Tea Importing and Marketing
One of the most unique and creative journeys in business is found in marketing.
In the world of business, marketing has a flair that few other areas do. Often attracting creative personalities and those with a passion to bring a product and/or service “alive”, it’s hard to imagine a world without marketing. As far as I can tell, however, it is important to understand the definition of marketing and how it fits in your business. Given this, this article will focus on the importation of tea and offer an approach to marketing to match the experienced tea has provided for generations.
Tea is hardly “simple”
Tea is unique in a lot of ways. In fact, we have yet to fully understand many aspects of tea and its relationship to our physical and mental health for example let alone the seemingly endless cultivars. There is a simple picture of tea and it may be described as something like this: consumers visit the local grocery store, sift through the available teas and purchase their regular tea. Consumers recognize the name, the logo, the packaging and attain a relative comfort in consuming the product. Again, many of us have some relation to this consumer-approach. But this picture contains an embedded irony: It “looks” and “feels” and may be remembered as “simple” yet simple is hardly an accurate description. For example, many large distributors of the tea package their sencha from a variety of farmers thus putting together a mix of cultivars and qualities in a single bag. Of course, by extension, many consumers are alienated from the processes that bring that tea to “life”. It immediately becomes clear that “simple” is in fact not an accurate descriptor for tea.
The importance of tea
To take this a step further, for many generations’ tea has been a critical element in shaping cultures and their subsequent subcultures. Obvious examples include tea ceremonies as well as the celebrated days and local traditions for new harvests across parts of Japan and beyond. For many, tea is hardly encompassed in a single bad of Tetley Tea. In fact, Tetley Tea wouldn’t likely reach many of their tables. Tea is a reflection and is seen as a near timeless experience that mirrors many important parts of their lives. In Shikoku, Japan tea lovers are picking teas from “wild” plants found in more rural and remote areas. In Shizuoka and Kyoto tea is a critical element to what’s locally important and helps shape their world-famous tourist industry. In the broadest sense, tea has also become an element of the Japanese government’s soft power in foreign affairs and is easily recognized as an important part of Japanese national identity.
Why is any of this important?
Thus far this article has argued that tea is both unique and takes on the importance for many that are difficult and perhaps impossible to measure. But why are these points worth considering? There are several reasons why: First, the importation and general consumption of tea is becoming increasingly popular. Second, the sheer amount of information readily available to many, and third the demands of consumers. The importing of tea and the plethora of tea companies who sell it are finding ways to leverage online businesses and establish market share for themselves thereby knocking down previous barriers to entry. Consumers are also spending more time and energy on blogs, websites and searching for general information that helps shape their tea experience. Lastly, consumer demands are changing and/or multiplying with increased demand for specific cultivars, an unheard-of market component decades ago. Consumers are also interested in varying qualities of teas and where they are responsibly sourced and grown.
What story do you want to tell?
Give this, what marketing approach is valuable? Tea shouldn’t be understood as an “end” product. When I, for example, finish a cup of karigane-cha, I look to the next cup. Tea, in other words, is there as I work, as I read the news, as I socialize and enjoy meals. It tags along, in some sense, with the journey that I am on. In fact, tea is part of my story. It is in this vein where marketing meets tea. Organizations have a unique opportunity to help shape part of that story. The question is: What story are you going to tell? In fact, the word “story” is perhaps more important than it initially seems. Words such as dignity and respect immediately come to mind. As noted above, the story of tea has helped, oddly enough, shape entire nations.