Not all businesses place a great focus on their ‘brand values’; and when they don’t, they become empty marketing claptrap. But they can be so much more than that. In my business, our values give us clear guidance and help to differentiate ourselves in the market.
At the moment, we’re still small and it feels very personal. My business’s values directly reflect my own; and I’m proud to share them with you. We constantly refer to them to evaluate our decisions, about everything from product development, to supply chain, to our people. I know that if we stay true to our values, the business will grow in the way I want it to.
Once I’d found a idea that fitted with my personal beliefs, I knew I could make something great. So the Little Smoked Food Company (through which I make Moorish Smoked Humous), has just 3 clear and simple tenets that we ‘live by’, which inform everything we do. Not too many to become cumbersome or meaningless.
1. Being different
The desire to create something different is what drove me to create my business and still drives us, every day. It doesn’t mean you have to necessarily come up with a business idea that is 100% new: you may be able to improve on something, or reinvent it, with an interesting twist. You could find something which is different in your local area, or done in a unique way. What’s important is to try and avoid ‘me too’ or ‘good enough’ – if you want to launch a new company in a competitive market, there’s no such thing as ‘good enough’.
Being different can be hard work. If something is truly unique like Moorish, you have to be sure that customers will pick it up off the shelf with interest, even if they don’t know exactly what it will be like. That’s why going for a twist on a classic worked for us, we know people love humous and love smoked food so putting those together was a relatively safe bet. But be sure that the twist is attractive and not off-putting.
This is not just about product development, it’s also about the way we work. We don’t worry too much about the “usual” way things are done. We just make things happen, without cutting corners or treading on toes. We’re small enough to be nimble and hope to hang on to that way of working, as we grow: like a mountain goat on a dam: http://goo.gl/ng05H.
Whatever your business, it needs to have a reason to be there, against everything else available. You need to be very clear about what that is, keeping it front of mind when people try and persuade you not to be different, and sticking to your values.
Marketing people call this a brand promise, a short, compelling and distinctive statement of what your customers can expect from your brand. It’s not usually your slogan, it’s about a mantra to (always) live by; defining why you exist and what makes you different. Disney’s is “magical family fun”; Marks & Spencers is “Quality worth paying more for”, McDonald’s promises affordable, predictable food. Ours is probably something along the lines of, “Smoked Mmmmmmm”.
2) Being natural
Like all of our values, this applies across the business. Products for example: since the beginning, I’ve been constantly under pressure to change our processes from naturally cold smoking our chickpeas to using an artificial flavouring. I’m sure you can guess why – price. But you know what? Using a smoked flavouring makes a product that just doesn’t taste the same as doing it properly. So I have insisted on producing the smoked chickpeas naturally and it has paid off in buckets.
Then there’s the preservatives… yes, shelf life is very important so the longer the food lasts the better especially for a chilled product. We were told about a preservative which adds shelf life to dips and other products, but it’s a nasty and having started the business because I wanted to make something healthy – humous – taste amazing, it would be crazy to put something artificial in the products.
Another way to add shelf life is the addition of more lemon juice, which – judging by their flavour – some of our competitors use to try and extend shelf life naturally, but those products taste distinctly sour.
Luckily sticking to doing things naturally has given us a great advantage: we discovered that cold smoking our chickpeas gives a naturally longer shelf life. This helps a great deal when talking to buyers, as combined with our rate of sale, we are a great proposition on the shelves.
Being natural also applies to the people I have brought in to the business. My marketing strategist is a self effacing genius but makes no bones about her views and her natural easy charm wins me over in the board room and delights customers when she is helping them sample our wares. I have recently taken on a sales executive who is also natural, charming and extremely effective.
We’ve been told by our buyers and distributors alike that not only are our products selling better than many others on the market, but that they actually enjoy dealing with us personally. We treat people as we like to be treated and I have been careful to build a team that is as respectful as it is superbly effective.
We tell the truth when we meet people too, if we tell a potential customer that we are selling better than others it’s because that’s what we’ve been told by our buyers. No smooth talking here: we operate by offering something that’s different and delicious and we work hard to make it a success.
3. Being caring
This doesn’t mean I’m a pushover, far from it. I relish negotiating and make sure I protect the business at every turn. So what does it mean to be a caring business?
On a commercial level, this was about the importance to us of our smaller, independent retailer customers; who gave us our first break. Then, once we had Waitrose on-board, this gave us the buying power to negotiate with our key suppliers, to get a lower price on the Waitrose shelves. I was always adamant that achieving a listing in a supermarket would only enhance our relationship with independent retailers and not destroy it. So I kept my promise and immediately passed on the lower price to my local and independent retailers, too.
I didn’t have to do this as the products were selling well, but I wanted to give the shops the best price possible (to pass on to consumers of course). In fact, although our sales were excellent at the original price, they absolutely rocketed once I offered a better deal on the shelves. Overnight our listings went from a handful of independent retailers to around 50 and it’s still growing today. I have always responded to customers’ comments from our delis as quickly as from those Waitrose and people like that and see that we care.
Caring for me is also about giving something back. Whilst working at the BBC I had the privilege to interview Carmel McConnell from a charity called Magic Breakfast and that interview has stayed with me ever since. Childhood nutrition is a particular passion of mine – I was inspired to invent Moorish to find something different and healthy to feed my young son.
Carmel told me that thousands of children across the UK go to school hungry each day. In my house, we already called it a ‘magic breakfast’; as my children went from being pretty monstrous to much more angelic once they had had the first meal of the day. I couldn’t dream of sending them out the door hungry, grumpy and without the energy they needed to cope with their days.
After interviewing Carmel, I knew that I wanted to do whatever I could to help those kids who needed a free breakfast. As soon as my business turned a small profit I called up Magic Breakfast and said I wanted to donate every month. I explained that it would only be a small amount, but that as we grew so would our donations. It started with a standing order for £3.50 a month (which gives one child a breakfast) as that was literally all we could afford from the business bank account, but I am happy to say we recently upped it tenfold to £35 a month and will soon reach our first target of supporting a whole new breakfast club in a school. I don’t do this to show off, or be ‘seen to do CSR’ but only because it gives me great pleasure to know that I can make a difference to some kids who need help and that is incredibly fulfilling. http://www.magicbreakfast.com/