The Michel et Augustin brand is well known for its own way of communicating. A very developed universe, a storytelling with little onions, all sprinkled with creativity, the brand knows how to talk about it … always good. Interview with Margaux Dauce, in charge of content for Michel and Augustin with lots of information as crisp as their famous cupcakes …
Hello Margaux, you are in charge of content for Michel and Augustin. Can you tell us about your journey?
After training in business school in Rouen with a specialization in marketing and communication, I returned to Michel and Augustin via my end-of-studies internship. I started as a “neighborhood baker”. With Michel and Augustin, this position designates the consumer relationship (emails, telephone, mail, meetings at the Bananeraie, etc.). After these 6 months of internship, and a CDD on this same job, an opportunity presented itself as a BIG content manager, the opportunity to continue to handle the pen Michel and Augustin and to share our daily adventure 😉
I’ve been here for a year and a half!
One of the strengths of the Michel et Augustin brand is its ultra-developed universe which was set up from the start in 2004. Can you tell us how it was created and what its origins are?
With Michel and Augustin, there are really two strong axes:
- The “Gourmet” side with our qualitative and simple recipes, with ingredients that you can find at home. We really work on the simplicity of our recipes, reducing the number of ingredients as much as possible and only working with quality ingredients. In our latest “Drinking Cows”, for example, you only get whole milk yogurt, sugar and fruit.
- The human adventure, where we live full of highlights every day with a real tribal side.
We’re going through some pretty crazy times, there are few companies where you can experience these kinds of things. For example, it is possible to take your pastry CAP internally. Today, we are 37 troubled to have our CAP (on 90 employees). It is also an event that we offer externally! Each year, there is a training session in each of our banana plantations: Paris, Lyon, and Brooklyn next year. The lessons take place here, in the kitchen of the Bananeraie, with a pastry coach. 78 hours of training starting in October. In May, the first pass their CAP.
To go back to the beginnings of this adventure, Michel and Augustin are two childhood friends. They met in college and followed each other in studies, but each in its own way: Augustin, marketing, Michel, finance. They met for the first time in 2003 for a joint professional project: writing a guide to the best bakeries in Paris (what is good bread, how to know where to find it, etc.), this guide sold rather well (12,000 copies). It was really the first time they worked together, few people know.
They then realized that their pair was working and launched their brand in 2004. They wanted to give colors to food shopping based on a triple observation:
- In general, prices were pulled down, a direct consequence of equally low quality. It was something they really didn’t understand. For them it’s very important to have really quality ingredients and not to degrade it just to pay less.
- When you look at what you are eating, often you do not understand anything, it takes a Nobel Prize in chemistry to decipher the components of the recipe 😉 Hence this desire for simple, quality ingredients, that you can have at your home.
- Not sharing anything with the brand. Most of the time, when you take a package of cakes in your hands, you are not at all imbued with the universe, you do not know where it comes from, who is behind … Chez Michel et Augustin, the founders and all the troublemakers embody the adventure, which is pretty crazy. We are identified as soon as we are seen with the orange apron …
Hence the expression “troublemakers of taste”, because they sowed disorder in codes ultra frozen at the time.
So it’s in Augustin’s kitchen (in 18th) that they embarked on the first recipe: round and good shortbread! Over 300 tests were carried out before finding THE right recipe! It was really very artisanal at the start.
The first trader to offer their shortbread was the grocer downstairs. It started like that, going door to door in small grocery stores. Very artisanal also in their way of approaching: they went down with their little pink grandmother’s caddy, never in a suit and tie, they were already trying to mark the spirits with cow spots on the body. Always this quirky side, and a beautiful and present quality 😉
Very quickly, Augustine’s kitchen became too small. They went to see a baker, a friend of Augustine, so that he could lend them the bakery (one evening a week) on rue des Martyrs. Then direction an artisanal biscuit factory in Sablé-sur-Sarthe, 2 hours from Paris, on weekends to concoct the recipes… This is how they grew little by little and that they started to want to tackle the large distribution.
They turned to Monoprix, of course it was complicated at first, but they got an appointment by phone. Monoprix was quite seduced by the project but they then challenged the two founders to create a second recipe! This is how the Drinking Cow was launched.
This universe is anchored in all aspects of the business of communication to the way of working. Isn’t it really too restrictive to have such a corporate culture to respect? How does it work on a daily basis?
Yes and no, it’s not complicated in the sense that it’s really part of our DNA. We are naturally “ultra charted”. We say to ourselves, “we meet at the banana plantation”, we talk among ourselves about troubles, we wear the apron very often … When you get there, you say to yourself “It’s amazing to work in a company like that where everyone world is ultra accessible, it’s very family friendly. ”
Everything is very natural, you bathe in this universe and very quickly you take the rhythm. It’s true that in the communications team, we are even more “charter” than everyone else;).
Personally, I even have little words that come back outside of work with friends: “you can click here”, “nice day”, “nice”. It is not at all forced and it is even pleasant to work like that, in a good mood and a smile.
The vocabulary around the brand arrived very easily : Michel and Augustin wanted this transparency, accessibility and sympathy. They are just really nice actually. They expressed themselves like that and wanted to transcribe this into their business. Augustine, who works on communication, always has this very positive side, he has this way of approaching things and of seeing life from this angle. His vision: to be full of “power”. His motto “We don’t choose everything in life, but we choose the way we live it”.
Do you have documents that frame this charter?
Not that much, there are some “historical” documents with tips and advice on words and tone to use. For example, we never talk about consumers or products but about gourmets and recipes!
For the past few months, we have been trying to structure ourselves more. We hired an artistic director, for example, who works a lot on this point. With us, there is a huge heritage that is passed on from generation to generation of troublemakers, and that we must not lose! The memory of a troublemaker is sacred 😉
Now that you are in the United States, how is it going there to respect this way of communicating?
For the moment we are dealing with US communication from England, but we recruited a communications officer in the USA a few weeks ago who will take up his post at the end of August. Today we are about ten people there, plus Augustine who left to settle there.
For the moment we are still looking for ourselves a little, especially for US social networks. Lilly, our new US communications manager, came to England for a few days to immerse ourselves in our way of doing things and to see things, to then take over then in the United States. Great projects are coming for the United States I think 😉
Storytelling is clearly mastered for you. How do you integrate it into the communication strategy and the campaigns that flow from it?
Everything is based on storytelling, that’s how we have always worked: to tell everything in the greatest transparency. We share everything, on social networks in particular. Our desire is to tell and share our adventure in real time to all food lovers! Social networks are the ideal medium.
Valentin, our Community manager since June, could very well take what is being prepared in the kitchen at the moment. We show everything. Same for our recipes. As soon as we have an idea of recipes, we will share it on the networks by asking our gourmands for opinions. Ditto for the first tests of cooking recipes, projects for new packaging, the first productions at our manufacturing partners … Absolute transparency and co-construction are the watchwords!
We also adapt according to the supports. My little darling right now is Snapchat, we really show behind the scenes of the Bananeraie. For example, we posted on Snapchat behind the scenes of a photo that was published on Facebook and Instagram: me lying on the roof of a truck, someone holding my legs to take the photo 🙂
You will notice the difference in dress… Yes, it took hours, days to get the perfect photo 😉
There must be a lot of moderation on social networks given the amount of messages you should have?
We are always transparent, we never delete anything, we take the time to respond to everyone. Since Valentin (CM) arrived, we have even tried to respond in a personalized way: with voice messages, short videos, photos.
The brand has a hyper active presence on social networks, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat or Linkedin. How is each of the networks positioned in communication? Do they have a predefined editorial line? How many of you are there with Michel and Augustin to animate all these spaces?
There is no fixed charter for each network, it is done a lot by feeling. We have, for example, greedy visual content on Instagram. On Facebook we share all the highlights concerning the adventure and the recipes: we like that there is a “human” side, that it is embodied and smiling. Valentin is our Community Manager. He runs all of our networks. And it’s our neighborhood baker who handles private messages and therefore no longer the consumer relations part. Anne-Claire and I are in backup. In fact, the entire content team (5 people) really works hand in hand, because we all create content in our own way. We are daily in co-construction, it’s very stimulating!
Right now what works is all that is live on the networks. What does it look like at Michel & Augustin?
It’s working well, but we’re not running that much at the moment. We did it for our “one night under the stars” event where we were 2,000 people enjoying a magical moment in a park in Paris. We really wanted to share the event with those who were unable to attend.
We want to develop this “live” side. There are so many things to do 😉 Right now, we are really using Snapchat a lot. This allows us to reach a slightly younger generation that is no longer necessarily on Facebook. We love this new and unusual side that the application allows!
At a time when we are talking more and more about 100% digital, on your side, you have a lot of use of various happenings and street marketing. The combination of the two gives additional strength to digital communication. How do you get the ideas? Is it done spontaneously or is it deliberately thought out?
For us, digital is inseparable from the event, from the very experience, and vice versa. The 2 are pillars of our adventure. Typically the highlight “Go Howard a coffee” was completely worn by social networks!
There are recurring events, such as the open house, the Drinking a Cow with conferences, the CAP pastry chef and the Nuit à la Belle Etoile. In parallel, a lot of highlights are spontaneous, including “Go Howard a coffee”, which really got organized overnight. It requires a lot of responsiveness, that’s how we operate! An advertising campaign? We already had to prepare one in two weeks instead of three months! It’s just a way of working that is a little different from other companies.
How do you manage to have quality by creating so quickly?
When a crazy project is created, life stops a bit at that time, we suspend everything and we devote 200% to this new project. We prioritize … and the whole team mobilizes: what do we do on the networks, on the site, do we need media support, what do we done on video…
In recent times, you have been talking about yourself, in particular through the campaigns related to recruitment in the metro or even the establishment of the partnership with Starbucks (Go Howard a coffee). Can you tell us anecdotes about these campaigns that we have not yet heard elsewhere?
Recruiting in the metro is a completely spontaneous operation. It was done in the metro next door (Boulogne, line 9). The initial idea started from a real need: we were in real difficulty to recruit, in particular a position of sector manager in Nice. We said to ourselves “but what can we do to really get our message and our values across? “…” We have to meet people, directly, why not in transport “. Not even a week after we were there! Between us, we just made a simulation of “going up in the metro”, in the offices of the Bananeraie, to put Anne-Claire in conditions 😉 It was quite funny to see!
Of course, in the metro, there were several takes. The reactions were very different from one train to another! In the end, the video was a success that we hadn’t expected at all. We received over 1000 applications in one week. At the beginning, there was panic on board, because we only have 2 HR and we answer all the applications. Augustin was even ready for everyone to stop working and respond to the candidates. Finally, we decided to invite all those people who applied to come directly to the Bananeraie. All the troublemakers were mobilized to become a recruiter for an afternoon! It was a day we called “Job dating”! We managed to recruit 3 rare pearls, and above all we built up a huge pool of very interesting profiles for our next recruitments.
Come on Howard a coffee
For “Go Howard”, Antoine, the head of the New York Banana Grove, was contacted by Starbucks’s assistant manager, Howard Schultz, for a steering committee sample request that would take place 4 days later. The problem is that Antoine did not have all the samples on site. The easiest solution would have been to send the samples by Fedex from England. We then ask the fairy of the tribe (our super office manager) to make a price simulation to send the samples there. And there, an anecdote which has all its importance: our fairy is mistaken with a zero and announces to Augustine that the shipment would come back to us at 1500 €. Neither a cow nor a cow, Augustine concludes that it is better to send a troublemaker directly on the spot, the opportunity to do what we love to do, to be able to tell a great story. Finally, we hesitate a bit, the day goes by, Friday is coming to an end, nothing happens and so I leave for the weekend convinced that it will be very peaceful. SURPRISE! I wake up on Saturday morning with 150 unread WhatsApp messages. And there, I discover that Charlotte and Hassan have concocted a video on Friday evening and are in the process of flying to the United States! Suddenly general mobilization of the entire communication team over the weekend to follow what was happening on social networks and update our website. In total, we received more than 3000 photos of fans who got caught with their cup of coffee, accompanied by the hashtag # AllezHowardUnCafé!
Between us, the hashtag #GoHowardUnCafé has not been more worked than that. He went out spontaneously! I think that if we had posed around a table, it would not have been this hashtag which would have been retained… it is so long 😉 Today it is a little our den: it has 17 characters, we say often “Is it longer than Go Howard?” “!
We never would have bet on that, it’s really incredible what happened!
Despite all the commotion on social media: no response from Starbucks, not even a small tweet. “We said to ourselves, it doesn’t go back to Howard’s ears, we’re never going to be able to meet him. ”
Charlotte and Hassan then decided to print all the fan photos to create a collector’s book and still go to Starbucks headquarters to deliver the package (and the book) to them.
On the spot, it’s not going as well as expected. A security guard asks them to leave. But all is not lost. At the exit, they meet a person, without knowing their identity, who inquires about their presence in the United States, their presence in front of the headquarters … Quite strange, but they answer all the questions, and eventually leave. Incredible twist! When they were, a little disappointed, gone to a cafe to edit the latest footage, they then receive a call from the famous person they had met in front of Starbucks headquarters and who announced that they were going be able to meet Howard. They can’t believe it! The man was actually the right hand of the CEO of Starbucks 😉
So they ended up meeting Howard, who tasted the recipes, liked them, and who ended up inviting Charlotte and Hassan to stay on the famous management committee on Monday.
We then decided to transcribe this moment live on Periscope. For the record, we had never used Periscope before, we were not sure how it worked. At 9 p.m., we called the Twitter teams to explain the situation to them and that they brief us on the application so that we can then brief Charlotte (thank you Vesna!). And we did well, because Howard announced live that we were going to be referenced in 25 Starbucks in the United States.
After this first test, we were listed in 415 points of sale and then in the 7,624 American Starbucks in January 2016.
With Michel and Augustin almost 40% of troublemakers have passed the CAP Pâtissier. You who are in communication, what could it have brought you in concrete terms?
Right now there are 37 of us at the Bananeraie to have our CAP Pâtissier. We want to be the first French company with 100% graduates. Why ? To show that we have real legitimacy in this sector: we have real craftsmanship. For my part, it is a real personal enrichment! I have acquired real knowledge about the ingredients and I am proud to have learned so many baking techniques in such a short time. When we taste the recipes in preview, it allows me to better understand and give depth to the explanations given on the website, press releases, consumers … On our site, we have courses available, which allow each to train at a distance at CAP Pâtissier. There is also an after-pastry service, to answer each question we are asked around pastry, a technique, a cooking time … Now that I have a diploma, I can answer questions without having to consult our pastry coach. And it’s a real pleasure to be able to give my own advice 😉
Regarding the CAP pastry chef, we therefore also open training to a few external people. We organize a competition for this and open registrations in September. Last year we had 3,000 pre-registrations. Impossible to meet everyone at the Bananeraie! We then proposed to the candidates to send us a short video presentation in 33 seconds… we received 150 videos, and selected according to the number of votes received and our favorites!
This year, in addition, we will launch a training book to pass his CAP pastry chef, it’s the big highlight of September! We provide all the fundamentals for training in both practice and theory. It’s a very complete book for training (300 pages).
You seem to do everything differently from the others. Where does your inspiration come from?
We have 2 strong pillars in our DNA:
1: Do things before having them done… We don’t subcontract (or very little and very rarely). We like to do everything in-house.
2: Wiggle your imagination before your wallet … We try to find simple and smiling ways to communicate. The BIG banana tree doesn’t give us a BIG budget budget
Does Danone’s stake not risk slowing down this creativity a little?
It’s very recent, and still a little early to speak concretely of this news. The Danone Manifesto Ventures investment structure will take part in the capital. This structure is a recent initiative of Danone and aims to support innovative companies, to help them develop through the transfer of knowledge and contacts while retaining freedom of development.
We are the first company they “bet on” 😉
This support will help us especially for our development in the United States, especially in terms of SEO. In England there will not be that much impact. And do not panic, Michel and Augustin remain in control and we remain the same. Concretely, nothing changes. Our recipes remain the same, our DNA too.
For us it is a real achievement. It must be remembered that it all started in the kitchens of Michel and Augustin it was not that long ago. It’s incredible that 12 years later, Danone comes to support the project through its investment structure. This is a new chapter that is now opening!
Find Michel and Augustin on their site and social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Linkedin and Snapchat !