Here are a few questions to consider as you read this article:
- Do you treat your brand as a moniker or image, or does it truly embody your values and focus in work-life?
- What makes you trust a brand: the promises, the image, or the experience?
- Does quality stop at design and engineering?
- What are we REALLY buying and selling, and what’s the value in it?
On The Mundane Chatter Podcast we discussed a slew of consumer-focused and other geeky topics on Episode 9. I was particularly intrigued by the whole “Fair Trade” market and the implications for small businesses, competition, and the consumer. Is it worth buying something labelled or certified a certain way? Allow me to rant a bit.
When I think about labels like THX, Organic, and Fair Trade, I think “marketing spin” (HINT: Spin Sucks) and “propaganda”. Value and proper execution/delivery, not so much. You’re paying more under a marketing pretense, a promise that is likely never delivered. I look at guarantees and certifications like any other line on advertised specifications and features: it’s more perceived value than anything else.. Mere labels (false attempts at dress to impress).The core issue here is that guarantees and certifications are often empty, meaningless labels meant to drive price and market penetration, not holistic quality and true value. Corporate America loves hype but, from a global perspective, we’re not alone in the peddling of crap. We all make the mistake of buying premium items, only to find out it’s all marketing hype.
If you owned a few cars in your life, this example may give you a better idea of how dire the situation has become. Let’s say you need transmission work done. By far, that is one of the most expensive repairs you can do on any car, foreign or domestic. You can go for the cheapest and hope your car doesn’t break down soon after repairs. Your better bet would be researching top repair shops and finding the best guarantee. Ideally, you want to ask around and talk to the customers because, as we all know, salespeople can and will say anything to make the sale. I’ve found out the hard way that two-year 24K-mile warranties are mostly only good on paper. These warranties come with many stipulations and conditions, effectively rendering them useless.. Yet we still buy into them.
Going back to Fair Trade, is it really fair? Are we paying for an empty label/promise?
I think they are not fair and, quite often, we’re paying for lies.
Like most certifications, quality standards and requirements are loose. If you have the money to buy the label, you’re good to go. What this means is that smaller businesses (in this case, poorer or smaller farmers) find it even harder to compete and thrive. The Fair Trade marketplace is no exception. Certifying organizations claim to advocate and mediate for consumer parties but, really, they err in favor of their paying member brands.
Brand identity is losing ground to meaningful engagement and authentic experiences, where people and caring are at the center.
Really, I have yet to find a certification (or any label, at that) that really compels me. It’s all about money buying credentials. Certifications are not objective enough and certainly not fair for the “little guys”. At most, they help get a “foot in the door” but what usually follows does not bring home value.
Fair Trade should be about creating more competition and giving the consumer more bang for their buck. I think farmer markets and co-op programs are more valuable to struggling farms, but even those systems are broken. A few articles on Fair Trade and the coffee bean industry really honed in on some real winning ideas (Google them as there are many out there). The main thing they bring up is that certifications should come with built-in member benefits and support programs.
Imagine if Fair Trade gave smaller businesses an edge with lower buy-in prices or no buy-in price at all. A progressive renewal rate could be set according to sales volume and profit margins thereof to help level the competitive landscape. That’s fair. Even better, the certifying organizations could provide training workshops and materials. That provides a very real value as opposed to just some fancy paper credentials.
Hold certified parties accountable so your brand does not suffer. This applies to coaching businesses: our customers become products, extensions of our brands, themselves.. Protect them.
Fair Trade certification is good in theory but poorly-executed. Quite often, the cheaper, uncertified coffee beans and other products are better, but harder to get your hands on. It’s a real shame. We’re promised that we’ll be stimulating the economy and helping small business but, instead, we’re only further fortifying industry leaders. I find the same level of “brokedness” with organic foods.. And I’m not the only one who feels this way!
Rather than waiting for the overall system to be fixed, I say buy direct and support local shops whenever you can. It’s not as convenient and it can be more pricey, but it’s worth it. More often than not, you’ll be buying a better product, not just paying more for empty promises. Fair Trade is fair to the big corporations and industry leaders. That’s all there is to it. To put it simply, it’s a bunch of crap.
In short, Fair Trade and other certifications focus on money but they miss the root cause of why businesses fail: lack of education and, by extension, deliberate direction. There are awesome, remarkable products and services out there that you may not ever hear of or try out. Quite simply, some people just lack the business savvy to get their stuff more visible. Help out the little guys and give them the tools to jump start their businesses; ultimately, that could benefit more people, not just small interest groups.
I’d like to add that the proponents of Fair Trade labels use supposed hard numbers to create more perceived value. All the numbers have shown me is that more sales are driven for participants. Of course, they do not mention how many of the benefactors are lesser-known small businesses. How convenient. Yes, let’s be fair by expanding already-established businesses and bury the little guys deeper beneath the poverty line. Yup.. That’s fair! *dripping sarcasm*
- Do you believe in labels (think Klout, BBB, CompTIA, etc.) or do you take them with a grain of salt?
- Do labels provide real value or is it just more status quo?
- Are there other credentials you feel build up more value and/or consumer confidence?
- When you buy or buy into something, what aspects do you weigh out the most?
- How do you apply these ideas in your own business?
Certainly, there’s much more to discuss here so I hope that, once again, I got the creative juices going. Here’s to honest, authentic businesses!