Some brands run campaigns to communication active on many supports and are displayed in large on billboards or on television screens; others opt for discretion, even silence. It can be by choice marketing, like the high-end ready-to-wear brand The Row created in 2006 by sisters Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen; it can also be out of financial constraint or conviction.
At a time when the word "sobriety" has taken a central place in public debate, including in the world of trade with its sometimes cacophonous marketing, we continued our analysis of the atypical and extreme case of monastic products. How do consumers compensate for the discretion, or even the silence, of a brand or a product?
Today in France, some three million people buy biscuits, soaps, beers, ceramics and other products sold by monasteries. This market of approximately 80 million euros is supplied by 200 contemplative monastic communities who have together created the collective brand monastic. This network of small producer monasteries living in various places, in enclosure and in silence, is discreet by nature, and commercial communication, both of the monastic workshops and of their brand, is almost non-existent.
Our recherches have however shown that this discretion, both chosen out of conviction and suffered for lack of means, pushes consumers to create their own story. They indulge in an idealized vision of medieval autarky where the good craftsman-monk makes his products with time and love. The analysis of the stories told by consumers also shows that, rather than buying a product from a specific monastery, they claim the purchase of a product from the monasteries in general, as if this product came from a world sublimated, above ground.
This asymmetry between a rare, sober, rational discourse and the narrative constructed by an imaginative and talkative consumer contradicts the literature on communication. This contradiction encourages us to look further, to understand what resources consumers mobilize when they create their own narrative disconnected from reality.
Contaminated, but how?
To frame this research, we referred to the anthropological concept of contagion, often mobilized in marketing. Through this phenomenon, objects acquire a "special" essence from their past, and places, people, symbols and other smells are one of them. important source.
Some of these sources are worked on, sometimes created from scratch by the brands: they are called “intrinsic to the product”. It can be the heritage of the brand, its aura, its authenticity, the atmosphere of the point of sale… All this is part of the positioning strategy.
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Other sources of contagion, however, are independent of marketing calculations. These are the “extrinsic” sources such as the land or the cultural heritage. They pre-exist the product and are outside the scope of the brand.
These are of particular interest to us in the case of monastic products, which, without a communication strategy, lead consumers to create very rich stories themselves. While we find that country of origin, terroir and cultural heritage are all extremely linked to a given geographical location, consumer narratives, on the contrary, do not refer to a particular territory.
More than a terroir
The in-depth analysis of the discourse of consumers of monastic products thus enables us to propose a new extrinsic source of contagion, the Woo, for “World of Origin », the world of origin in French, of the origin of the product as imagined by the consumer. Four pillars support the Woo.
First of all there is the world apart, with its uses, its rules, which differ from the standards and which remain the same, regardless of the geographic location of its players. It is the “extra-mundane”. Then come the specific practices and skills which legitimize the expertise acquired by the men and women belonging to this world of origin, outside of any label and certification. The third pillar is the sincerity, based on the good intentions of these actors and which instill warmth and emotion, without obligation of performance. Finally, we find a engagement for an alternative offer to the dominant model and for the safeguard of a world that is sometimes endangered.
Le Woo is thus broader than the notion of terroir and encompasses elements disconnected from a geographical location. In the case of monastic products, whether the selling abbey is located in Ardèche, Normandy, Sarthe, Alsace or even elsewhere in the world, the consumer creates a story that takes place in a dematerialized “territory” of reference. It simply brings together the four pillars of Woo. Through the phenomenon of contagion, the Woo transfers the meaning of the product to the consumer and his act of purchase.
These conclusions are not only conceptual. They are also useful for managers who manage discreet offers based above all on specific know-how, practices, commitments, stories and uses. For example, organic products, farmers' markets in the United States, the maritime cooperatives or even products from diasporas such as Navajo ceramics or klezmer music, can analyze the way in which their consumers produce their own imagination about the world of origin of these products.
The challenge is then for the brand to ensure that the consumer does not take pleasure in a narrative that is certainly attractive but potentially false. In this case, a less discreet communication through pedagogy and information becomes necessary so as not to perpetuate the transmission of beliefs false.
Marie-Catherine Paquier, Teacher-researcher in marketing, EBS Paris ; Fabien Pécot, Associate Professor in Marketing, TBS Education et Sophie Morin-Delerm, Professor of Business and Management Sciences, Paris-Saclay University