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How 99-year old small family soap business Caurnie is scrubbing up for its digital future

How 99-year old small family soap business Caurnie is scrubbing up for its digital future
Written by publishing team

When the pandemic hit, Caurnie Soaperie, a small business operating out of Kirkintilloch, Scotland, wasn’t prepared. With their traditional sales channels limited, they needed to transition into the digital age — and fast. With the help of a team of global marketing experts, Caurnie was equipped with the tools and strategies to give her a digital, packaging and e-commerce roadmap for her digital future – but was it enough to help Caurnie out of her soap bubble?

Caurnie Soaperie is a 99-year-old vegan soap best known for making a variety of skin and hair care products, from body wash and shampoo to conditioner and moisturizer. Headquartered in Kirkenteluk, Scotland, the small, family-owned business is unique in that it uses only locally grown plants or forage to produce small batches of products using original antique equipment.

The company was founded in 1922 and has a rich family legacy carried on by the founder’s grandson, Jim Little, owner of Caurnie Soaperie. Historically the brand hasn’t had much competition to contend with, but as the soap market has become increasingly saturated, Little believes that “Caurnie has always been doing well-researched and different things.” “I managed to get something well designed, not just cut and paste someone else’s stuff with my brand on,” he says.

With his ambitions to become a globally recognized brand, Little is fully aware that the company’s current setup is far from the frictionless experience that will help him reach that goal. Website, ease of packaging and fulfilling customer requests are challenges that it needs to address.

“The website is one of my overall weaknesses—it’s very difficult to navigate and not the way I’d like to see it,” Little says. The reason why I did not address these issues [is because] I’ve been approaching him in bits rather than giving him the proper attention. That’s why everywhere. There’s a lot of friction in the way I work, it’s not smooth – and my goal is to be frictionless.”

Epidemiological problems

Before the pandemic, Caurnie relied solely on her primary website and had a physical presence at farmers’ markets selling produce. With the pandemic shutting down his main path to the market, he needed to find new ways of doing business – he needed to go digital.

So, as part of The Drum’s “Marketing Can Change the World” initiative, Meta (Facebook) and a team of digital experts set out to transform Caurnie and provide businesses with the knowledge and access to digital tools that will help usher them into the modern era.

The team led by Natasha Chetiyawardana, Creative Partner and Founder of Bow & Arrow (part of Accenture Interactive), included: Shayne Cuffy, Experience Leader, VMLY & R – Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals; Mel Henson, Head of Business Strategy and Creativity, OptimiZion; Stuart Gilmore, Owner, Stand; Cassandra Stevens, Head of Global Trade, Publicis Commerce; Srija Chatterjee, Global Marketing Director, Dole Sunshine Company; and Cameron Worth, Chief Creative Officer, SharpEnd.

The team’s goal was ambitious: to develop world-class, yet practical and low-cost digital marketing initiatives to help the brand reduce friction and increase sales. Working with Little, they set out to conduct a comprehensive review of the business and competitive environment, assess opportunities and challenges, and develop a marketing strategy for Caurnie.

“The main issue was that the way Jim had been doing business hadn’t changed much since his grandfather’s time,” says Mel Henson of OptimiZon. “He got a lot of sales through farmers markets, so he was hit hard during Covid-19. It also meant he didn’t invest much in his website – which had an outdated design and broken links, among other things.”

To meet these challenges, the team set out to solve these problems using classic marketing principles, as Henson explains: “It’s about looking at the key things—what is really true and true about the brand—and putting them together in an organized way. We had to look at the proposal, and what Key messages to the consumer, who the consumer is, the tone of voice, and to be methodical in working through that. This is where you get an answer that truly resonates and fulfills the brief.”

Armed with new creative concepts, including basic ribbon, product packaging, and packaging copy, the team also created a social media plan, which includes a Facebook Shop and Amazon listing concept.

Lacking style and substance

The problem with Caurnie’s website was that it was outdated and limited in its ability to be a viable sales channel. It had no value proposition, was using stock fonts and templates, inconsistent product images and large blocks of text – plus it’s missing products on the homepage. She lacked confidence and the benefits of the products were not clear. Poor site navigation hampered the website’s user experience (UX), and the checkout page did not allow international mail, further limiting potential access to products.

Caurnie’s target audience are wealthy, socially aware consumers who love natural, organic, and chemical-free products. Some may have dry or sensitive skin, while others may have some skin conditions or the appearance of a skin disease. Armed with these ideas, the team created a new business proposition: “The goodness that comes from Scottish landscapes for your skin.”

To align with Caurnie’s core values, the tone and personality of the brand will be authentic, authentic, honest, simple, knowledgeable and Scottish. Born from a strategy that ingredients have “doing good” properties, the creative expression and motto has become “Scottish goodness for your skin”. The term “goodness” not only refers to the therapeutic benefits without making any claims, but also relates to Little’s ethics and outlook on life, which is unique to Corey.

Brand Evolution

Caurnie is a traditional brand steeped in nearly 100 years of history with a loyal customer base – so arranging the brand’s home came with its own set of challenges. Initially, the team had to be careful when developing the brand, building on Caurnie’s history and heritage while also modernizing it. They’ve settled on a subtle contemporary, crisp and clean line with bags of quirkiness and personality – just like the owner himself.

The newly proposed logo was a specially bespoke modification that shortened the brand’s name to “Caurnie” while subtly creating an essential connection that goes back to the work behind the brand. Additionally, plans are in place to transform product packaging using sustainable materials that are locally sourced, cost effective, recyclable and reusable where possible.

“It was important to try to keep a bridge back to the original identity,” says Stuart Gilmore of Stand’s. “Going back to basics, it was all about making the packaging easy and prepackaged and inexpensive, but sticking very clean and clear. It was just about consistency but with enough differentiation between the range of products.”

Connected packaging experience

To bring the brand to life in new and interesting ways, one of the most logical and immediate starting points was to think of Caurnie’s products as storytelling engines. As part of an overhaul of the brand, the team proposed turning bar soaps into digital storytellers by creating a “Caurnie Connected Experience.” By implementing a connected experience in the product packaging, which can be accessed via a QR code, this will open up a new and always-on media channel and provide a single point of interaction for Caurnie customers to repurchase, learn more about the product range, and access social media channels.

For the connected experience to be successful, it must be built on five pillars – to be useful, shoppable, informative, transparent and inclusive. Repeat business and customer loyalty are central to Caurnie’s business model, so rather than relying on product strengths alone, a connected experience will enable him to encourage and reward loyalty and repeat purchases.

“Caurnie’s story is one of her greatest strengths – the more that story can be learned and shared, the more it will resonate with consumers and the more they invest in the company,” says SharpEnd’s Cameron Worth. “By creating a connected experience, we can help bring this story to life, making it easier to access by scanning a QR code. We can also link to more in-depth product information across the range, enabling greater discovery of the Caurnie product range.”

One-stop shop, more ways to discover

With the proposed introduction of new e-commerce tools and platforms, the team proposed creating a Caurnie store on Facebook to enable customers to browse and purchase Caurnie’s products directly in the app or be redirected to the website’s checkout page. One of the biggest benefits of this is having sales insights and data to enable easy manufacturing and fulfillment in the future.

To improve customer service, the team also proposed a Facebook Messenger bot to serve as a source of information using artificial intelligence to provide answers to a series of predefined questions.

There are plenty of benefits to Little’s products, but without clear and consistent messaging, tone of voice, and look and feel, the message is lost. The team considered it important to ensure that ‘Scottish quality for your skin’ was the foundation for everything.

Armed with a new brand positioning, logo, headline, product copy, packaging ideas, tone-of-sound guidelines, and a Facebook shop template, Little now has the tools and tips for taking Caurnie into the digital age.

“I’ve always believed that life is about making soup and you have to have the right ingredients to get into your soup,” Little says. “what [the experts have] Gave me a kitchen full of items and I only now need to start making soup, not soap…but of course I’ll still be making soap. I need to reveal some of the things I’ve been doing to let the pros do this. There are a lot of other things that we can develop and absorb. I wanted to get rid of the friction and that gave me the roadmap to get there.”

2022 marks the centenary of Caurnie Soaperie – the perfect time to launch the new brand. Will Little follow this advice? Stay tuned for the New Year when The Drum revisits the Caurnie Soaperie to see how he has continued to implement the new proposed strategies.

Catch up on the four-part docuseries, which follow the digital transformation journeys of Caurnie Soaperie and Grand Tea & Imports in New York.


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