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Let's face it - whether we like it or not, as a food and drink business we’re in the entertainment business writes Richard Fox, food & beer expert, writer and broadcaster. To a greater or lesser degree we are providing sensory stimulation. You only need to look at the crazy world of the TV chef, celebrity cook book authors or the multi-thousand followed food bloggers to realise that the heady world of food and drink has more to do with show-biz than the simple satiating of appetite. Once we've got our head around this concept, it opens up a whole new world of thinking and therefore opportunities as to how we engage with our existing customers; add to their unique experience, and of course, develop our customer base. This, in turn, should have a huge impact on the way we approach staff recruitment and training to help our brand to grow exponentially, as well as providing a platform for creating a motivated and inspired work force.

So, based on the simple fact that we need our potential customers to choose our product instinctively and immediately over any competition, it stands to reason that a good place to start is making them feel good as a direct result of their first initial interaction with our product i.e. before they've even purchased it. Referring back then to our entertainment business analogy, that means we want the customer to get that intangible feeling of pleasure that is offered by a perhaps a piece of music, painting, or any other pleasure-driven medium you care to think of. So, whether you're selling a bottle of BBQ sauce, or a free-range pork, hand raised pie, the positive customer experience needs to begin well before the actual tasting. Perhaps there’s a story to tell to warm our cynical old hearts about our life, pre-pie, when a passion-based working life was just a pipe dream; or how our BBQ sauce was inspired by a wizened old whisky barrel maker we shared a tale with in Tennessee. Whatever angle we take - and it must be real and heartfelt, because the customer probably more savvy than we think – it must elicit some form of sensory stimulation.

Assuming we have now won over the hard fought purchase decision, and our product stands up to the taste, we now need to build on this initial engagement. Having given the customer that first metaphoric warm hug and got them feeling good about us, we can't just not call. We need to nurture and build this new and fragile relationship because the customer can be fickle and leap headlong into the embrace of the next fancy pants product or place that makes them feel good about themselves. At one time, generating an on-going customer relationship post purchase would have cost a large fortune in agency fees and traditional media ad campaigns. No excuse now. With free design apps, blog site templates and more social media platforms than you can shake a mouse at, the most media-shy, IT-phobic amongst us has no excuse but to put together a customer-interactive media presence from scratch to make a Kardashian wince with envy.

And that brings us on to the really good news: Our story – from hard copy marketing materials, through one-on-one customer interaction to on-line engagement is also our staff’s story. By generating a work place culture of feeling simply belonging to something special, caring and pleasure-giving offers the opportunity for building staff loyalty and commitment, let alone spreading the word of your good work. By grasping an awareness of this fact, it can be built on and nurtured through a targeted training plan. And when it comes to expanding that social media engagement, who is more savvy than the seventeen year old Saturday check out person grafting away to contribute to their university fees. Talk to them, involve them, share with them your rock ‘n roll passion for your product and see what unfolds.

Richard will be hosting the Farm Shop & Deli Show’s live events programme taking place at the NEC Birmingham, 16 – 18 April 2018.

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Take a look at our other FEAST articles here