The Brand Journey: as told by Foodpreneurs pt1…
Northern Munkee: I am fascinated by the stories we tell and, more fascinatingly, the way we tell them and why. I’ve been watching a lot of TED Talks recently and I believe that everybody has a story it tell, it’s just our ability to tell it that is the difference between a contagious story and a forgettable one. The same is true of brands: they all have a story to tell but they don’t all tell it well.
As a buyer I was always captivated by what’s behind a business or a brand. I’d always listen intently to an entrepreneur’s journey and to the essence of what brought them to where they are now. In this series I have sought to deconstruct and simplify branding to then re-build the elements into actionable steps. The idea behind the series was to breathe life into some of the subconscious relationships that we have with brands and to understand why sometimes we just click…and other times clunk!
This final post is an extension of my fascination and instead of me doing the talking I want to scratch beneath the surface of some brands that I really admire. I have posed a series of questions to foodpreneurs at various stages of business growth to get an insight into their world and their view on branding. The response I got from my network was phenomenal, so I’ve split this post into two parts.
Firstly, I’d like to introduce the brands, the faces behind them and then the elements I admire about them. Then, I’ll hand over to the foodpreneurs and let them walk you through their journey…
The Smokey Carter is a sauce and condiments brand created by husband and wife team, Howard and Samantha Carter. This brand sits in a rapidly exploding market as the amount of adventurous flavours work their way onto UK shelves.
The branding created by this northern pair is perfectly placed in the market place and the ‘Smokey’ character adds a playful element to their food journey.
The Snaffling Pig Co is a fun pork snacks’ brand founded by two mates, Nick Coleman and Andrew Allen. The pork snacks market has taken a bit of a beating in recent years meat snacks creeping into trendy bars in their place. Nick and Andrew are working on addressing that.
The branding is absolutely spot on. It’s fun, engaging and it brings a new energy to the, traditionally, hair-laden pub snack. You may also recognise Nick from his appearance on Dragons’ Den in 2016!
Well that’s enough of that, onto the main event…
I wanted to get inside the heads of two successful brand creators, Nick Coleman and Howard Carter, to understand what makes their brands tick and their journey perpetual.
In your view, what is a brand?
Snaffling Pig: Talk about a tough first question! A brand is something that is widely used but often misunderstood. It’s not just the name of a product or how it looks but it is everything that your customer thinks about when they hear your brand name. From the tangible (Coke comes in a familiar bottle) to emotional (it’s fun). Your brand name exists in reality but your brand exists in your customers minds.
The Smokey Carter: For us a brand is a snapshot of your identity as a business, this can be through your name, logo and packaging. The look, feel, taste and concept all add to your brand which can also be supported through everything you do including social media and marketing.
Why did you start your business?
Snaffling Pig: I actually started Snaffling Pig as a bet. I co-founded another business 6 years ago; Medical Supermarket, and I wanted to understand if that was just luck or did I really have what it takes to be an entrepreneur. So I set aside £500 (it was all I could afford to lose) and set to work on building a food brand.
My entrepreneurial journey has taught me that you can’t start a business just to earn money. If you do that, you’ll spend all your time chasing the cash and you won’t build the business in the right way. So first question I asked myself was “What business do I really want?” The answer was simple. I wanted a food business I was proud of.
The second question “When do you have the most fun?” Again simple, in the pub with my mates. Third question. “What am I doing?” Drinking beer, eating snacks with a load of banter. The next question, “So what business will I have?” Well this took a little longer to answer but basically the world is going craft beer crazy and no one is doing a craft snack.
A couple of days of research and bang I had the idea for a flavoured pork scratching company.
The Smokey Carter: After facing redundancy 3 times, in as many years in my office job, I decided to take back some control over my working life and be my own boss. Both my parents are self-employed and this felt like a very natural step for me.
What other brands do you admire?
Snaffling Pig: I’m more interested in the people behind the brands than the brands themselves. I like to know people’s journeys, what makes them tick, how they do it and what lessons they have learnt along the way. Entrepreneurs who have changed the way we shop Travis Kalanick (Uber), William Shu (Deliveroo) fascinate me for their vision and ability to harness technology.
I also like to keep an eye on emerging entrepreneurs too such as the likes of Pippa Murray (Pip & Nut) who has so much passion and enthusiasm, it’s infectious.
The Smokey Carter: Brew Dog, Red’s True BBQ, Hickory’s Smokehouse, they taste true to their roots, but have their own style.
What is your proudest moment in business?
Snaffling Pig: It has to be gaining investment on Dragons Den and hearing the incredibly positive things the Dragons were saying about the business. To be told by a number of high profile successful entrepreneurs that you’ve spent the last 2 years working on something that actually has legs and can be a global food brand is very humbling.
The Smokey Carter: We have won a number of awards since but winning our first Great Taste Award in 2015 was a great feeling and a milestone in our business. The Great Taste Awards are widely acknowledged as the most respected food accreditation scheme for artisan and speciality food producers.
When a product wears a Great Taste label it carries a badge of honour but more importantly, the Great Taste logo is a signpost to a wonderful tasting product.
What were the biggest problems you faced when developing your brand?
Snaffling Pig: Forecasting is by far the toughest part of our journey. We just don’t know how big this can actually get. If we knew we could plan the appropriate warehouse space, raw materials, staffing levels etc.; but with the power of the Internet we have found that one minute we’re packing 20 orders an hour and then suddenly MumsNet decide to post a picture of one of our products online and that turns to 20 orders a minute.
The impact of this has a huge knock on effect all the way down the line and warehouse space has always been the biggest battle. What’s the point of renting a warehouse on a 5 year deal when it may only be good for the next 6 months? Don’t get a warehouse at all and the business won’t even last 6 months. My first business moved premised 7 times in 5 years. It costs a fortune each time but it was a necessary evil.
The Smokey Carter: We needed to do everything ourselves right at the very beginning. Due to lack of start-up funds we could not bring a graphic designer on board to help, which would have been ideal.
We had a clear idea of what we wanted to achieve, and what we wanted our brand ‘to say’, and while we would consider ourselves creative people (I have a background in photography, Mrs Smokey did surface pattern design at Uni) we are not designers by far.
We had a bit of help with the redesign of the logo from a friend, (they drew us the pig in the oval you see today, “Smokey”) but the rest, labelling, marketing, website, point of sales, is all us.
What is the most important element of your brand?
Snaffling Pig: The very concept of having a brand, mean people have an expectation of the product before they try it. Once consumed, they then expect to get the same if not a higher quality next time they eat it. The need for this consistency in quality is paramount to the success of the brand and it has to be achieved right the way through the business.
Not just the quality of the product, but the way we answer the phone, how we deal with complaints. It’s the overall customer experience. You can do everything right and then the courier lobs the parcel over the back gate. Cheers driver.
The Smokey Carter: The reason for Smokey, and our logo being the pig in an oval, is we wanted a strong link to BBQ foods, rich delicious foods, protein, meat products, outdoor living and cooking. For us, we also wanted to get across our passion for travel in our range of sauces and BBQ rubs which has been one of the main inspirations for our products.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
Snaffling Pig: Employ a salesperson last. As the founder of your business you are more qualified to sell your brand than anyone else. Recruit every other position first, customer service, account managers, operations, finance, marketing and then finally get a PA. Delegate everything until all you have left is sales; and only once you can’t possibly do anymore sales, then get a salesperson.
I do as many roadshows as I can. I go to every sales meeting. I call and email and trawl LinkedIn for new business opportunities. I only learnt this lesson 3 months ago but since then our business has doubled!
What one piece of advice would you go back and give yourself starting up?
Snaffling Pig: Enjoy it more. Especially the hard times. Those are the times I learnt the most, tested myself and ultimately they will make the good times even sweeter.
The Smokey Carter: I don’t know if I would change anything going back. We started off small with only a few products and built up our customer base, range and brand over time. This worked well for us as required minimal start-up costs. Some new businesses like to go all out with branding and expensive marketing even before making their first sale but this just wasn’t possible for us.
What one piece of advice would you give to food startisans?
Snaffling Pig: My biggest advice is MAD…Make A Decision. It’s far better to have a product out in the market that’s not quite right than it is to have a very pretty presentation document and no product. We are not Apple. We do not need to have all the answers. We are food startisans and real time feedback and quick reactions are critical to our success.
Get the product in front of people, knock on doors and start selling even before you are actually ready. Nothing gets the heart pumping than that first big order where your put the phone down and think “How the f*** am I going to do this order!” You’ll figure it out.
The Smokey Carter: If you love and believe in what you do, keep at it! It’s not going to happen overnight. Say goodbye to your weekends and evenings too! Running your own business is not 9-5. Saying that every business is different. I’m still working 4 days a week in an office job but we’re growing all the time and hopefully not too far off running The Smokey Carter as a full time operation.
Thanks to Howard and Nick for their brand journeys; it’s always useful to build your network and learn from people that have been in the same position that you’re in.
Brand strategy can be a really scary topic and there is a lot of literature out there that seems designed to confuse startisans. Stick to your convictions and sources that you can trust such as Tessa Stuart’s Flying Off the Shelves.
Just before I close my laptop, I’ll offer up some quick branding do’s and don’ts again:
- enjoy it; you’ll get so much more out of it if it doesn’t seem like work!
- make a decision; you’ll spend forever trying to make your business ‘perfect’ – just do it.
- knock on doors; James Caan’s book taught me that the best way to find out if your product will sell is to try and sell it.
- employ a salesperson until you’re ready; the person best place to sell your products is you!
- let start-up funds hold you back; both brands here started on a shoestring but what they were short on funds they made up for in belief and a great story.
- think it’s a 9-5; if you’re in business for yourself it will consume most of your life; always. Be prepared for that and love it!