Provenance is not only a “Made in….” label

Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash

Ex-Hugo Boss art director and fashion designer Bruno Pieters’ company Honest By has been billed as one of the world’s most transparent companies. Pieters not only provides complete clarity on the whole supply chain of his company but also makes consumers aware of the source of each and every thread that has gone into the company’s clothes.

The trend seems to be slowly but gradually picking up. When H&M’s Arket launched in the UK, expectedly their online business kicked off first followed by a physical outlet. The below article from WGSN outlines in detail how the brand is making the provenance and supply chain details of each of its clothing items completely transparent to consumers:

The above are a few examples from the clothing world. The foods industry has experimented with provenance for years now, with varying degrees of success. One of the biggest challenges provenance faces as a brand differentiator is change of ownership or management control. Suddenly a ‘Made in British’ brand is not so British anymore because it has an American owner (the backlash and criticism Mondelez faced after buying Cadbury’s is an example). But the biggest barrier that stops brands from leveraging the full potential of provenance is its narrow definition.

A common application of provenance branding is the typical “Made in…..” tag, which is nothing short of being insipid and boring. In all honesty, a consumer needs more convincing than a simple “Made in….” tag. The bigger a brand is the more difficult it is to use provenance as a differentiator. In essence, localisation as a brand building strategy goes against provenance. The two cannot go together in all circumstances, and this is exactly where the opportunity lies.

The British Farming Association has a handy and useful guide to educate consumers about the source of ingredients in the food they are buying and eating. But there is a need to go beyond logos, stamps and marks when it comes to using provenance as a brand differentiator.

Provenance means not only showcasing authenticity of sourcing but also going back to your roots. In the beginning of 2018, Cadbury decided to move away from its global positioning of ‘joy’ and move back to the philanthropic roots of the brand’s founder. This has been captured in a new campaign that showcases ‘sharing’ and ‘giving’ as actions, which are an embodiment of the brand. This is a good example of broadening the definition of provenance from only covering a ‘source of origin’ to ‘source of being’.

Did you know that Vanity Fair has been making premium paper napkins since 1958? Well now you know. This AdWeek article illustrates how the brand repositioned itself recently by using packaging changes to convey two things — going back to its roots and also making the brand an option for ‘everyday’ occasions (and not only special and luxurious ones).

In light of the above examples, what should brands do to expand the definition of ‘provenance’ to their advantage? The first thing to do is to be honest about anything and everything that is being used as a provenance based differentiator.

“Originals” is now an established sub-brand of both Netflix and Amazon Prime. In terms of visibility and recall, “Originals” is a stronger sub-brand for Netflix than it is for Amazon Prime. This is an example of stretching the concept of provenance to encompass originality of creation. The impact of Originals in driving Netflix’s growth has been so profound that it plans to launch 700 Originals TV shows and 80 Originals films in 2018. Amazon is not going to be far behind and nor will be Apple. To be able to use ‘provenance’ as a differentiator depends on a brand’s ability to ‘create’ and not always remaining dependent on ‘where it came from’.

As a data-driven strategist, I love anything that has depth of analysis. In this 2015 (but still relevant) article in The Business of Fashion, an analyst from BNP Paribas goes into the depth of the abuse or over-use of the “Made in….” label in the world of luxury and its impact on driving brand differentiation.

In the beginning of 2017, when the United Kingdom was still waking up to the impact of the Brexit decision, some influential surveys of consumers highlighted a critical point — ‘Britishness’ as a brand label has fluctuating fortunes (working for some but also not working for many), but when a consumer buys a brand they are not always looking at a “Made in….” label. In many instances they are looking at the ability of their money to give them the maximum value (or what we can say as the “maximum bang for the buck”).