Brand positioning isn’t just about where you sell your products, it’s about the culture you create for your business and your customers. Your brand’s position is less about what your selling or how you’re selling and more about how you make your customers feel when they interact with your product/service. To see just how much brand positioning can affect your business, let’s have a cuppa and take a look into one of the oldest, and most successful, businesses in England: Twinings of London.
If you’ve ever had a glass of hot tea, there’s a pretty high chance it was a Twinings blend. For over 300 years, Twinings has been the top name in the tea and is available in 115 countries worldwide (Farrell, 2014). Just how did this little known drink become a worldwide phenomenon? It’s all in how Thomas Twining, founder of the brand, positioned his company.
Tea was introduced in England by Catherine of Braganza, wife of Charles II, in 1662. As the beverage became a staple of the aristocrats, it began to be imported by the East India Company. In 1706, Thomas Twining bought a small coffee shop in the center of London. In 1707, he began selling tea to the gentlemen of high society. At the time, coffee was the drink of choice, and tea-drinking came with high taxes, so only the affluent could afford the luxury. Likewise, coffee houses were considered a man’s domain. Women were not permitted inside, though that didn’t stop them from purchasing the tea via male servants and brewing it at home. In 1717, Twining acquired three adjacent houses and expanded into the space to create the flagship shop that is still in use today.
In 1784, Thomas Twining’s grandson Richard convinced the Prime Minister, William Pitt, to lower the taxes on tea, making the drink affordable to all classes. In 1837, Queen Victoria granted the company a royal warrant, appointing it the official tea supplier for her household, a tradition continued by each British monarch after (Royal Warrant Holders Association, 2020). Today the company is still run by Stephen Twining, the tenth generation to represent the Twinings company.
So how did this coffee shop that served a little known beverage stand the test of time? How did this company survive three hundred years, two world wars, and BREXIT?
Thomas Twinings didn’t just open the first (and now oldest) tea shop in London; he created a global obsession. By positioning his business (literally and figuratively, in this case) at the center of London’s social elite, Twinings created a niche for his product that spoke to his clients’ wealth and affluence. As tea became more widely available, Twinings used the position of luxury to appeal to more customers and focused on the quality of the product.
During World War II, despite rationing, Twinings continued to profit from tea sales. Twinings showed it’s patriotism by producing tea for Red Cross prisoner of war parcels and providing tea to canteens for the YMCA and Women’s Voluntary Service. These actions kept the company afloat and positioned the brand as a patriotic duty. Buying Twinings supported a company that bolstered the men fighting for Britain, making it an easy way to support the war effort.
In early 2020 the tea industry saw a increase in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic, when tea production was at risk due to lock downs, colder than normal weather and flooding (TRTWorld, 2020). Despite the rise in tea prices, up to two dollars per kilogram (Umarji, 2020), Twinings remained among the leaders in the tea industry. Today, Twinings continues to focus on the quality of its tea blends, also using its longevity to position itself as the top choice in the tea industry. With over five hundred blends, many only available in specific regions, Twinings promises quality no matter what type of tea customers are drinking.
Farrell, T. (2014, October 6). A potted history of Twinings & Co. Let’s Look Again. http://letslookagain.com/tag/twining-tea-history/.
Royal Warrant Holders Association. (2020). R. Twining and Company Limited. R. Twining and Company Limited | Royal Warrant Holders Association. https://www.royalwarrant.org/company/r-twining-and-company-limited.
TRTWorld, S. (2020, April 29). Covid-19 brews trouble for tea amid disrupted supply. https://www.trtworld.com/business/covid-19-brews-trouble-for-tea-amid-disrupted-supply-35858.
Twinings & Co. (2020). History of Twinings. Twinings UK & Ireland. https://www.twinings.co.uk/about-twinings/history-of-twinings.
Umarji, V. (2020, July 28). Tea prices rise as floods, Covid-19 take a toll on production, inventory. Business Standard. https://www.business-standard.com/article/markets/tea-prices-rise-as-floods-covid-19-take-a-toll-on-production-inventory-120072801420_1.html.