About three years ago, my wife decided to put her baking skills to work to make some extra money. Georgia has a Cottage Food Law that permits home bakers to have their kitchen inspected and sell their creations locally (e.g., only in Georgia). Recently, after a lot of business and virtually no advertising or other money spent on marketing her business, we realized she has more demand than she can keep up with. High demand is good, right? Right. So, we decided to actually market one of her best recipes using ecommerce. Below is the process we’ve been through thus far to methodically bring a product to market.
Yes, we created a logo, but a ‘brand’ is far more than a logo. Your brand is how you choose to interact with those around you, whether they are customers, employees, co-workers, suppliers, vendors, or partners. Your brand is based on your core values, whether you define them or not. We’ve chosen to define our three core values:
- Food that makes you stop
- Customer service that shocks
- The easiest ordering experience
Those are listed kind of backwards as it pertains to the customer experience, but they are all equal, and will each take center stage at different times in our customers’ experience.
It would be really easy to just throw it out there on an ecommerce website and holler, “Come and get it!” In fact, that methodology did indeed cross my mind. In the same article from which I pulled the “God created ecommerce” text, Guy Kawasaki also says, ”Perfect is the enemy of ‘good enough.’ When your product or service is ”good enough,“ get it out because cash flows when you start shipping.” I was thinking the same thing, but then I remembered that we have to actually buy ingredients, manufacture (aka ‘cook’) the product, package the product in a thoughtfully branded package, make sure this food can ship without going “splat!”, and then put it on a truck for someone to deliver across the state or across the country.
So, slow down and plan was the order of the day. We know exactly what goes into the product (it is, after all, my wife’s recipe), how long it takes to make one ‘batch’, the size of the serving box, the other materials that will be used inside the serving box (think Altoids), and the size, strength, weight, and cost of the shipping box. Our main future challenge, which will never, ever go away, is QA: we can’t physically taste every single batch, no matter how much I would like to do so. First, I’d quickly succumb to a coronary, and second, it’s bad form to eat other peoples’ food. We’re still working on this part of the process. Everything else is mapped out on paper. How will it look in real life in real time? Stay tuned (or sign up if you’d like to help ‘test’ things)
Ingredients, packaging, shipping, branding. Yeah, when you eat out, you don’t put much thought into all those things…until you do. Then you realize why it took Truett Cathy so many years to cover the nation with Chick-Fil-A stores.
My first incorrect assumption was thinking that we could make one ‘unit’ of product for just a couple of dollars. I was technically right, until I realized it had to be contained in something, and not just handed to a customer. Packaging ain’t cheap, and it doesn’t get any cheaper until you use a LOT of it and can get some kind of volume discount. Alas, the perils of starting from nothing.
According to the Georgia Cottage Law, we can do this ourselves as long as we only sell and ship to customers in Georgia. That’ll be great for our “Phase 1”, but as soon as we’re ready to ship nationwide, we have to go commercial. That means one of two options: (1) we rent a commercial kitchen and continue to make it ourselves, or (2) we partner with a commercial food manufacturer to make it in bulk.
Number 1 is do-able; however, if we are successful, that will mean spending countless unknown and irregular hours making product in the bowels of some former warehouse, whereas today, the product is made in our second kitchen. The second option is the more likely long term route; however, who’s to say someone else can make it as good as my wife does? There comes that “Quality Assurance” thing again. And that never goes away.
Done. What?!? That’s right, this was actually the easiest part of this process so far. WordPress, Shopify, Mailchimp, Canva, Fiverr, done. I invested a total of 13 hours in building the ecommerce website. There is more work to be done, but that’s in the “content” portion. By that I mean creating new content in the form of blogs, photos, videos, social posts, ads, etc. But the structure of the website is done. Amazing that a “dumb marketer” like me can build an entire ecommerce website in less than one full day. The funniest thing is that this website is what most outside onlookers will think IS the business. In reality, it’s just the painted glass on the front of the bakery. And the cash register.
This will be fun. Obviously it’s not done yet, but planned. If you’ve experienced my wife’s baking, then you know how much fun it will be to “test” this process. In essence, the launch will consist of “forcing” friends and family to order some product from the ecommerce website, open the product, eat the product, and then share the entire experience with their friends and family on social media with photos, video, and testimonials. We’re testing the entire customer journey, from ecommerce to enjoyment to sharing and back to ecommerce.
Our market research suggests that people are cooking less and less, and baking even less than they cook. The emerging generation of adults and families are working more and relying on outside services to provide the things they don’t want to do themselves. “Outsource Everything” is a common mantra I have heard recently. Things like yard work, dry cleaning, cooking, cleaning, transportation are all very much outsource-able today. Our marketing will start with those people we already know love the product. They tend to self-identify when they sigh, close their eyes, sigh again, and look for non-offensive words to express their pleasure at the taste of my wife’s baking.
But that’s just the launch. Actual marketing consists of consistently reaching people just like these fans that we don’t yet know with a compelling message. That ‘demand creation’ comes from telling a great story about a great product, through various forms of media like text, imagery, and video.
The “consistently” part of marketing is now mostly automated. You don’t have to manually post anything to any social media anymore, nor do you have to create a report of everyone who visited your website or purchased your product. Mailchimp does that for you. Consistently. Shopify thanks customers for their orders, tells them when it’s shipped, and sends them a nice, simple receipt.
And then there’s Facebook and Instagram. More than 1/3 of the planet is on one or both of these social media channels. That won’t reach our entire audience, but it’s a good start. I’ve done a little bit of Facebook marketing in the past, and, when done right, it is a very effective thing indeed.
I did this part in a previous life, but that was books. This is food. There are many similarities, but more differences. Books get damaged far less often than food. And people generally don’t crave books. From the moment the product leaves the oven, the fulfillment process begins. Quality assurance (again!!). Transfer to packaging. Packaging must be properly branded. Product in packaging must be correct for each customer (easy in the beginning because we’ll only have one product). Then the package must actually get to the customer, and because of the Amazon.com mindset, the customer must know – and be able to track – where the package is from the moment they click “Buy” until the moment they take the first bite.
This part is another part of the process that we will be “testing” (that’s code word for ‘testers get free product‘) to make sure we can do it over and over and over and over and then teach someone else to do it better than we can.
Add it All Up: More than Ecommerce
These are the steps we’ve taken thus far to create “the Family Business”. It’s amazing that just a few years ago, you simply couldn’t do all of this without hiring a web developer and an IT specialist to “set it all up.” The technology used to bring a product to market via ecommerce is now fully in the hands of the entrepreneur and marketer. The process of baking and fulfilling said product is still done manually, and that will be the heart of our brand.