Bricks and mortar branding
How many times in a designer’s career does he or she come up with a great concept for a brand or product, only to have to grit their teeth as they hand it over to a client? It’s the double-edged sword that all marketing services agencies have to wield at some point in their lifetime: that big idea that could go on to work wonders for somebody else’s company. Bummer.
With that in mind it’s perhaps un-surprising that brand expert Elmwood would take the decision to go out on a limb and launch its own branded product.
The design consultancy, which has offices in Leeds, London, Edinburgh, Sydney and Melbourne, recently announced the launch of its very own brand of tea, called Make Mine a Builders. With national distribution through Asda supermarkets, Make Mine a Builders is already forcing its way into the awareness of the country’s tea-drinkers; something that can only be good for Elmwood.
On the other hand, though, launching your own product is no walk in the park, as The Drum found out when it spoke to Richard Gowar, managing director of Make Mine a Builders.
“I think as a feeling it’s been in Elmwood for a long time,” says Gowar. “Elmwood is an ideas business and most of the commercial ideas go to clients, which is fair enough.
“As a designer you often find yourself standing up in front of clients and telling them what to do with their brands, but we’ve never been in their position before. It’s been quite a humbling experience for us.”
As to the brand itself, the roots of Make Mine a Builders lie in a simple phrase uttered several years ago by an Elmwood team member.
Gowar recalls: “It started with an overheard snippet of conversation. Somebody asked a colleague if they would like a cup of tea and the colleague said ‘make mine a builder’s’. (Elmwood boss) Jonathan Sands said ‘that would be a great name for a brand.’
“Builder’s tea had become a sort of shorthand for a no-nonsense cup of tea, as opposed to Earl Grey or all the other types of herbal and fruit teas that people are embarrassed to ask for in an office. That was four years ago.”
The idea would be kicked around Elmwood for two years before Sands would give the go-ahead to officially start developing the brand. Master blenders were consulted and provided three different blends of tea and an alliance was struck with building industry trade body the Federation of Master Builder’s. This alliance would serve to lend legitimacy to the brand, but also help the building industry itself. It was agreed early on that a percentage of revenue from sales will be used to attract younger people into the building profession.
Gowar says: “We didn’t want it to just be a gimmick. We wanted it (the tea) to be drunk by builders and endorsed by builders.”
In 2006 Elmwood attended building trade show Interbuild and conducted a taste test of the three tea blends. More than 300 people from various parts of the building trade were consulted, and several pre-conceptions vanquished.
Gowar explains: “The result of the research was far from the ’we don’t care as long as it’s warm and wet’ view. We found that the builders were quite discerning about their tea. They wanted something that is strong, but is also refreshing, which makes sense because it is replenishment, after all.
“We also found that builders are on average less likely to have sugar in their tea. So another stereotype went out the window.
“Yet another one was discarded when we asked builders who they would most like to share a cup of tea with. We were expecting them to say ’Pamela Anderson’ or someone like that and were surprised when most of them said their wife, and after that their mum. They’re not as rough and ready as they’d have you believe.”
Elmwood’s research included more than looking at the building trade, however. The company also investigated the UK tea industry as a whole.
“We were driven by wanting to put a smile back on the face of the UK’s tea drinkers,” says Gowar. “The UK’s tea market is in decline. It’s supposed to be our national drink but you have a lot of companies that are doing pretty much the same thing.
“We did a lot of homework, a lot of desk research, speaking with retailers etc to find out if this was actually viable.
“There’s been a lot of dynamism and flair about it but also a lot of homework as well. It’s been pretty diligent.”
Having decided on the product itself, the Elmwood team was then free to develop the brand and packaging.
“At least half the designers at Elmwood have put their hands on this packaging at some point,” states Gowar. “It started off above and beyond the day-to-day work at the agency, but as things developed the focus became more concentrated. As we have launched the brand we’ve had to treat it as a client, rather than something we’re doing for ourselves.”
Yet the fact remains that MMaB is an Elmwood-owned brand, which has meant a significant investment from the company.
“The investment has been considerable,” admits Gowar. “It’s really not for the faint-hearted. It’s not just the time you spend on it, but also, at the end of the day, the money.
“Ideas are one thing, but you need to sit down and say ‘we need samples, point of sale’ etc. It adds up to a considerable investment.”
In fact, Gowar states that the investment has been in the “hundreds, rather than tens of thousands.”
This expense has meant that the marketing of the brand has had to be very cost-efficient. So far marketing activity has focused largely on the building trade itself, with Elmwood-designed toolbox packs being mailed to Federation of Master Builders members, coupons in selected publications, which have included promotions to win a year’s supply of tea as well as to ‘win a builder for a day‘, and extensive tea-tasting throughout the country.
“We’ve really tried to organise the marketing to get the most out of every pound,” Gowar comments.
“We’ve spent a lot of the last year working with the building trade, because it is really a part of the building trade. We didn’t want to secure distribution and for builders to have never heard of it.
“So I’ve stood at car-parks at 7am in the morning doing tea tasting. A lot of the marketing has been time as opposed to expense. It’s always been Elmwood people who have been there; Elmwood people that have done the tea tasting, that have manned the stands at shows.”
So far the marketing efforts appear to be paying off. The brand has enjoyed coverage in The Sun, The Yorkshire Post and The Grocer.
It has also now been picked up by supermarket giant Asda. At the time of the interview, Make Mine a Builder’s had been on sale in Asda for three weeks, and was enjoying a significant growth week-on-week. However, Gowar is keen to stress that Elmwood is not resting on its laurels. Having achieved nationwide distribution, Make Mine a Builders has now officially been set up as a subsidiary company to Elmwood.
“What was initially thought of as a hobby has grown up and is now a proper business,” he says. “We’ve got the resources, the right people and finance to make sure it continues to grow as we want it to.
“We don’t want world domination, but we want to give people a smile and have them enjoy their tea.”
Yet as the brand continues to grow in popularity and reputation it could well be Elmwood, and the design industry as a whole, that is smiling.