And that’s when the hooting started.
He handed me a brochure.
“You expect me to carry this piece of paper around?” I shouted. Of course, I only shouted in my head because I really wanted to work with this guy.
And he needed to work with me — or someone, to clarify his position in the marketplace.
Back story: This company is a big success. It is a new, fast-growing processor that literally saved dozens of growers from bankruptcy when the only winged-animal meat processor took flight out of Michigan.
A university guru suggested this company — let’s call it “MeatX” — needed assistance pulling together its market positioning, communications and consumer/retail activities.
When I cold-called to set the meeting, the secretary said they needed such help.
But the marketing guy thinks it’s doing well enough.
That is too bad, because it has adopted a market position that makes the entire company vulnerable.
A lot of companies, MeatX included, don’t understand market positioning. It is the starting point for selling, and requires you to decide what kind of player you want to be in the marketplace. After that, you create logos, websites and other promotables to support this niche.
Example No. 1: If you want to supply upscale stores, you won’t pack apples rattling around in plain brown boxes. That’s the dollar-store market position: Look cheap.
Example No. 2: If you want to sell to an upscale store, put a special neck tag on your asparagus with a quick-response code back to the family farm story. Customers of upscale stores care about stuff like that.
If you have a unique feature some consumers care about, your best market position is selling where those folks shop and telling them about your feature. That’s how you cash in on the feature.
MeatX wants to be appreciated for its humane, innovative, socially responsible methods of processing its winged animal into meat. It was truly a pioneer at it and deserves kudos.
It could score huge points with consumers for its sustainability story — and the healthfulness of its products, commitment to inner-city revitalization and staggering growth at the expense of “big guys.”
But to date, MeatX has chosen the invisible position in the marketplace, a.k.a. private label. Those private labels are paying the bills nicely today, and they’re planted firmly and anonymously on MeatX’s price and service.
But once the “big guys” retool to copy MeatX’s sustainability practices and bring their economies of scale to the buyers, isn’t MeatX just a bid away from losing the contract(s)?
After all, shoppers won’t miss a beat since the supplier is invisible to them.
MeatX’s marketing director said the company would like to have a brand with consumer identity — a second, and visible, market position — because it feels vulnerable having no identity with shoppers.
But MeatX isn’t committed to spending time or money to do it. Many produce shippers and growers are in the same boat.
Once you’ve chosen the market position of “invisible,” does your website really matter? Who’s looking for it?
The website of multimillion dollar MeatX is about six pages of text, with an old-fashioned logo that’s oddly mismatched with a three-color silhouette of a farm animal and a glamorous dinner shot.
The website doesn’t describe any of the fascinating sustainability features. You don’t see a picture of the family farms they saved. You don’t see any recipes.
How badly to they want to connect with me?
Back to the brocure. It contained MeatX info for nine products in 10 stores and over 100 restaurants (including a hardware store).
The vice president of marketing seems to think I’ll carry it in my purse.
Me: “Oh, I need meat for dinner. Let me look over the appearance, the packaging and the price in three seconds. Got to get home, kids will be cranky. Whoops! Let me check my purse — now where’s that paper with the brand and the stores on it?
“No, no — that’s the paper with the Michigan-laid eggs ... nah, that’s the paper about which restaurants serve Michigan bacon ... and that one tells where to buy Michigan squash.”
Oh, yes, I’m dreaming. I would never store a cluster of product sheets in my sleek red purse, much less rifle through them before making a selection.
Alternative to concealed carry
What would work is if MeatX adopted the “most sustainable meat” market position and told that story in its logo, packaging, QR code, website, in-store signs and consumer advertising — it could connect with me and other shoppers without putting us on a scavenger’s hunt to locate an unknown brand.
Consumers would rally to MeatX’s do-good story, which would convince other retailers to stock MeatX — sometimes right beside the private-label meat.
Many produce shippers and growers could also achieve a more durable, non-price-based market position in stores simply by deciding what their niche will be and finding stores with those kinds of shoppers.
Then use promotional tools that support the market position.
I think many folks in produce are like MeatX: Trying to put the buy-local and support-the-farmer monkeys squarely on the consumer’s back — or in their purses.
Denise Donohue is founder of Donohue Associates, DeWitt, Mich., a marketing and public relations firm specializing in agriculture. Before that, she was director of the Michigan Apple Committee, Lansing.
What's your take? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.