As we approach the one-year anniversary of Adagio’s first tea retail store and break ground on our third location, we’re going through an internal discussion of how to apply our branding strategy to the physical retail stores.  Adagio was founded as a U.S. online tea company, and has since expanded into several foreign markets, grocery, wholesale, RTD, and now physical retail stores.  Brand strategy, properly executed, impacts product collection, pricing, packaging, marketing, store design, staffing, and the customer engagement process. 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/linhtinh/3021768841/It’s sometimes painful to slow down enough to rethink your underlying premises, and more painful still to admit that you may have been wrong.  But as we prepare for the holiday season, and stare down the barrel of another quarter-million-dollar store investment, I know that this is the time.

As the internal discussion swirled around details such as the proper attire for staff and how many video screens you can incorporate before the store feels too high tech for tea, I kept taking big steps back to gain perspective.  I ended up back at the beginning.  Why do people drink tea?

Of course, tea tastes good, and that is an obvious prerequisite.  The benefits have to be pretty stellar for people to keep consuming something they dislike.  Taste, however, is not what usually attracts people to tea in the first place.  After all, MANY things taste good.  We choose between all of the tasty options for other reasons. 

After seven years selling tea in retail, e-commerce, and wholesale environments, I believe there are four reasons why Americans (and probably all people) choose tea over other beverages: escape, alertness, health, and identity.  Allow me to elaborate.

Escape

For many, tea is a ritual. Regardless of whether it’s a beautifully precise ceremony or a stumbling, fumbling teabag in a cup at 5:00 AM, it’s part of our day.  We break for tea for the same reasons that others take a walk or smoke a cigarette.  We push back from the task at hand, clear our minds, regain our perspective, and find a moment of peace in a crowded and stressful day.

Alertness

Like it or not, caffeine has a tremendous impact on our nervous system and is highly addictive.  Studies have shown that a significant part of our appreciation for caffeinated beverages is the alertness and feeling of vitality that we get from drinking them.  If you drink ANY caffeinated beverage, your brain is now hard-wired to prefer it over other options.

Health

For years, the media has been flooded with stories on the health benefits of tea.  Ties have been made to weight loss, cancer, cholesterol, diabetes, and seemingly everything else that ails mankind.  Regardless of whether or not you buy into any particular claim, it’s clear that tea is good for you and a great part of a healthy diet.  Drinking tea in place of most other beverages is great for your health.  MANY Americans give tea a second look for this reason alone.

Identity

This one covers a broad swath of reasons from ethnic tradition to chosen hobby.  Some drink tea because they were raised that way and that’s what they’ve always done.  Others choose tea because it fits into the image of their idealized self: connected to nature, organic, healthy, and socially and environmentally conscious.  Some drink tea as a hobby; learning about and collecting teas and teaware from around the world.  For some, I’ll admit that tea is a commodity and no different than a loaf of bread or carton of orange juice.  That said, I’ve seen many others take tremendous personal pride in their identity as an enlightened drinker of premium teas.

Understanding what drives our customer is absolutely critical to crafting appropriate marketing messages and sales approaches.  We can help people choose which product to buy based on flavor, origin, or competing features, but we can’t begin there.  Too many of the people walking past our door equate tea with warmth, illness, bitterness, old people, boredom, foreigners, and stuffy traditions.  Showing them our products won’t work.  We must begin by inspiring desire and giving them a reason to care!  We must show them WHY they should see tea as so much more than just a commodity tea bag.  After all, they’re entering the store because they are curious and wondering what this tea shop is all about.

Through our marketing and in-store imagery, and through the customer engagement process and the stories we tell, our job is to show the casual consumer how their lives can be improved by the REAL experience of quality tea.  Yes, tea CAN do that.

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