste. I certainly tried my best. But those products were available at every supermarket or a general store. The catchy jingles and humbug only helped that product stay on top of your mind and caught your eye when you were busy browsing an aisle of products that would otherwise be easy substitutes, with no real feature differentiation.

Largely, most brand-building is an attempt to stand out in a category or create a strong recall among consumers. A brand secretly hopes to be the first to mind for any customer. Again, the way most mass-market brands approach this is via some kind of spectacle, slogan, or jingle that stays with you. It doesn't matter if it relates to the product's value proposition or doesn't. The only aim is to create something that sticks.

Also, when it comes to branding, most of us think that pandering to a customer segment works. Most of us bend over backward to convince a consumer of our value.

But some brands don’t seem to do that. I was intrigued to figure out what differed. To note differences, I decided to go down the rabbit hole of gourmet brand websites.

I noticed a few commonly occurring patterns across different products. Sharing some of my notes here —

1. Gourmet brands are mission- and philosophy-focused.

For the sake of comparison, I looked at marquee brands across different categories.

The ‘About us’ page of all brands was heavily mission-driven. And instead of loosely mentioning the mission and vision of the brand and paying cheap lip-service, how the products embody the brand's philosophy is made explicit.

For example, on the MISA website, you notice that the slow-living philosophy is incorporated into the product by highlighting that the candles are handmade, have organic fragrances, and contain no toxins.

Similarly, Bombay Shirt Company's story page expands on the philosophy of slow fashion.

Brands such as Blue Tokai, Mason & Co, and Bare Necessities also lead with impact or sustainability initiatives that cast an impression of the values they stand for.

The story page on the Bare Necessities website will convince you that buying the product means you’re part of a larger environmentally conscious community.

These details help consumers connect the product with their identity. An individual with a specific taste in scented candles, tailored shirts or coffee roasts will appreciate the brand's commitment to a philosophy and a mission that resonates. The narrative and philosophy guiding the brand build consumer aspiration.

In addition, another common aspect I noted among gourmet brands was an active attempt to educate the consumer and help them elevate their taste when it came to that specific product category.

2. Gourmet brands educate their customers.

All of us may not have specific tastes or be brand conscious about the products we consume. But regardless of a customer’s indifference, a gourmet brand takes special efforts to induct consumers into their product and its surrounding cultural and technical zeitgeist.

Notice how the Bare Necessities website has a self-paced course, and games around the theme of sustainability.

Blue Tokai does something similar.

For Bombay Shirt Company, details on the joints of tailored pants or what kind of shirt collars and cuffs suit which kind of body type or face was a definite TIL (Today I Learnt) moment for me when I first visited their website.

I also noticed that across these websites, a consumer had the chance to look at new tools specifically needed to enhance and complete the product experience.

Both MISA and Blue Tokai websites feature pages dedicated to selling these specific tools and accessories.

The underlying message is loud and clear.

"We take our products seriously. We care about the craft and detail that go into making it and we want our customers to see our product the way we see it, to experience it the way we experience it, and to build the kind of appreciation we have for it."

In fact, Mason & Co.'s tagline itself is "Craftsmen of Chocolate."

The detail they go into on every page further prove how much care goes into creating these chocolates.

3. Gourmet brands promote community and connoisseurship.

Other than educating a customer on their website and social media channels, most of these brands curate events that their target audience is likely to engage with.

For someone who grew eating Parle Kismi toffees, chocolate tasting definitely feels quite alien and first world!

But I cannot deny that when I visit many of these websites, I feel that someone is holding my hand and taking me through a journey of discovery; I feel that there's so much I take for granted around something I've always treated like a mere commodity; I build appreciation for the kind of detail and craft you can go into while making anything.

Instead of attempting to sell or pander to anyone, gourmet brand websites feel like a love letter to the art and craft involved in making the product.

These websites feel like a learning experience. While browsing them, I felt nudged to think of the brand as I would of a new person I meet.

In essence, these brands focus on articulating their unique personality and worldview, more than selling the product. And to make it all cohere and appear more than cheap lip-service, these brands make sure you know they mean what they say by making their product embody their philosophy.

From a pure business point of view, creating specific products in small batches — a common theme with gourmet brands — means that most of these brands have to create loyalists.

Their operations would suffer big time if there isn’t a loyal fan base that trusts the quality of the product.

When you think of a gourmet product or brand, a lot is at stake. The audience and consumers will never match up to that of a mass brand, because of the price differences, and specificity of the offering. So, gourmet brands constantly emphasize the level of detail involved in every step. And the attention to detail isn’t limited to manufacturing the product either, it extends to every aspect of the business.

Now, I do understand that if you’re building a mass-market brand, it will be difficult to emulate this level of detail because most likely it doesn’t matter to you or your customers.

But I sense that with the amount of noise we now constantly encounter on all online or offline sales channels, gourmet brands manage to stand out without trying. And they can command high prices because not many can deliver the kind of depth and detail they can.

I hope you keep the notes handy. You know, in case you decide to build such a brand one day.

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