In my last column, I talked about how much marketing has changed in the last six to seven years. How the smart company, like yours, will need to adopt new ways of communicating about what they do if they want to succeed going forward.
I promised to introduce a whole new avenue for companies to consider engaging with in trying to get their cheese into the refrigerators and on the tables of consumers: The Certified Cheese Professional™, in particular those who self-identify
The story begins, as it so often does, with Dan and Jane Carter involved. In 2004, the Carters along with Laurie Greenberg had been in conversation with Kathy Guidi, who had set up a cheese retailer-training program with a certificate of completion in Canada.
The Carters were able to arrange for a breakout session during the 2005 American Cheese Society conference in Louisville, KY, realizing the importance of an idea whose time had come.
They asked Max McCalman to be on the panel because, in his words: “of my job at Picholine restaurant and the Artisan Bistro as Maitre Fromager. They may have wondered how in the world that I could believe I was a Maitre Fromager.”
It was with this great humor and sense of camaraderie, that the official process of creating a certification exam for a cheese professional in the United States began. The room filled to overflowing.
What began as a groundswell, turned into a grassroots movement, within an organization that began as a grassroots movement, but had grown to be unsure just how to handle one within its ranks. The board had to grapple with how to come to terms with an initiative that didn’t come from the board. One that would require a considerable investment, this idea whose time had come continued to gather in strength. Though addressed to people who sold cheese, rather than people who made it, the hard work and dedication of a handful of people, in particular: Susan Sturman and Max McCalman forged on.
By pure serendipity, Jeff Katcher had just joined the Cheese Society while transitioning from working as a certification professional to owning a cheese shop. Many other people contributed. Eight years after the initial discussions, in 2011, Susan Sturman bravely stood up and announced during the board meeting that the following year they would have a certification exam!
To make it possible, they had taken a gamble. They asked for a one-time sponsorship to pay for the preparation of the exam itself. They crossed their fingers that a minimum of 150 people would want to take the exam to pay for the actual expenses of administrating it.
The number of people signing up to take the exam every year now has been much more than that. It has been a rollicking success. Susan made the point, as we talked this week, that the key to the success of the exam were the surveys they took among the target audience, cheese professionals of every stripe. The survey was sent to all members of the American Cheese Society as well as all cheese industry members of the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade. In her opinion, that was a key driver of the early success, fashioning a Body of Knowledge that people needed, wanted and were willing to work and pay for.
There are now hundreds of fully qualified certified cheese professionals calling themselves Cheesemongers, (their preferred name).
Now what does this have to do with you? The Internet changed Marketing, as we knew it. The days of the refrigerator magnet are long past. Finding the best ways to get the story about your cheese across in all the noise, has to include engaging with this highly professional, highly trained, passionate and sincere group of people.
In fact, there are now hundreds of people who may know more about cheese than you or I do. So, if you want to turn hundreds of highly professional dedicated cheesemongers into your allies in the continuing battle to sell your cheese, you’re going to have to play the game by different rules.
All the enthusiasm and slick
marketing materials that have been the foundation of corporate marketing in the past is wasted on them. You need to engage with them and listen to them as experts, learn from them, and find out how you can help them do their job better. If you do this, you will be rewarded.
You would be wise not to underestimate the power of this groundswell: 300 people a year taking the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional™ exam.
You need to educate yourself more, to keep up with them. The American Cheese Society has great resources available for doing this, including a list of Certified Cheese Professional™ Authorized Educators with whom you can take courses and learn more.
The constraint right now is no longer in the small specialty cheese stores, which have Certified Cheese Professional™ cheese mongers. Nor, is it in some of the major chains, like Kroger’s, which has Certified Cheese Professional™ cheese mongers on board. Nor, is the constraint as much with the cheese producers, particularly the value-added producers, what’s holding the industry back from its true potential is distribution.
I predict that soon they will begin to feel the squeeze. The producer and the seller have lifted up their game. Distributors must educate themselves and their people to be able to meet the changing needs of the marketplace.
You would be wise not to underestimate the power of this groundswell: 300 people a year taking the American Cheese Society Certified Cheese Professional™ exam. Besides educating yourself, lifting yourself up, you also need to engage with them.
So where do you find them? You will find them in social media, of course. Within 10 minutes of doing some searches on Facebook, you will find a bunch of places to go and meet them. As long as you do it with humility, realizing these people may know more than you do, and your product is something that they need or that interests them, you’ll have a great time! Go in as a salesman, and you’ll quickly be thrown out. Go in as yourself, you will be welcomed.
May I suggest, to start, try my Facebook group, Enjoy Cheese. I also suggest Michael Cote and Marcella Wright’s group My Cheese Peeps if you are serious about learning and she will have you. It attracts many Certified Cheese Professional™ cheesemongers because of another site she runs helping people study for the exam. Remember to behave, and ask questions and be sincere.
Welcome to the future: it is Social!
Dan Strongin runs a training and consulting company focused on delivering affordable online solutions to everyday business problems, including his udemy course: Understand Your Business, Earn More Money. Dan can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (408) 512-1086, or you can visit and blog or get discounts on his courses on his site: http://www.managenaturally.com.
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