Ethical Marketing: Putting The “Why” Back Into “Please Buy”

by Daniel Lennox Riverford Organic

At Riverford Organic Farms, we sell veg boxes to 50,000 households across the UK every week. Founded in 1987 by Guy Singh-Watson, the company has recently transitioned to employee ownership to protect its values – being 100 per cent organic, having the best relationships with other growers and producers both ethically and financially, and being a force for good in the community.

In the run up to my talk at the Figaro Digital Winter Conference on Thursday 6 December, I wanted to share some of the things that we’ve learnt on our journey of ensuring the Riverford brand, and what it stands for, doesn’t take a back seat in our digital marketing.

Focus On Why

People buy from people they trust, so you need to ask yourself why does your company do what it does? Rather than starting with what you do or how you do it, you need to sell why you do it. This is because it is significantly easier to get people to buy your products when they buy into your vision. In a similar vein to marketing expert Simon Sinek in his book Start with Why, Riverford places “why” at the heart of our compelling messaging.

Case in point Ikea’s brand mission, “to create a better everyday life for the many people,” is demonstrated in its product design, function, and price. However, their success is not simply due to their business model, but is ultimately due to their honesty and open communication of the purpose behind the company.

Communicating to consumers that you are cheaper, better, or faster, to differentiate yourself from competitors is easy and takes little imagination. So where’s the problem? Ultimately, it might be easy to market something that is not unique by utilising brand comparisons but for most products this doesn’t work. You need to take time and input a lot of energy into establishing a genuine brand. And building yourself a genuine brand is a long game, with fewer shortcuts, and has to be better thought out than “Please buy.”

Pre 2015 marketing

Rebrand And Focus On Brand Story

Having started at Riverford just as it was completing its third rebrand in 30 years, I am no stranger to the incredible effects a rebrand or re-focus on brand story can have. However, unlike most brands the Riverford brand is shorthand for the values and principles behind their veg box. This sentiment hasn’t changed, so while we may have changed brand assets such as developing a new brand identity, updated logo, and set of stationery, the underlying “why” has never changed.

Prior to 2015, Riverford focused its online marketing on acquisition – telling people about the product, its features and benefits, and using offer led channels to get attention. This strategy sold the Riverford product, but there was very little online that told people “why” Riverford sold what it did.

The rebrand coincided with a decision to drop all offers and promotions, and a decision to communicate as a brand that we felt our previous approach had been unfair to both farmers who had to foot the bill and our existing loyal customers. Without having to focus on acquisition and offer based marketing, we also kick started a conscious effort to tell the story of the brand.

How Did We Maximise Our Brand Story?

In a nutshell, we stopped doing things that did not reinforce our uniqueness.

As you would expect of a business selling veg boxes and produce, food content was an important part of our strategy on social media. The only problem was that step-by-step recipe videos are very hard to own, hundreds are produced by brands and content channels such as Tasty. Recipe videos also do nothing to communicate what makes Riverford unique – so we decided that generic, step by step recipes are out and instructional, storytelling videos are in.

We now focus our video resource where we can tell the brand story, for example “how to cook” videos that take people from the fields to the kitchen via our box.

But we didn’t stop there. To further promote the underlying ethics and motivations behind what we do, we decided to make better use of our founder Guy Singh-Watson and the passion of our existing customers.

Riverford founder Guy Singh-Watson is the face of the business and one of our most unique aspects. His passion for the business drives many of our values and his personality forms the basis for Riverford’s most successful press coverage. This passion also comes across particularly well in video, and to this end we’re now filming regular ‘video rants’ covering topics Guy feels particularly strongly about.

These impassioned rants resonate well with existing, as well as new and prospective, customers who share Guy’s values. Video is also the most valuable form of rich content – boosting our engagement on social media and doubling our followers in 12 months.

To maximise the reach of each video, we use a custom audience of current customers to run Facebook adverts with the goal of post engagements to our existing customers. This, combined with seeding rants to like-minded organisations, has resulted in each rant reaching far beyond the existing customer base.

Finally, we knew that to make an impact we had to be brave and disruptive – beyond just discontinuing offers and promotions.

If your brand represents certain values (back to the why) then you’ve got to be happy to be inseparable from those beliefs and stand up for them. Working by this mantra allows us to be disruptive in the way we talk about our values.

For example, we’ve got rather good at finding news and events that can be flipped to communicate our values. One of the most significant (and topical) campaigns we have run in this fashion is our promotion of zero per cent discounts on Black Friday to communicate our message about paying farmers and suppliers fairly. This kind of messaging will not only attract like-minded prospective customers to our brand, but can also serve as educational content informing consumers about the negative impact universal sales like Black Friday can have on independent businesses and suppliers.

While many of our competitors are still communicating product features and benefits (cheaper, better, faster), I firmly believe in the need to create advertising that clearly communicates more than just what we do, but why we do it.

Disruptive Choose Riverford creative used on and offline (September 2018)

Daniel will be discussing how Riverford moved away from discount marketing at the Figaro Digital Winter Marketing Conference on 6 December 2018. For more information you can view the full agenda here.