A few years ago, the comedy show Portlandia aired a sketch about a couple eating at a restaurant. In the scene, the couple pelted the waitress with questions regarding a chicken they were considering ordering. Is it organic? Is it free range? Is it local? What were the conditions like on the farm from which the chicken came?
While the goal of the sketch was to satirize the encounter, I can’t help but notice how much comedy is based, however loosely, on a foundation of fact.
The sketch is just one humorous take on the modern consumer. With access to the internet and its vast resources so readily available, the average consumer is more educated than ever. This new consumer wants to know everything and companies engage them through social media.
SaltWorks provides an excellent case study for this new education-oriented consumer phenomena. Founded in 2001 and based in Woodinville, Washington, SaltWorks provides 110 varieties of gourmet and specialty salts to the wholesale, retail and consumer markets throughout the world. Their brands include Artisan Salt Company, Pure Ocean, Pacific Blue, Durango, Mineral Essence, Sonoma, EuroSpa and more. The structure of their website alone gives us a glimpse into what the modern consumer is looking for when they go online to purchase.
Whereas 50 years ago, a good advertising campaign would have been enough to sell salt to the masses, SaltWorks recognizes that the game has changed. Consumers want to be educated about a product. Even with internet sales replacing actual store fronts, people still want the touch, taste, smell, hear experience of interaction with a product.
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With today’s rising standards of eco-consciousness and fair trade, consumers like the restaurant customers in the Portlandia skit, want to know about the source of their salt. If it comes from the Dead Sea, for instance, the consumer wants information regarding the Dead Sea.
SaltWorks devotes an entire page of their website to company-generated links filled with salty information. The information falls under several categories including health, culinary and spa. Topics include the history of salt, salt and good health, a bath salt guide as well as information about Himalayan versus Dead Sea and Kosher salts.
The page also includes information about other uses for common bath salts, such as the famous Epsom salts. While many customers recognize Epsom salt as a relaxing addition to a soapy tub of water, SaltWorks provides another use for the salt as a fertilizer in organic gardening, thereby widening their consumer base and market for selling the product.
Their website also includes a news and media page which keeps the consumer up to date on worldwide happenings in the salt industry. For example, when a new drug was incorrectly labeled “bath salts,” leading to confusion for spa-users everywhere, SaltWorks was able to quickly respond and set the record straight.
The real power of social media is through education, which is quickly and cheaply available to the masses. When companies use this power of information properly to educate their consumers, the trend can build new markets, reassure old customers and turn a profit for the company.