tea marketing: an interview with lindsey goodwin

How do you go about marketing a product, found the world over, that all stems from one plant?  After all, all tea comes from Camellia sinensis (or a varietal of it), and yet there are thousands of different tea retailers out there selling all types of tea under all sorts of brands.  Many of them do share the same wholesalers, buy the same raw product and then package and present them differently to consumers around the world.  Clearly with a supply chain like this marketing and product differentiation play a massive part in whether a tea store or brand is financially successful in an increasingly competitive and crowded sales environment.

From a consumer point of view it pays to be a little mindful of this, good tea is good tea and bad tea is bad tea regardless of the marketing but, just like mood, marketing can colour the way we approach or experience thing.  It can also teach us about a product, or tell us what the brand thinks we want to hear.

One particular aspect of marketing I wanted to touch on was how tea has, or may, draw upon the lessons and examples of other industries.  I recently came across a neat piece by Caleb Brown, titled Tea in America: what tea can learn from craft beer it is interesting because beer is essentially made from simple malted grains, but has also developed into many different styles and is presented under many different brands. Beer is also a category where there are seriously large players, with massive financial backing, yet craft beer is a flourishing and successful industry in it’s own right. In his article Caleb draws a parallel between Bud Lite and Lipton which I tend to agree with.

Pukka Tea

Outside of beer, I wanted to briefly mention cosmetics and confectionery in relation to the marketing and branding of tea, perhaps it’s just been timing  but I feel like I’ve seen so many brands recently that have surprised me and made me think of both of these sectors. There are tea brands in the market that would look just at home on the shelves of SephoraPukka is one of these, they even have packaging that is reminiscent of body brands like Fresh Soap [and they have a signature design that they use on lots of their boxes, just like a Liberty Print really!].  Theodore is another brand that demonstrates this, with tea tins in colours more reminiscent of nail varnish than the usual neutral or nature-inspired tones of tea packaging; and their tea boxes look more like fragrances in some cases!

On the flip side, the cosmetics industry has been using tea as a marketing angle for years, Elizabeth Arden has had it’s Green Tea fragrance since 1999  and Origins has both a White Tea and a Matcha product line.  I suppose marketing is really a two way street; or perhaps it’s really more like Shibuya crossing.

There are also tea brands like The Necessiteas, developed by Lindsay Manning that have custom blended teas that sound like they are straight off a dessert menu, or could just as easily belong in a candy store. Visually I think that some tea retail stores have much in common with old school candy stores, beautiful arrays of packaging and tins. To me, these stores are visually striking and beautiful, I’ve dedicated whole posts to my love of tea stores and merchandising.  They convey they same sense of wonder and excitement that candy stores held for me as a kid.  Some are bright and colourful, others aren’t but are just at stunning and make me dream of traveling to a myriad of Asian destinations just by looking at their in-store merchandising.

Lindsey Goodwin

In my quest to present tea marketing in a broader sense I had a chat with Lindsey GoodwinLindsey is a tea consultant, educator and writer, she is best-known for her tea articles, which have appeared in mainstream publications (like The New York Observer and The Austin Chronicle), on About.com (where she is the current “Coffee & Tea Guide”) and in Fresh Cup (where she has an article on tea in Hong Kong this month).

Behind the scenes, Lindsey also works as a copywriter with a focus on tea. As such, she has written content for numerous tea and teaware companies, including Samovar Tea Lounge and Tula Tea.

I think it’s so interesting to speak with people like Lindsey, they are both tea consumers themselves, and are also part of the creation on brands and campaigns, which in my book make for a really interesting perspective.

[deb: tea&travel] What are the rookie mistakes you see people making when it comes to marketing their tea.

[Lindsey Goodwin] I often see companies that don’t understand or articulate their own brand. They tend to have poorly orchestrated branding that doesn’t target anyone in particular or say much of interest. It’s usually the result of not defining a target market, lacking a mission statement or simply missing the mark on the brand’s overall image.

The marketing may be painfully bad, or it might just be bland, run of the mill stuff. Either way, I feel like tea has the potential for such a range of strong brand images, so why not make the extra effort and tap into your target audience?

What are the top Marketing 101 tips you’d like people to know.

  1. Define your target customer base and your brand’s image and goals.
  2. Think about these key points whenever you are working on your marketing, whether it’s your website, packaging or a newsletter or email:
    1. Keep your product line consistent with your branding… and vice versa.
    2. Transparency is a strong trend and it’s unlikely to go away anytime soon. The more interesting, relevant information about your brand and company you share with your customers (and prospective customers), the better.
    3. Twitter, Facebook, blogs, video and other marketing tactics aren’t for everyone… but they should be seriously considered at the very least.
    4. Press releases are still important.  Having an event?  Launching a new product?  Make sure the food media and local media know about it.

Product and web copy can be either evocative or cringe worthy – what are the common, or major mistakes, you see brands make with their web, product or advertising copy.

Copying content from other sites is a major no-no, yet it’s surprisingly common. (My favorite example is the tea glossary that dozens of sites have copied typos and all).  It doesn’t help your branding or your search engine optimization (Google ranking, etc.). Plus, it could result in legal problems for you.

Bare-bones sites are rarely good for your brand or your sales. I see so many sites that are missing key information, like what’s in their blends, where their unblended teas were grown, what their teas taste like or how long it takes to ship an order.

Unless your branding is specific to healthfulness, I see no reason to focus on health in your marketing. Consumers already know tea is healthy and the FDA is cracking down on health claims. Making health claims is telling people something they already know and risking a lawsuit over it.

Poor or absent SEO (search engine optimization) practices are also a common problem, but that’s complex enough to warrant a whole other article, so I’ll skip it for now!

What elements do you think are really useful to the consumer when it comes to tea copy, either online or on packaging itself.

As a consumer, I look for the following (listed from most to least important to me) for each tea:

  1. Tasting notes, preferably with pairing suggestions
  2. Information about the origin and/or the ingredients
  3. Information about the processing, history, producer/blender, etc. — whatever makes the tea unique and interesting
  4. Brewing instructions and serving suggestions

I also tend to look for the following elsewhere on the site or in the overall copy:

  • A sense of the brand and the people behind it, preferably with an “About Us” section, a company mission/philosophy and other information about what makes the company tick
  • Specifics on ordering, shipping, policies and other basics
  • General information on tea (which I use as a way to gauge how knowledgeable the company is about tea and how advanced they perceive their target customers to be)

On a personal level, as a tea drinker yourself, which brands do you really love, or think are doing creative, or interesting work in the marketing / branding / product development space.

Good question.  There are so many factors to consider!  Let’s start with marketing and branding…

In terms of aspirational/lifestyle branding, I love what Samovar Tea Lounge is doing. In terms of merchandising, American Tea Room does an amazing job. Both are good with social media presence. Tavalon is also doing some interesting work with social media, video, blogging and overall web presence.

In terms of artisan tea branding, I think Teance and In Pursuit of Tea are doing incredible work through events, consumer education, subscriptions/samplers and product selection.

As for product development, most of the teas out there have already been created, if you know what I mean. 🙂

That said, I find the development of “dessert teas” (largely started by Art of Tea) to be fascinating. Although I usually opt for unflavored artisan teas, there are a few dessert teas I like (especially from Art of Tea and American Tea Room). I think of dessert teas as the tea version of what the flavored latte was to coffee in the 1990s.

More recently, I’ve been into Steven Smith Teamaker‘s limited-edition aromatized teas, which use traditional aromatization techniques to impart unusual flavors, like whiskey. Very cool concept! I hope to see more from them soon. There are also some interesting developments with teaware (notably a fantastic little tea brewing vessel I found during a trip to Japan last year — it was developed specifically for Japanese green teas and I love it!). But teaware is a whole other topic, so I won’t get into it too much here…

Full Disclosure — I work with/have worked with many of these brands.

Is there a brand you haven’t worked with yet, that you’d like to.

[Are there any standouts in terms of brands with quality product, poor marketing; or brands that you think are doing neat or innovative marketing work].

When I first started writing copy, I used to make a list of “dream clients” at the beginning of each year. Now, I work with most of my former “dream clients” (or I have plans in place to work with them in the near future), so I didn’t bother to write a list for 2011. However, if I had written one, it probably would have included Steven Smith Teamaker (who already has great copy, but seems like fun to work with), Tao of Tea (whose teas are so much better than their copy that it is sometimes a little painful to compare the two — No offense, Tao!), Rishi Tea (who has a solid selection and access to in-depth information on their teas, which always makes for a good client) and a handful of others.

Established brands aside, I often love working with new companies that have a strong brand vision in mind. I find that newer companies are usually open to an exchange of ideas, which is exciting for me. Being able to help people actualize their vision is a very powerful thing.

Beyond that, any project that allows me to stretch my creativity and skills is fun for me. This includes niche branding, specific areas of in-depth research/writing, writing with a specific brand voice, etc. It tends to work best with clients who can clearly outline the basics of what they want and then let me run with it. The more creative freedom I have, the better the end result usually ends up being. It’s hard to know which prospective clients are like that until I’m already working with them, but when I find them I tend to stick with them for multiple projects. In the long run, this kind of working relationship has translated to me writing Twitter campaigns, creating video presentations and doing all kinds of other projects that go far beyond just site copy.

Right now, I’m talking with clients about doing everything from technical guides to travel writing. In short, I want to work with brands who trust me to use their basic branding strategy to develop an array of content for them over time.

–[end of interview]–

Additional reading and discussion pieces on tea marketing:

There are so many other aspects to marketing that I plan to delve into in the near future. One particular topic is the use of Fair Trade and organic in the branding and marketing of tea (and what they really mean out in the tea field).  It’s a big topic and one that I think I, as a tea consumer myself, may have accepted too willingly on face value alone – something that may speak to the power of marketing, but perhaps more accurately speaks to my own consumer behavior.

Regardless of own own individual reasons for purchasing how we do, I plan to explore tea marketing, branding and evolution over the coming months in a series of themed articles and interviews, stay tuned!

[Lead photo credit: T2 Tea, a brand who I think does marketing very, very well]

2 Responses to “tea marketing: an interview with lindsey goodwin”
  1. zorach says:

    This is a very extensive post and I can’t comment on all of it, but I will say that I especially like the points about defining a focus or targetted customer base, and then making the branding consistent with it. I also like the emphasis on encouraging transparency.

    I totally agree that transparency is not a fad and is not going to go away or diminish–the information age is pushing things so far in that direction. I’m certainly working to expose details of ownership and other aspects of tea companies that aren’t always publicly advertised, and there are numerous others doing so on their blogs and also on various tea forum websites.

    I do think though that there’s one point that’s perhaps under-emphasized here. Marketing can only go so far. The most important thing is to sell good tea, provide good customer service, and sell the tea for a reasonable price. This is why, for example, I keep coming back to Upton Tea. A lot of companies simply can’t approach the value offered by Upton and a few other companies. Upton uses little marketing: the catalogue speaks for itself, the prices are low, the commercial descriptions honest. Really? That’s all I want as a consumer. The other stuff gets my attention, but it won’t keep me coming back as a loyal customer: the only way you can do that is high quality and low price.

    Another thing that really grabs me is sample sizes. Life in Teacup is another company that has really grabbed my attention with small sizes of teas, reasonable prices, and consistently outstanding quality.

    I see a lot of companies starting up left and right with prices that are just too high, or ones that have a larger minimum purchase size, and I think: “The marketing looks sexy but who is going to buy this?” In some cases, some people may buy it, but I know I sure won’t be promoting those companies with the same zeal and vigor with which I promote the ones that offer the best value and best options for sampling teas.

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  1. […] Marketing: an interview with Lindsey Goodwin [and some observations by Deb on tea branding and […]

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