Gian Franco Carli. Managing director of the traditional Fratelli Carli Spa olive oil company, established in 1911 in Oneglia (Imperia) and leader in direct sales to the consumer. He was made Cavaliere del Lavoro in 2009 by President of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano.
Luigi Caricato: Your company has a long history behind it, and has always focused on communication, starting with the in-house printer’s, which has produced a huge amount of material over the decades, including the famous calendar and a series of other publications like the Recipe Book, and a house organ with a clearly cultural approach. In addition to this, and no less important, the Museum of Olives has served as a communicative channel for this high level product, making it popular and therefore accessible to everyone. Don’t you think, however, that modern society demands new and more advanced communication methods, experimenting with original languages? How are you dealing with the new hi-tech age, open to globalism?
Gian Franco Carli: Direct communication with clients is indeed part of our DNA, and it’s something that other companies have discovered much more recently. We were the forerunners, and the challenge today is about keeping up, while at the same time remaining true to certain tones that are linked not only to our tradition but to the way we are – like using formal rather than informal language in corporate communication. Of course we have also equipped ourselves to keep pace with new technologies, with the type of global communication that no-one can afford to shun today. But I am convinced that you need to maintain a certain style. Simple, but polite and respectful. I also think that there are other ways to communicate than just with words and images, such as through products and customer service, given that our potential customer base is larger than it used to be. As a matter of fact, a certain simplicity in reaching out to other countries enables people from different cultures to discover the value of good Mediterranean food, and the efficient professionalism typical of many Italian businesses.
LC: Fratelli Carli is a strongly family-based company. In such cases a heated intergenerational dialectic debate can inevitably arise. How do the younger generations relate to your own? Beyond the strictly personal and emotional side of things, when new generations join the company with a specific role, as we know, it’s like they suddenly develop an extra gear, and that’s especially true now that everything is much more rapid and transient. So how is it going to be possible to advertise olive oil with such a radically different society and a more distinct separation and discontinuity of viewpoints and approaches between generations?
GFC: My own kids have worked in the company for several years now and I must say, despite the natural generational differences, we share the same basic principles, which enables us to enjoy an enriching and stimulating working relationship. I’m not scared of speed and change, partly because that’s my nature, and especially thanks to my kids. Similar points of view can create a sense of security, but different viewpoints can really move things forward, if they share a single direction. For example, one thing I learned from my own father and have shared with my kids is that you have to experience the product. You have to immerse yourself in it. To the point of saturation. Penetrate through to its heart. In fact, if you can’t crystallize what you want to tell consumers in one single idea, one single topic, you can’t be creative. Just letting your imagination run riot, losing yourself in rambling dreams, that’s not what being creative means. Another rule is to always tell the truth, and if possible the whole truth. Because in the long term, only the truth will win over people’s trust. And what other purpose should there be for advertising, if not to encourage and establish trust? So you always have to give real, accurate and interesting information. My kids are also convinced of this, so if they can get the message across using modern methods and forms of expression, they’re more than welcome.
LC: There’s another challenge. You’re key players in the olive oil sector, as far as door-to-door sales are concerned, but now there dominant worldwide companies, like Amazon and eBay. How does that change things, compared to the past? What strategies can you use to make sure you don’t get left on the sidelines?
GFC: Of course, for a long time we were the only company in the olive-oil sector selling and delivering oil directly to families. We were also the first to have an e-commerce site. Now that everyone sells online, and everything you buy can be delivered to your door, we’ve opened single-brand stores which allow us to come into physical contact and have a more personal relationship with our clients. The relationship is further consolidated by omnichannel marketing. You establish a unique relationship based on a unique product with an unmistakable flavour (because it is created by our expertise in blending the best oils ), guaranteed quality (certified by a guarantee that bears my own signature), delivered with exclusive service (our oil is “made by the people who bring it, and brought by the people who made it”, with no middlemen).