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Buying into the Idea of Provenance

Provenance springs from a French word (provenir) meaning “to come from”. In a hyper-competitive globalised marketplace provenance can be a significant competitive edge to differentiate your goods or services. That is, if you really consider what the idea can do for your business.

A great example, from Fred Pearce’s Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff, is at the heart of the European Union’s supermarket supply of African grown green beans. By noon the African farmers are contacted on their mobile phones in the fields and told the exact amount of beans to harvest and package to be available for European customers at opening time in the European supermarkets.

The provenance is provided with a number on the beans packaging that enables consumers to do an Internet provenance check. This includes the farm where the beans were grown, the farmer’s details, information about the land and about any agricultural chemicals that may have been used. In reverse, this also allows any anomalies to be traced back to a specific field within an hour.

Suddenly, miraculously, a simple plastic packet of green beans evolves from an ordinary food consumption commodity into an authentic story that builds out into an experience of African enterprise.

Because provenance is an opportunity to inform consumers about the product or service that transcends taste or short-term benefit – examples come to mind like the labour conditions of apparel; environmental footprint; the Fair Trade of coffee beans; or, information about the use of local organic produce in an artisan Tasmanian cyser (made from Huon Valley honey and Huon Valley crushed apple juice).

The nature of technology and the yoke we’ve put to technology converge at the consumer where a growing emphasis is on a desire to be better informed. So, naturally, providing provenance on your products and services both meets expectations and provides a prime opportunity to stand aside from the competition and explain why your business is different (even superior).

The market’s desire for provenance is also strongly related to the customers’ growing call for corporate transparency. People want to be assured of ingredients, factors of production and environmental impacts. And the trick to capturing the essence of exactly what provenance to provide relates directly to the individual product or service that you’re selling. It relates to the value proposition that you’re putting forward for customers to part with their hard earned cash.

In short, once you find out what customers want to know then provide that information.

Another great example of provenance can be found in photography. I might see an absolutely awesome image from a master photographer like Elliott Erwitt and I think “What a beautiful picture.” Then I find a documentary where Elliott Erwitt explains his contact sheets and how that photograph came into being.

The authentic story behind the photograph enhances the earlier superficial enjoyment through to a fuller understanding of the captured place, people or event.

Buying into the idea of provenance is recognising that Internet connected and educated customers are no longer happy just buying their beans on price-point. A vast swathe of them want the information to make educated choices about where to spend their money, often based on their political or social points-of-view.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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