Tea, more than a mere beverage, has been a way of life – particularly in the Chinese culture – for thousands of years. It is also the second most-consumed drink in the world, after the insurmountable behemoth that is plain water.

There is no doubt that this phenomenon is aided by the fact that the two most populous nations in the world – China and India – are also among the top tea producers and consumers in the world. While the English and the Japanese have loved their tea for centuries, other cultures have been less receptive to this delightful drink, with tea playing a distinct second fiddle to coffee.

In recent decades, global-consumption trends have shifted towards tea, with green tea growing at a surprising pace in some parts of the world, such as Britain. Now it no longer suffices for the Western world to assume tea refers to “black tea.” Green tea, oolong tea, pu-er, and white tea have increasingly made their way into our daily life.

Yet tea consumption has yet to explode, despite how rabid its followers can be and how immensely satisfying it is. Ostensibly, a rebranding exercise is needed and what better way than to learn from the marketing geniuses at technology giant, Apple.

Keep it simple (stupid)

This is where many in the tea industry fail. Despite 5,000 years of history, many expect to master the ins and outs of the tea industry on the fly. Even if you sign up for a 36-lesson course, you will just begin to scratch the surface. Brewing tea is an art that requires years of study. Just as with literature, the best approach is to start simple.  Would you begin by reading James Joyce to your children (and I’m not talking about his children’s book, The Cat and the Devil) or Roald Dahl?

Apple products are absolutely unintimidating and intuitive, techies and noobs alike can pick them up and use them almost straight out of the box. No searching for the right buttons; just turn or swipe and press down.

Brewing tea can be like that, but a tea bag is not the answer (that, however, is a topic for another post). Infuser mugs, easy-to-brew utensils, innovative filters and cups – all of these can help accelerate the learning curve.

What’s in a name?

Names matter. Keeping a familiar convention is a good way to boost a brand name. iPad, iPod, iPhone, iMac, and iTunes – similar names and looks establish brand recognition.

Now contrast Apple’s naming conventions with Dahongpao, Da Hong Pao, Big Red Robe, Big Scarlet Robe, and Majestic Scarlet Robe. Would you have known that they are all the same type of tea? Chinese teas do not have common naming conventions in English. Sometimes they are described by their Hanyu Pinyin (a pronunciation system for Chinese characters) names and sometimes they are translated, well – very badly. There should be a common convention used by the industry – for example, Dragonwell, Dragon Well, or Longjing – so that the branding for various teas is not diluted.

Of course, this is easier said than done considering there are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of types of teas in China. However, those commonly available on the export market are probably less than 50, perhaps even less than 20, so that is a good place to start.

Help customers understand why they are paying more for one product than another

Explaining the intricacies of your pricing policy can be complicated and confusing. If that is the case for your colleagues and shareholders, imagine how difficult it is for your customers. Customers like to know why they are paying more for one product relative to another, especially if they are closely related. Why does this iPad cost more than that one, even though they are likely designed by the same team and manufactured in the same plant? It may be because one has 3G functionality and the other doesn’t. Or one has 16 GB and the other 32 GB.

In the same way, why does your Big Red Robe cost so much more than your Wuyi Rougui, even though both are oolongs from Mt. Wuyi? Because one is grown in the core-producing region, that is, Zhengyan, and the other is grown lower down, in Banyan. Because inherently, authentic Big Red Robe costs more than Rougui. That is because some Big Red Robe oolongs are from trees that are more than 100 years old and others have been aged for five years or more. Many factors influence pricing, but those factors may not always be apparent to consumers.  Customers need consistency in pricing.

Your best source of advertising are your customers

Apple is probably one of the most successful, evangelistic marketing companies around. Odds are you didn’t pick up your first Apple product because you studied the specs and came to the conclusion that it was the most powerful, fastest gadget around. You probably bought it because someone told you how good it was.

Why aren’t rabid tea devotees doing the same, spreading a love for tea in their communities? For starters, we usually drink tea either at home or in a tea house, not in the workplace, where we are most likely to have human contact. If brewing loose tea leaves was simple enough to do every day in the workplace, wouldn’t it be easier for you to offer a co-worker a drink and extol its greatness?

That ties in with my first point – keep it simple and your customers will evangelize tea.

Help customers enjoy

The iPod would probably never have been a global phenomenon without iTunes. Apple had a leg up on their competitors because they didn’t have a music division selling CDs to contend with (*cough* Sony) and could freely promote conversion to electronic formats. Without the easy file conversion and transfer of iTunes, Apple might not have achieved the following they did so quickly.

Similarly, the best tea in the world tastes awful when brewed incorrectly. If it is not easy to get it right, how can you expect customers to evangelize? Vendors and manufacturers tend to be skittish about giving specific instructions because that can be a matter of personal preference, but there must be a starting point. Personally, when I provide brewing instructions, I try to optimize it for easy brewing, that is, shorter steeping times and water temperatures closer to the boiling point so you can use a normal kettle. Though it may not bring out the best in the tea, it helps the brewer gain confidence in his or her brewing skills to try again. Tweaking is easier than building from scratch.

The greatest products in the world do need marketing, so why not learn from the best? With a rebranding and engagement of its rabid fan following, tea can scale new heights. But it needs participation from you and me; so let’s put on a pot.