It’s been a good couple of weeks for communicators who happen to be fans of The Archers on BBC Radio 4. Hasn’t the on-going story line of Pat and Tony Archers’ business falling off the cliff and almost taking Tom’s – their son – sausage business with it been fascinating?
For those of you who are not quite up to speed on this here is a short résumé. Thanks to Clarrie Grundy returning to work in the dairy too soon after an illness, some of Pat and Tony’s customers picked up an e-coli infection from eating Bridge Farm yoghurt. Two children ended up seriously ill in hospital. It was big news. Sales dropped, customers deserted them and supermarket contracts were cancelled. The Bridge Farm brand became toxic, and infected their veg business and Tom’s sausages.
While Pat and Tony clung onto the Bridge Farm brand, having spent years building it, Tom was quick to spot the fact that the only way to save the family business and the farm was to ditch the brand. He switched his sausages back to the Tom Archer Sausages brand and started the long and difficult process of rebuilding his business, reputation and customer base. He also lobbied hard for all the other products in the Bridge Farm stable to switch to the Tom Archer brand. This got short shrift from Tony.
Things came to a head at a family meeting. Tom’s analysis of the Bridge Farm brand was correct, but his solution was wrong. Here he wasn’t helped by his sister Helen crazily suggesting a new brand, Henry’s, named after her young son. Finally, Tony bucked up his ideas, stopped wallowing in self-pity and pulled a stroke of genius out of the bag.
Tony suggested that Tom was right about Bridge Farm and the family did have another brand they could use to rebuild the business. But it wasn’t Tom Archers, it was Ambridge Organics. So what’s so great about Ambridge Organics? As a brand I think it works on two fundamental levels for a small local food brand. Ambridge provides location, something that is so important for customers who care about where their food is grown and want to support farmers like Pat, Tony and Tom. Organics addresses provenience and ethics together, so appeals to people who care about how their food is produced. Simply brilliant!
Tom got something else right and yet oh so wrong at the same time. In rebuilding his Tom Archer Sausages business he turned to social media to help spread the message and market his products. Good move, except he fell into the trap of confusing buzz on social media with business success. Not always the case. When his YouTube video, Tom Archers’ Pig Football, got over 23,000 hits he was delighted. This he thought was proof positive that his strategy was succeeding. If that strategy was to get people watching a funny video on YouTube, it was. If, on the other hand, his strategy was to sell more sausages and get more customers then he made a classic error in his approach to social media. He confused quantity with quality. 23,000 hits may sound impressive, but how many of those has he converted into customers? Has he focused in on those who left comments, has he struck up a conversation, got their details, followed up, maybe offered free samples to those most engaged in the conversation, turning them into champions and a free sales force for his products?
It’s not those who like his video that should matter to Tom, people who may click on and then click away. It’s those who care enough to stay; who engage. Tom must engage back, maybe then Tom Archers’ Sausages will become a case study in how small businesses can use social media as a communications and marketing tool. I shall listen with interest.