I love stories of people who make what should be a commoditised product premium, even precious.
Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of Japan’s Rakuten has a favourite story he tells in interviews of how he was approached by an egg farmer who wanted to become one of Rakuten’s first merchants.
Mikitani was initially sceptical when the man said that he wanted to sell eggs online: one could simply buy fresh eggs in the supermarket down the road, after all, without having to send away for them. Well, no, said the egg farmer, actually that isn’t true. Eggs in supermarkets have been in transit for up to two weeks by the time you get them; they aren’t really fresh at all. Whereas I’ll send them to customers the day they are laid, and they’ll be able to eat them the day afterwards. And I feed my chickens properly, without antibiotics.
So Tamagoyasan became an online egg store on Rakuten. The egg-seller then continually introduced new ways to build the emotional relationship with his buyer (filming the chickens and chicks on the farm) and demonstrate quality: he devised a test with a toothpick to demonstrate the superiority of the yolk. It’s not a test any of us would recognise, or attempt, but that’s not the point, is it? The egg-seller is continually evolving our relationship with both an everyday product that we no longer think about (until we find out that not all yolks are the same), and how we buy it (the humanity of his shop is the diametric opposite of the impersonal shelves in the supermarket). He’s now selling half a million eggs a month online at a premium price.
That shouldn’t be possible. But that’s what makes marketing so exciting, isn’t it? Great thinking and ideas, along with a refusal to accept that anything has to be seen as commodity, can bring the world to us. Even if we’re selling something as apparently unexciting as an egg.
Adam Morgan is founding partner with eatbigfish. Follow his on Twitter @eatbigfish.