Show, don’t tell – the art of storytelling in marketing

Last week I had the pleasure of attending my first event hosted by the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Food and Agriculture group. The evening started with drinks and networking before leading into two presentations. One was from Data Pad, a research solutions company, about trends in ready meals. It was a flash of insight, and interesting to see the breakdown of who consumes which ready meals and where. Did you know, the biggest group purchasing ready meals are men, aged 30-39, living in London? Our next act was the award-winning Charlie Bigham, founder of the multi-million-pound ready meal company Bigham’s.

“This is not a marketing presentation” were Charlie’s opening words, as he addressed the 80 strong audience. He then delivered a 30-minute presentation about the quality of their products, the ethos of the company, showed us a snazzy video of their local-economy-boosting hub in the South West, and dropped so many award win mentions I almost ran for cover

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I’m not sure if he managed to fool the room of marketeers – it was 100% a marketing presentation. Conventional techniques included:

Customer identity. It was not a ready meal, but a ‘quality product for busy people’. Bigham’s connects with people who are passionate about food and have the incomes to be discerning. Their ethos is the best quality possible, produced in small batches, by hand. He was a couple of semantics away from ‘handcrafted, artisan, local food’ – I’m sure you can imagine the target customer and the values they use to make purchasing decisions.

Authenticity. Charlie took us on his journey, starting the business from a kitchen table to a very profitable, well-known brand stocked by most major retailers. He told us his mistakes, his joys and his lessons learned. We also watched a video featuring his staff talking about the business and how much they enjoy working there. Testimonials are worth their weight in gold.

Reframing. Have something about your product that is a challenge to market? Reframing is the way forward. Adamant his products are not ready meals, we watched a masterclass in how to talk about making and selling ready meals without saying the phrase. My favourite was ‘when you compare it to other products in our area of the supermarket shelves’. This technique was also deployed when he was asked about pricing (his products average at £8 per ready meal for 2 people, compared with a couple of quid for a standard equivalent). His immediate response was to not talk about how much his products cost, but to put the cost in context. How much is a high street coffee? £3 per person? How does that spend stack up against feeding two people delicious food?

Brand values. Charlie is an excellent presenter, and undoubtedly a lot of his success lies in his passion for creating a quality product and convincing others of its value. He disarmed the audience with humour and wove his key brand values into the presentation at every turn. If there were people in the room who hadn’t yet tried a Bigham’s meal, they were probably convinced to give it a go.

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It was a ‘show, don’t tell’ presentation of the steps to success Charlie Bigham has taken in marketing his luxury ‘ready meals’. It’s one of my favourite ways to connect with an audience, whether through PR or storytelling. And if I wasn’t such a cynical PR and marketing professional, I might have believed it wasn’t a marketing presentation.

It was an entertaining, and interesting evening. I also benefitted from meeting others working in a similar field – but doing vastly different things. I’m looking forward to the next meeting in November, which is a look at food trends with Kantar Worldpanel. You can sign up to attend here – but it’s likely to sell out so don’t wait around!

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