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Michel & Augustin: the reality behind the scene

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For a long time already I had been eager to know more about Michel & Augustin, a brand which enjoyed a lasting buzz on social media networks. I had met Augustin at SIAL 2010 in October and wanted to see and discover by myself what were the reasons of such a buzz.

The regular meetings held every first Thursday of the month with clients of the brands were the perfect opportunity. I booked train tickets and quickly went to Paris to see what was really going on. I was hoping for a bunch of answers and explanations.

I arrived a few minutes before the “event” was scheduled to start (at 7pm sharp) and quickly the entry hall was crowded with dozens of people. A lot of them were students who went there with a true deep interest in the business case and the intention to re-discover the wheel and write again and again what they would swallow from the official representatives of the brand. Well … I’m a little bit negative I admit. The business case is nice and I perfectly understand it’s more enjoyable to practice marketing theory on Michel & Augustin rather than on a boring B2B case about a firm selling industrial weighing scales. Michel and Augustin are definitely more sexy.

Those informal encounters with clients were emphasized by the brand so that I was expecting an exemplary co-creation exercise between the firm and its apostles. I must say I was disappointed.

This famous and much expected encounter was no more than a modest tasting session where half-filled small cups of yogurt were trying to compete with unsavory little “crackers” (ok …I admit we were there also to give them a feedback about potential unsuccessful products). Coached by young employees (actually looking like trainees) clients were asked to give their feedback on the recipes (the samples being probably sent by the manufacturers of Michel & Augustin products). Did you like a lot or not at all, here was the question. The statistical robustness of a survey would be easily put in question by first-grade students … But anyway.

Not a word about Michel & Augustin the two founders. Contacts with clients and relationship marketing has probably been delegated already, unless those encounters (which at their beginning were great, sincere and authentic according to a blogger I know who attended the very first session) are just a formality aiming at keeping the legend alive.

What I will remember from those 60+ minutes spent at La Bananeraie 3.0 is certainly the employee amazingly looking at me when I asked him why it was interesting to have customers rate the color of the inside aluminum layer of cookies bags. Not knowing what he had to answer he grabbed a few cookies from the “test bags”, ate them and explained me that aluminum gave a really great taste to the  cookies. It’s a kind of mystical effect I said … “yes it is” he replied, probably wondering from which planet I was coming to dare asking such “profound” questions.

My take:

All the magic is gone … Scratch the veneer and you’ll soon discover a new reality. Is this a collateral effect of growth pains ?

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Author: Pierre-Nicolas Schwab

Dr. Pierre-Nicolas Schwab is the founder of IntoTheMinds. He specializes in e-commerce, retail and logistics. He is also a research fellow in the marketing department of the Free University of Brussels and acts as a coach for several startups and public organizations. He holds a PhD in Marketing, a MBA in Finance, and a MSc in Chemistry. He can be contacted by email, Linkedin or by phone (+32 486 42 79 42)

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